Light my workspace. Difficulty level: closet
March 1, 2023 11:32 AM   Subscribe

My desk is, literally, in a closet. This is, needless to say, not ideal for video calls. I have a $100–200 budget. Recommend me specific things (not just general rules of thumb) to buy and use to improve the situation.

The closet is wide and shallow. Its back wall is painted white, but I'd rather not have that as a load-bearing part of our lighting design — I might want to add posters or something.

My desk is also shallow. It's a pre-tech-era wooden writing desk. It fills the full depth of the closet: its back is against the back wall, and if I pushed my chair all the way in, I could just barely close the closet doors behind it.

The closet has a ceiling light fixture and an extension cord bringing in power. Mounting stuff to the wall, attaching/setting stuff on the desk, and hanging stuff from the ceiling are all options.

My tastes in lighting:
  • I prefer full-spectrum lights.
  • I don't care that much about color temperature.
  • My aesthetic is pretty unserious and low-tech — Christmas lights, old-fashioned desk lamps, jobsite work lights, and even the much maligned built-in ceiling fixtures seem nicer to me than stuff that's fancy, modern, sleek, or tech/gamer-flavored.
  • (That said, whatever, beggars can't be choosers, for $200 stuff looks how it looks and that's fine.)
  • The thing ring lights do to your pupils annoys me, but I'd get over it if they were clearly the right choice.
posted by nebulawindphone to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
May I ask what your background strategy is? I would suggest a plain backdrop (like a curtain across your door, maybe) if you don't have one and don't blur your background or use a virtual background or close the door. It also matters if there is light coming from the back of you. Being backlit looks really bad on camera.

I use this specific lamp that has 3 levels of white brightness for bright but indirect lighting in my office for video calls. That lamp is behind the camera and to the side, slightly above my head. You probably don't care about the color-change rainbow mode but I like it and it makes a good silly joke on some calls to suddenly be in a rainbow office rave.

A similar full-spectrum light, like those for people treating winter SAD, behind your computer's camera/monitor that casts bright but indirect light would probably be nice and not have the ring-light reflection in your pupils.

I also use this specific IKEA desk lamp as a task light (clipped to a shelf above my desk.) For video calls, I direct the light to the wall, so that there's an additional warm but indirect light on my face bouncing off the white paint. I don't think you need both.
posted by blnkfrnk at 11:59 AM on March 1, 2023

I've recommended this $21 clip on monitor ring light on here before and just got one for my sister, who has a new job with a bunch of Zoom calls and was frustrated with lighting. I've been using one for two years now. I turn it on for Zoom calls (you can choose the brightness level and there are two color options) and turn off when I'm done. Seems cheap enough to try and return if it doesn't work? You can also adjust the angle and such, so perhaps that would help with your pupil concern.

Before I had the ring light, I had an adjustable desk lamp and would basically shine it in my general direction for calls; you want it behind the monitors in this case.

If that doesn't work, another affordable option would be an overhead hanging plug-in lamp, like this from Ikea, and then you get a shade to go with it. So for $12 plus a shade, you can hang that overhead (maybe over and sorta behind the monitor, so it's not shining directly on your face but is lighting up that area broadly).
posted by bluedaisy at 12:08 PM on March 1, 2023

Response by poster: Yeah, there are windows behind me and it isn't great. The plan could include a room divider, and I've got space to put one in. The closet is shallow enough that my butt sticks out the door when I'm sitting at my desk, so just shutting the door or running a curtain over it won't work.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:25 PM on March 1, 2023

There is no reason why you can't have lighting you like in your closet, whatever that may be. But there is a good chance that whatever you go for will not serve you well for video calls. If you are facing a windowless wall you are unlikely to get enough light on your face.

So my approach would be to get the light set up you like and then supplement that with a ring light or a light cube. They tend to be more expensive than ring lights.

My cheap ring light set up at home gives me better lighting than anything except a setting with good daylight. And it works well across no background, blurred background and artificial background. That includes any of the lighting in our office or my clients' offices.

You don't mention your camera set up - if that is relevant for you, in my experience, even a cheap external camera is a significant improvement over most built in ones.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:29 PM on March 1, 2023

My light setup cost about $30. I thought it was temporary -- the best I could do at the beginning of the pandemic -- but it's worked well for years now. It comprises two parts:
1. A small ring light on a gooseneck mount. When in video meetings, I turn it so it points at my face. If I want a tasklight, I turn it so it illuminates my desk. Wirecutter recommends this larger ring light for $40 if you want an upgrade. You can turn it towards a light-colored wall if you want to eliminate the ring-shaped reflection in your eyes -- see this tutorial video for details.
2. A cheap LED strip. I didn't even affix this to anything -- I just threw it on a high shelf above where my computer monitor sits. The light bounces off the ceiling and provides nice diffuse background lighting.
posted by ourobouros at 12:31 PM on March 1, 2023 [1 favorite]

The thing ring lights do to your pupils annoys me, but I'd get over it if they were clearly the right choice.

Ring light diffuser for the ring light of your choice
Key light
Cheap diffused ring light

Any of these will give you a softer lighting directed at you, and they might also be effective bounced off the wall or ceiling depending on the shadow vectors in your closet.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:35 PM on March 1, 2023 [4 favorites]

Is using a different desk an option? I would consider something shallower, so you can sit in the closet facing out and be lit by natural light from the windows, and then just add some art to the back wall and maybe a fake plant.
posted by pinochiette at 12:56 PM on March 1, 2023 [2 favorites]

On the windows behind you, would a translucent room divider help diffuse the backlight? Could easily fold out when you clock in and in when you clock out.
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 1:35 PM on March 1, 2023 [1 favorite]

I have a Lumecube Edge light. It's expensive (but is often on sale) but is pretty solid, and adjusts really nicely.
posted by supercres at 1:52 PM on March 1, 2023

I love this lamp that I bought for my art table. Solid aluminum construction, the top and and bottom light swivel independently (even straight up) , so you can point one down to your work surface and the other to bounce off the ceiling; you can control brightness and color temp independently; clamps on so super small footprint. I bought one for a family member, I was so pleased with it.
posted by Silvery Fish at 2:18 PM on March 1, 2023

It sounds like it might be a more working pleasant experience if you can face the windows (e.g. perhaps you could get a smaller desk or put the one you do have on casters and address the electricity situation with a desk clamp power strip). The desk on castors can be rolled back into the closet at the end of the work day. Alternatively would you be happier removing the closet door(s) entirely?

Ikea has some of the best lower cost curtains (and decent curtain hanging systems).
posted by oceano at 2:47 PM on March 1, 2023

If your chair needs to be out, or partly out the door, and a curtain won't work, would it be possible to hang a curtain off a wheeled hanger rod in the outer room a foot or two behind you?
You could probably use a solid color sheet that would help control the light value, and the background would be totally neutral while giving you more room behind you as well as privacy, while allowing air flow from outside the closet.
posted by BlueHorse at 2:51 PM on March 1, 2023 [1 favorite]

I have this set of 2 fill lights for $33, and there's a 15% off coupon you can clip so the price is below $30. The light height is very adjustable and so is the angle. You just need a USB-port to power it (two if you want to use both together). It uses tripod-type mount so you can mount it with gooseneck or swingarm if you don't want to use the included tripod with height-arm.

I also have a ring-light but I don't use that nowadays. The stand takes up too much desk space.

You can use the free Nvidia Broadcast to remove the background and replace it with something else (needs NVIDIA video card).
posted by kschang at 5:46 PM on March 1, 2023

Turns out Neewer has a kit with the swingarms for about the same price.
posted by kschang at 5:56 PM on March 1, 2023

Target stores have this small panel light. (I got it as a work light, for lighting up inside a kitchen sink cabinet, for example. It's great for that, and really nice for working on tiny projects on a table. It would make a good wall-washer light too.

Target: Panel desk lamp $15.00

The panel is 8 inches high from the 3 inch weighted base, and 3 1/2 inches square. It swivels from pointing straight up, to any side angle, to straight down onto the base. It comes with a micro-usb cable and can run from any usb power source, wall plug or computer USB, etc.

The instruction sheet said "150 lumens", which seems accurate.. I'm guessing the dimmest setting is somewhere around 20-40 lumens, quite low.

It's not obvious from the website or the light's box in the store, but it has useful options:

Three color temperatures, in this sequence when turned on. Press the power button on the panel to cycle through these choices.
A very warm white color
A quite neutral white, slightly warm. I like this for task lighting.
A blue/white color.
The 4th power button press turns it back off.

There's a brightness option, only mentioned in the folded instructions after the box is opened.

Brightness: Hold down the power button to go from full bright to fairly dim. It remembers this level when it's turned on again -- good. It also remembers which direction it was going: bright->dim or dim->bright and continues that direction the next time I try to adjust. Let off the button and hold it again, it moves in the opposite direction.

The range is 150 lumens to about 20-40 lumens.
posted by jjj606 at 6:45 PM on March 1, 2023 [2 favorites]

To avoid the ring light reflection situation, I've used two different solutions: a TaoTronics TT-DL031 desk lamp, and a Logitech Litra Glow lamp. The Litra Glow is nice if you have a computer monitor, because it can clip on and you can swivel the light around in different positions, so it's not blasting you in the face. The TaoTronics lamp isn't cute, but the part with the light is pretty slim and tends to fade into the background when you have other tech stuff on your desk.

I also have a Brightech floor lamp with a Kasa dimmable smart bulb next to my desk to balance out the natural light I get from a window. I find that turning both the bulb's brightness and warmth all the way up gives me a nice diffused light. The bulb also supports all kinds of colors, which is fun.
posted by neushoorn at 5:36 AM on March 2, 2023

Since it sounds like some ceiling mounted fixture are available, I would recommend “corncob led lights”. These fit into regular sockets and consume 60 - 100 Watts of power, but they also blast a ton of light in most directions.

For one random sample

For a small closet size room, those should be to bump up the ambient level a lot.
posted by alikins at 10:27 PM on March 5, 2023

« Older [Workplace politics filter] Is this coworker...   |   How to interpret Mexican car rental insurance... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments