Faking daylight for Zoom calls
March 18, 2022 8:26 AM   Subscribe

At the moment I use a combination of a desktop tripod ring light aimed at the ceiling/wall and a lamp behind a white curtain (to diffuse the light) in an attempt to emulate daylight for Zoom calls. I'm not sure how well it works and it takes time to set up and put away. Does anyone have any better ideas?

I'd prefer something that doesn't look like photo/film equipment that fits into a home interior if possible, and I'm wondering if something like this might be bright and adjustable enough to create the effect I need: https://brightech.com/products/sky?variant=39448996708388

I'm thinking that brightness needs to be adjustable, and possibly also colour temperature? Although I'm not sure that 'home interior' lighting would have this feature. It doesn't need to be perfect, just better than what I have at the moment.
posted by rose selavy to Technology (5 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I've found color temperature to be really important on video calls. I have a TaoTronics desk lamp that offers a good range of color temperatures and blends into my home office setup better than a ring light would (although to be fair, it doesn't quite look like living room furniture). I believe it's an older version of this lamp, which has five color modes. I take the same approach of aiming it at a (white) wall in front of my face.
posted by neushoorn at 8:49 AM on March 18, 2022

I have indirect lighting (two table lamps) with Hue bulbs + my regular overhead light in my office - since the lamps are on separate sides of the office, the light is pretty even and I look fine on zoom calls. The Hue bulbs are controllable from your phone and do require a Hue bridge, but you can adjust the light to be a variety of colors (you do have to buy the full-spectrum color bulbs) and there are lots of preset "scenes" that you can play with.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:25 AM on March 18, 2022

One of those cheaper ring-lights for photography has variable light temps and if you managed to mount it on a swing-arm would be quite handy to simulate the right amount of light on your face. Then use a background replacer (i.e. green screen) to put in a brighter background, and you're pretty much set.

The cheaper ring lings have desktop stands and can be set on your desk behind the camera, but can be a little distracting. The more expensive ones can be mounted on tripods and/or comes with their own tripods, but then you run into a space problem as there's no space near your desk to put them, which is why I suggested looking for one that's compatible with a swing-arm mount.

But then my desk have swing arms on both sides for my podcast microphone and my webcams AND my desk light. It's a real mess. :D
posted by kschang at 9:26 AM on March 18, 2022

There are two factors to emulating daylight through a window, and you've hit on both of them. One is making a visually large light source and the second is the color of the light. Bouncing the light off off a wall/ceiling and adding a curtain for diffusion are great techniques for increasing the apparent size of a light source.

A major giveaways of artificial lighting is poor color reproduction. If your light source doesn't emit almost all of the wavelengths that real daylight includes, then the color reflected from your skin and background objects will have a strange pallor even if you have brought lots of brightness. Since you're not interested in having a film equipment style item into your home office, I would suggest looking for a "full spectrum" or "high CRI" bulb that you could add into a lamp base that you enjoy having in your space.

Note that the particular Brightech Sky lamp that you've mentioned has a warm (3000 kelvin) visual color temperature. Daylight style light tends to be more in the 5000 kelvin to 5600 kelvin color temperature range. I would also guess that those LED units have a narrow light frequency spectrum or "low CRI". Because adding materials to emit additional light spectrum costs manufacturers money, it's unlikely to be included unless it's specifically marketed.

Having an adjustable color temperature is not really important unless you'd like to use the same light fixture to match several different lighting conditions across full daylight / dusk / indoor-only incandescent scenarios. Additionally, smart bulbs that support changing color temperature can be very fiddly to set up and keep working across phone and operating system updates.

I would suggest going to your local home store to pick out an LED or halogen flood-style lightbulb that is dimmable and advertises "full spectrum" or "true color". These are sometimes marketed as "dining" or "food enhancing" benefits. I have personally had good results with the GE Reveal band line that is available at Lowes stores in the US.
posted by QuixoticGambit at 9:45 AM on March 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

I use a Philips Hue white ambiance bulb to illuminate my workspace behind me and a cheap ring light to illuminate my face. The Hue bulb does different temperatures of white light (super helpful for matching a "time of day" light ambiance) and different levels of brightness. What I like best about it is that both of these features is on a continuum that you modify with a slider on an app. The transitions are very smooth, you can really pinpoint the temperature/brightness without clunkily flipping through stepped changes.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 5:24 AM on March 19, 2022

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