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Old March 28th, 2017, 06:56 PM   #1
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Great (yet practical) lighting for video conferences

When it comes to video conferencing, one can open their laptop in a dark room and point it at yourself backlit by the noon day sun. Or you can set up a fully staffed news room. What about something in between?

It's an easy improvement to set up in front of a bookcase and turn the lights on, but not all lights are equal; hence this thread.

We're not making a movie or TV show here and compression will be high, so we're looking for lighting quality, not quantity. We can live with quite a bit of noise here. We can light the bookshelf, the key, and any back/hair light with a hard light, so we have lots of options here. It's the fill that is more challenging. One can go with a softbox, shine through a diffuser, use a large panel, or reflect the light from a large surface.

It would be great to go with LED lighting to keep things small, cool, and efficient. If the CRI is imperfect, we'll get over it.

But let's complicate it a bit. What if you travel? Some mini-stands and little spots might be practical, but what about the fill? As you know, once you spread out the light, it gets dim. And a reflector/diffuser/softbox doesn't stand up by itself.

Maybe the solution is to put a spot or ring light at the camera. It wouldn't be soft light, but it would have even coverage from the camera's POV.

So... what products would people recommend for such a kit? Maybe the home kit and travel kit have different equipment.

Keep in mind that we're not going for an Emmy here. In fact, if it's too slick, it could come off as strange. But if it looks professional and reasonably authentic, it could help make a good impression.

I'm looking forward to your input!
Jon Fairhurst
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Old March 28th, 2017, 10:24 PM   #2
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Re: Great (yet practical) lighting for video conferences

Jon - a few questions here:

1. Is the videographer and the talent one and the same, or was the videographer hired to do this shoot?

2. Are we talking one person being videoed or more than one? (Or is the answer “Yes.”?)

3. Assuming 16:9, how wide would the shoot be at the (a) talent (talking head)? Say ~ 6 feet (~ 2 meters for the rest of the world)? Or a bit wider?
Or is this a news shoot with the head filling the screen? (Don’t want to leave out any news shooters here. Speaking of them guys, they use only, and that’s a maybe, one light.)
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Old March 28th, 2017, 11:08 PM   #3
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Re: Great (yet practical) lighting for video conferences

My use case is as simple as can be - a professional attending an online meeting from a home office. So there's no crew, there's only one person, and the aspect ratio is 16:9.

The distance from the camera and field of view is typically one of these scenarios:

1) A person at their laptop with the laptop camera. That's just a distance of 2.5 to 3 feet with a wide focal length. Yes, we're talking dog-nose and little ears. This generally looks "cheap" and can make professional people look like amateurs.

2) The meeting room setup will typically have the camera ten feet or more from multiple participants. It will also use a wide lens to capture the room. This makes participants look like working people, but we don't see their expressions well. They don't typically look at the camera. The participants look detached.

I envision a setup with the camera 6-8 feet from the "talent" with a medium tele lens. It needs to be high enough to see the single participant over (or to the side of) the laptop/monitor.

Come to think of it, the best solution might have a large TV near the camera, rather than a PC on the desk. The reason is that when people "Skype", they look at the picture on the monitor, but not at the camera. The difference in angle can be enough that people aren't quite looking at one another. Maybe I need a teleprompter setup. Ha!

To balance things out, we need to consider authenticity. You don't want a professional/executive to look like a kid in the bedroom pf their parent's house, but you also don't want him or her to look like they're trying too hard. Maybe the key is to have the space feel comfortable. If the participant is relaxed and at ease, the interaction will feel natural.

The overall scenario is of a professional/consultant working remotely from a home office. They should look like they are worth every penny. Most of that comes from demeanor, but there's no reason not to maximize it with good videography.
Jon Fairhurst
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Old March 29th, 2017, 05:47 AM   #4
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Re: Great (yet practical) lighting for video conferences

How difficult.would it be to merge a green screen feed with a static background image like your typical TV news pundit?
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Old March 29th, 2017, 09:18 AM   #5
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Re: Great (yet practical) lighting for video conferences

I purchased three Manfrotto XPRO Prime Base 3-Section Aluminum Monopod when B&H had them on sale for half price.

Next I purchased three Gen 1 LitePanel Chroma from B&H when they were on sale for half price prior to the Gen 2 models being released.

I added these to the Litepanels Lumina and Indeo monopod I already owned, it makes for a portable and compact light kit for interviews.

Its not as lightweight as I had hoped it would be, as the monopods weights combined add up. Everything packs up into a 28" L x 10" W x 10" H duffle back that I sling over my shoulder.
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Old March 29th, 2017, 11:18 AM   #6
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Re: Great (yet practical) lighting for video conferences

Jim - I don't necessarily want a green screen as you need really good equipment to do it well. The fun thing would be using it on the road. Let's say you normally do the video conferences in front of a certain bookcase. In theory, you could be in a remote hotel room and show the same setting. :)

Ed - great tips on lights and stands. I hadn't thought about using a monopod with legs for lights, but it would work.

These light panels aren't very large, so they would only be so soft, but they might be just the ticket with clamshell lighting. We don't need (or necessarily want) dramatic, three point lighting. Clamshell lighting would eliminate shadows and ensure that the face is well lit compared to the backgound. With small panels up close, they would be just soft enough to be attractive.

In some glamour shoots, they do clamshells with one light above and one below. In this case, left and right would be simpler and would probably look more natural. Adjustable color temp could be important as the background might be naturally lit in the day and lit by tungsten at night. One issue is that hotel rooms often have sickly green fluorescent bulbs. If the clamshell approach splashes enough light on the background, that problem might just be solved...
Jon Fairhurst
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