Lighting and styling your virtual event space

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Without a doubt, impressions still count over webcam. Video fidelity will always vary with the quality of your equipment and your Internet connection, but a basic, presentable video appearance is well under your control and is a key ‘best practice’ for all video conferencing.

All the equipment described below can be purchased in the Legacy Sustainable Events Marketplace.

Why it matters

Lighting is a form of communication in itself. There’s a reason why most people feel gloomy during rainy weather and productive on a sunlit day.

A study called “Action spectrum for melatonin regulation in humans” has found that blue light in wavelengths between 460 and 480 nm suppresses melatonin, a hormone in our bodies that regulates our circadian rhythm and is synthesized from an amino acid in our food called tryptophan.

Put simply, a lack of light triggers a “downer” response, prompting our bodies to release melatonin. We often associate darkness with conflict, confusion, and despair due to its central role in our circadian patterns. This is the message that a scene lacking in light sends to people. Light plays a central role in how we perceive the world around us, so it has a deeper effect than simply giving us the ability to see objects clearly.

How to light your space

Finding good lighting isn’t always easy. It’s the reason the task of production usually involves giant lights, accessories, and teams of people to set everything up.

Generally, increasing the amount of lighting (using LEDs or energy-efficient bulbs) can work miracles in presentation. View a video of someone speaking in a warmly-lit environment, then view one where the presenter’s only source of light is the reflection from a computer monitor. If both presenters are equally talented, chances are you will like the well-lit presenter more at first sight.

The lesson from this is to ensure that you have at least 800 lumens per 400 cubic feet (37.5 cubic meters) of volume in the room where you are filming. That translates to having the equivalent of two 9-watt LED light bulbs in one room measuring 15 square meters. If you want the best lighting, we’d recommend at least 1350 lumens in that same space (3×9-watt light bulbs).

Choice of light source

The typical home will have incandescent, halogen, compact fluorescent (CFL), or LED lighting. Different types of light bulbs have different colour rendering abilities so trialling a few options will help you see what makes your face look luminous and enhances your natural skin tone.

The Colour Rendering Index (CRI) refers to how accurately artificial light shows colors of the objects (or people) under them. Low CRI lights may be advantageous for people with faces that have imperfections on the skin, since it makes them easier to mask. High CRI lights will work well for people with darker skin tones, since it helps reveal the nuances in pigment that would otherwise have been glossed over with a simpler incandescent bulb.

The colour temperature of a light bulb refers to how “warm” or “cold” a light is and can be used to set the scene for the type environment you want to show. Cold lights are typically slightly blue in their hue, while warm light is more yellow.

For something that resembles a chat by a fireplace, you should go for warmer, incandescent light. Sunlight emits light at around 5,900 K, which is towards the cold end of the scale. With properly-balanced lighting, you could actually make it look like you’re presenting yourself in a sunlit room even in the middle of the night.

If your light source is too bright, it can wash out your face and make it difficult to concentrate on your facial features. To fix this, try moving your lighting source further away from your face and let your camera automatically adjust the balance. If that is still too bright, try diffusing the light with a professional light diffuser or make your own with at home with materials like wax paper or tissue paper.

Understanding CRI & Why It’s Important with LED Lights
Understanding CRI & Why It’s Important with LED Lights
Warm light vs cool light [Image credit: Westinghouse lighting http://www.westinghouselighting.com/color-temperature.aspx]

Positioning your light source – light from the front

For best lighting, we advise lighting your face indirectly, from a front-facing angle. This evenly accentuates and brightens your skin and features, giving you a clear, flattering, movie-star-like quality. Use a relatively weak light source so you don’t end up looking washed out and position it towards your face from the front.

The easiest way to achieve this is to set up your computer in front of a window. If you don’t have a good forward-facing light source, open up a white image or Word document on your external monitor or laptop and use that as a light source on your face.

Avoid placing your lighting directly above you, as this can cause some dark and distracting shadows that draw attention away from your face.

Avoid pointing the light source directly at your eyes. Instead, position it in such a way that it sits above you and points just above your head. You do not want the majority of the light to hit you, but you want just enough to make your face a bit more brilliant on screen.

Also be aware that your screen can be a large source of light, so adjust your screen brightness, too, especially if you are taking a call without natural light.

Prince Charles opening the NHS Nightingale Hospital via video link from Birkhall in Scotland

Keep it eye level

Keep the camera eye-level or higher. You want to make sure your computer’s at least a little bit elevated so that you don’t have the double-chin effect or the computer looking up your nostrils.

If you don’t have the right equipment or desk configuration to position your device at eye level, you can go DIY by stacking some flat, sturdy household items. Dictionaries, cookbooks and hardcover books will do nicely.

Distance from the screen

Position yourself about an arm’s length away from the screen, and make sure you leave a bit of space between the top of your hair and the top of the frame. In the video world, this space is called “headroom.”

Styling your space

Sitting in front of anything other than a blank wall creates a mood, whether it’s an eclectic picture wall, a mix of textiles, or exposed slabs of concrete or brick.  Try to make these backgrounds as eye-catching as possible, but don’t overdo it with too much going on behind you.

Styling you

In general, bright colours and white clothes, all of which reflect lots of light, are not the best choices. Instead, opt for cooler colours, and preferably muted earth tones or blues. Patterns are fun, but if you’ve got a lower-fidelity camera, you might be creating some distracting optical illusions with those thin stripes.

Consider your background. If you wear a grey sweater against a grey wall, you’ll look washed out.

Don’t wear a strapless top or deep V-neck: Besides the potential appearance of being topless when cropped on video, you risk a wardrobe malfunction because your video camera is positioned above you.


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