Lighting Techniques for Webcam Lecture Recordings

by Aaron Bannasch

Have you ever wondered how the photos on social media look so glamorous? Even the most self-produced “selfies” typically have a lot of effort put into them that may not be apparent in the seemingly effortless final product. In addition to the positioning of the camera lens and subject, using makeup, photographic filters, and editing software, the lighting is a big factor in the quality of an image.

The How To Guides section of the Distance Learning website has some tips for lighting for video recordings. This blog post will explain a few cinematography concepts that can make anyone look great on camera. A well-lit video can make it easier for students to see your instructional gestures and facial expressions, add credibility to your video lectures, and help you feel more confident about using video, since you won’t have to worry about the image quality and can focus your attention on delivering great content. The concepts in this blog post are summarized from an easy-to-read book about the basics of video production, The Bare Bones Camera Course for Film and Video.

In the book, simple cartoons illustrate where to position the subject (in this case, yourself) in relation to the camera and the light sources. You can’t always have total control over this; sometimes the lights or the camera are locked in place and unable to move. But even then there are ways to work around these limitations and create high quality images.

Lighting around the clock

Look at this diagram that shows a person, a light, and a camera.

Lighting Diagram Clock Single Light Source

The perspective is a view from above to help illustrate the concept. By drawing an analog clock face onto the diagram, you can use the hours of the clock to position the light and the camera. In this diagram, the person is at the center of the clock and the camera is at 6 while the light source is at 4. Sitting at your desk, facing your computer’s webcam, you can position a desk lamp to the left of your computer and achieve a similar lighting setup. If your lamp is stuck to a wall or ceiling and can’t move, try moving yourself or your computer. If both the light and the computer are stuck in place, try turning off the light and borrowing a lamp from another room that is more mobile.

Modifying the light

Another way to change a light is to modify it by reflecting it or filtering it. If your light is causing a lot of shadows, put a piece over white paper over it. This will make the light less bright, but it will also make the shadows softer or disappear completely. You can use white paper or other white material to reflect the light.

If my light is at 4 o’clock and my reflective white paper is at 9 o’clock, then any of the shadows cast from the light will be filled in by its reflection. Reflecting light is a way to add more light sources, even though you really only have the one lamp.

Lighting Diagram Clock Reflected Light Source


However, if you have more than one lamp you can do the same thing. The more light you have, the fewer shadows there will be because each additional light cancels out the other light’s shadow, as long as they are of similar brightness and equal distance to the subject. Add lights one at a time, because adding too much light can start eliminate the detail of the image; light and shadow are important for defining shapes like facial features.

Try it out!

Lighting can be a fun activity, and once you figure out the setup you like you can sketch a diagram of your own to use over again every time you make a new video recording. If you can’t get achieve the effect you want, contact an Instructional Technologist and ask for a consultation meeting. If you have a technique you use that you want to share, please tell us in the comments section!