Lights, Camera, Any Other Actions?
September 30, 2020 2:09 AM   Subscribe

I'm giving a series of important professional talks online and I need to up my video-conferencing set up accordingly. I'm overwhelmed by listicles and need links to what works, available in the UK: lights, free-standing cameras, whatever else makes you look like a video-conferencing pro.

The professional events are conference keynotes and similar "featured speaker" slots, moved online. So me talking at the camera for anywhere from 20-45 minutes, and then Q&As, interplay with audience, etc. Events will be held across various platforms, including Zoom, Teams, Skype, etc.

I want to project the kind of "got her shit together" vibe through my video set up that you would normally project with body language, wardrobe, etc in person as a keynote speaker.

My current set up includes:
- A laptop with built-in video camera, raised so the camera is almost eye height
- Overhead lighting, with natural light (windows) to my left
- I don't normally use them, but I do have wireless headphones (Samsung Galaxy Buds, in case it's relevant)

The room I'm in is quiet, the door is not in view of the camera, it is very very unlikely I will be distrubed, and I've got a nice background planned (stunt bookshelf, not-dead plants, etc) - so those bases are already covered. I'd be interested in a physical background screen though, if someone could recommend one and explain why it's been useful to them!

Specifically interested in recommendations for:
- Lights
- Standalone video cameras
- Any other tips/tricks/weird genius items to up my video conferencing game

Products need to be available online, in the UK.

I'm willing to throw some money at this, but not "professional YouTuber" cash. £500 is probably absolute maximum for all necessary items, but I have no idea what the baseline "good enough" pricetag is here.

Thank you in advance!
posted by thetarium to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You might be interested in Matt Mullenwig's essay "How to Stream Like a CEO."
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 3:48 AM on September 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

Honestly, once you've got your background/disturbances sorted I think looking competent and confident is more about how you manage the situation than the lighting. Knowing when your camera is on, confidently using the technology, negotiating any back-and-forths - these are the new "power shoes"!
posted by london explorer girl at 4:03 AM on September 30, 2020

Side lighting can be tricky, casting half your face in shadow. It does for my video calls at least. As a first step I’d get an inexpensive ring light to place behind your laptop so it’s illuminating your face straight on (they also sell ones that clip to laptops if your surface isn’t deep enough to accommodate both the light and your computer). Experiment with using it in different combination to your overhead and side lighting; just shutting the curtains on my side windows gets me the best lighting, surprisingly.

You might also play around with your body’s distance from the camera; does your industry prefer CNN-style talking heads, or would moving the camera back so the audience can see more of your body language and hand gestures be a better fit?

One final thought, be prepared for the audience difference being online makes. If you’re used to giving talks in person it can be unsettling to just be talking into your laptop with no visual cues or supportive nods from the audience, if most people have their video muted. You could fake a home audience of house plants and stuffed animals for some familiarity! And, it can be distracting if people start flooding chat with questions or their own technical difficulties while you’re trying to present. Make sure you have a moderator or facilitator to handle those questions (and to mute others) and play around with settings (hide chat, hide self view) to maximize your comfort.
posted by stellaluna at 9:11 AM on September 30, 2020

It's more important to have a good microphone than a good camera, besides which choice of microphone can help with a sense of style.

I've seen some weird effects with ring lights, but lighting is tricky pretty much however you do it.
posted by SemiSalt at 11:54 AM on September 30, 2020

At the risk of overwhelming you with yet another article here is one from Adam Lisagor that is useful.

I host webinars and also (of course) participate in lots of video calls, so here's some tips about lighting and sound, which seem to be basic requests. I'm fairly sure all these would be available on Amazon UK.

  • I'm not a huge fan of ring lights, but they are especially problematic for folks with glasses, so I could be biased. What happens is you get a dozen light reflections and the shadows of your lenses and frames can look weird. I've invested in something similar to the Elgato Key Light Air, but it is pricy. If you want a slightly less expensive version, I used this LED Desk Lamp and it performed remarkably well.
  • There's two important factors when it comes to good lighting: 1.) Color Temperature and 2.) Diffusion. The overhead natural lighting you mentioned in your place could look great between 8-10 am and totally terrible 4 hours later. A lamb with adjustable color temperature and a dimmer will allow you to customize things based on what's going on in the room. Both the lights I linked to above have this. The other issue is diffusion, having your light directly above the camera (or slightly angled to the side) is a good start, but that can create weird shadows or appear too harsh. Although there are special diffusion products available, I often use a relatively simple "hack". I take some parchment paper (yes, the stuff you use for baking) and I fold it up.
  • The last thing I'll say about lighting is if you really want to set yourself apart, then take the time to set up either a backlight or to light your background. A backlight is a light coming from, well, behind you and will help separate you from the background and give your head a subtle glow (if done correctly.) The thing is, backlighting can be a little tricky to pull off, especially if you're doing it on your own. So an easier thing to do is just light your background and you can even play around with some subtle colors (or dramatic!). A good tool for this is called a light wand it adjusts its brightness in multiple steps and you can change colors as well.


Yeah, so this is a big topic. It's best to think of it on a spectrum: on the top end, you could get a professional microphone and stand, cables, an audio interface, etc. This would set you back at least $500-600 and you need to know how to configure everything. On the low end, you can get surprisingly decent sound with (some) laptop mics or earbuds, but there are risks involved. Internal laptop mics sometimes create echo and pick up way too much ambient noise and earbuds can do things like rub against a shirt and you will never know unless someone is good enough to tell you.

If you don't mind having a microphone in the frame with you, probably the compromise between quality and convenience is something like the Rode Podcaster and a desk stand. The microphone is USB, so it should work automatically without too much fiddling around, just plug it into your laptop/PC. Mount it to the stand and be sure to get it as close to your mouth as possible while still looking "normal" in the frame.
posted by jeremias at 3:38 PM on September 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

I was sent a ring light when I was presenting at a virtual conference. I wear glasses so I couldn't have it positioned directly facing me, but I had it off to the side and that worked. You can also have it facing away from you and have the light reflect off the wall. The light definitely gave an extra fill. It came with a tripod but I have a small desk so I bought an s-clamp.

I also bought a Blue Yeti mic and a stand for it and brought it up so that it was almost at chin-level. Surprisingly you couldn't see it in the frame.
posted by radioamy at 6:59 PM on September 30, 2020

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