how to improve lighting in a room on a budget?
May 10, 2020 6:22 AM   Subscribe

A friend of mine started teaching music lessons over Zoom during COVID lockdown, but the room in his apartment that is set up technologically for this process also doesn't have a lot of natural light, nor does it have great lighting in general. He needs to improve the lighting situation to make his lessons better for his students. Any ideas on how to do that on a small budget?

Right now he has a bendy floor lamp that he can adjust a bit to get more overhead lighting on himself for the lessons, and he and his wife have put up strings of white Xmas lights along the walls (artfully) to just keep things from getting too dim in there. This has been working for now, but he would like to up his game a bit because eventually he wants to be able to make little YouTube practice videos for his students to practice along to and the lighting in the room is just not sufficient for something like that - it is going to look really amateur and not convey the degree of professionalism he is hoping for.

Thing is, he's broke. He's a working musician and most of his money right now is being allocated to upgrade his music gear because lessons are going to be his primary income until gigging is allowed again, and who knows when that will happen. He's wondering if the problem can be solved with more floor lamps, different bulbs, different things on the wall to capture natural light... things that don't involve him needing to buy a whole set of professional photography lights. He's already spent a lot on the video equipment himself and as mentioned, needs to upgrade a lot of his music gear.

Anyone with this kind of decorating experience who has advice would be super helpful. Thanks!
posted by nayantara to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Googling "lighting for webcam" brought up several options for $12 to $50, including this one that seems designed to mount on an SLR type camera.

I would be looking for a solution that emitted light from a wide area to eliminate hard shadow lines, and would like to be able to change the bulb to get a different color balance in the light.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:31 AM on May 10, 2020

"DIY softbox" may be good term to search for. This was one of the first results I found.
posted by phil at 6:35 AM on May 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

My "home office" didn't have good lighting so I ordered a relatively inexpensive LED floor lamp (this one). The brightest setting completely lights up the room, and you can adjust the color temperature. It's not the most attractive lamp but it does the job for me.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 6:51 AM on May 10, 2020

Best answer: I get good, natural-looking results with using a floor lamp with adjustable heads and regular softish white LED bulbs to (this is the key) bounce light off of the walls and ceiling. It's much better than direct overhead light. He might need to experiment a bit to find the best bulb "temperature" (color) for his skin tone and to correct for the paint color on the walls, if applicable, because that can make a big difference in how the camera sees the scene. Or he could take the opposite approach and hang up sheets off-screen to get different tones in the bounced light. A flat light-color surface (posterboard, for example, or cardboard covered in paper) could also be propped up on pillows/blankets to help direct light on to specific surfaces, like if he needs a close-up of his fingers. He should think about his clothes, too, and what they're doing for him. A white shirt might help with that contrast for finger positions, for example, but if he's playing drums (or idk) maybe it blends into the wall too much.
posted by teremala at 7:02 AM on May 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

A mirror helps brighten a room with natural light.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:34 AM on May 10, 2020

I bought a cheap LED ring light on a tripod for £20, based on a recommendation in this Hank Green video, and it’s great.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 7:43 AM on May 10, 2020

Best answer: Ring lights are the go-to for all the people I know who spend any amount of time doing online webinars or video sessions professionally. They can be had pretty cheaply on Amazon.
posted by anderjen at 7:56 AM on May 10, 2020

Floor Lamp, LED Floor Lamps for Living Room, Tall Torchiere Floor Lamps,Stepless Dimmable Modern Pole Reading Standing Lamp for Offices Bedroom, TECKIN Daylight Floor Lights Black

I bought this lamp for the living room and it feels like I have overhead lighting! My living room is big so I use two, but for a smaller room, this would work beautifully. It's insanely bright without blinding your eyes and just lights up the whole room. Even has a dimmer.
posted by extramundane at 7:58 AM on May 10, 2020

What I want to add about the great advice above: whatever kind of lamp you buy, consider buying one that you can hook up to a power adapter. Some lamps come bundled with one, some will fit an adapter you already have, but some are battery only. Dealing with lots of batteries is not ideal if you have many zoom sessions every day.
posted by ouke at 8:01 AM on May 10, 2020

So on the one hand my situation is different -- I teach college, so I don't particularly need to worry that my students will just sign up for classes with someone else.

But I've done my video recording in a fairly dim room, at least for the stupid webcams I have. My solution was to buy a couple of cheap 4000 lumen, 40w corncob bulbs and stuck 'em in an old torchiere in the garage and a gooseneck desk lamp. Looks like they were $30 for a pair. It's far from perfect but okay-ish.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 8:18 AM on May 10, 2020

I have this Brightech lamp beside my bed. It allows you to adjust the level of brightness and also offers three colors of light - cool white, warm white, and a mixture. Further, it has a flexible gooseneck so you can direct the light where you need to.
posted by Constance Mirabella at 8:29 AM on May 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Ring lights are not the ideal light source for this. They're designed specifically to add interesting reflections to eyes in photos or videos where you can clearly see the eyes.

Bright, diffuse light like the softbox discussed above is what helps the most. You can make DIY reflectors out of white cardstock pretty cheaply. Using lights with a high CRI will help.
posted by Candleman at 8:35 AM on May 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

A DIY softbox with a high-CRI fluorescent is going to be the most bang for the buck. (Caveat: the fluorescent bulb is cheaper up front than LED for the same performance, but won't last as long, and is easier to break especially if you take it on the road. It also consumes more power and makes more heat.)

If I had to pick a single ready-to-use low-cost continuous video light for shooting a single person indoors, I would go with my Viltrox L116T. Just short of 1000 lumens, 95 CRI, adjustable color temperature, adjustable brightness. About US$30. (Note this does not include power, nor a tripod or something to hold it up. Also note: no DMX or remote control. To adjust it, you have to frob the knob on the back.)
posted by sourcequench at 12:47 PM on May 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

Are the walls white/ off-white? I've had some reasonable results getting a cheap portable halogen work lamp/ floodlight (~$15 - make sure it comes with a bulb) and lighting up the wall/ ceiling for some indirect light.
posted by porpoise at 11:41 AM on May 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

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