To get the best picture, one needs more than a high-quality webcam. Lighting is important.
A bad webcam with great lighting is better than a great webcam with bad lighting.
- Two light sources.
- Positioned behind the camera, to the left and right.
- As far back as possible, at about 45 degrees, pointed right at the subject.
As bright as possible, but "softened", using a good light bulb, a light box, a filter, or reflecting.
Two desk lamps and your ceiling light is a basic start. Those and another two lamps pointed at the wall behind the camera would be a great start.
The art and style of the background is a separate issue which I won't describe.
Understanding lighting ∞
- A camera in the dark can't see anything.
- A camera in dim lighting can only see things poorly. Great cameras will show a pretty good image, but they will appear "grainy".
A camera in great lighting has the best chance for a great image.
So you want great lighting, but what is that?
Understanding shadows ∞
Imagining three things:
- A flat white background.
- Your hand.
Hold your hand up to the background, turn the flashlight on, and your hand looks great. However, it casts a sharp shadow.
Imagining these three things:
- Your bathroom mirror.
- Your face.
An overhead light.
A shadow will be cast across your face.
- If the light is above and behind you, then your shadow will envelop your whole face.
If the light is above you, then an obvious shadow will be cast across your neck.
To understand the subtleties of shadow across your face, imagine the light being moved to side.
If the light is to your side, then an obvious shadow will be cast across the opposite side of your face.
Think of lighting as always creating a darkening effect opposite where it is pointing.
Eliminating shadows ∞
There are two reasons you want to eliminate shadows. Firstly is because it darkens parts of what you're filming. Second is because it'll wreck your background too.
To eliminate shadows, you would need:
- Softer lights which don't cast such sharply-defined shadows. Shadows with fuzzy edges look better.
Multiple light sources from complementary directions which "cancel out" each other's shadows.
Softening lights ∞
Lights can themselves be made fuzzy and soft if they are filtered through, or fractured by, something. This gives a better-looking "gradient shadow". A gentle progression of darkness looks way better than a surface which suddenly changes.
- "Light boxes" - There are lighting kits which place lights in a box so the front of the box can be draped with a light-diffusing sheet.
Reflectors - There are umbrellas where the lighting is mounted inside it, and its "handle"-end is pointed at the subject. This is a twofold improvement.
- Firstly the lighting is fractured by the various angles of panels.
- Secondly the reflective surface is, in a sense, "powdered", diffusing the light.
One of the most simple things to do is point the cameras at the wall, not at the subject.
Multiple lights ∞
Lights can be positioned in such a way that the shadows more-or-less cancel one another out.
This won't be perfect, but it can be done fairly effectively. Since you only care about what is being seen by the camera, you only need to fill in the shadows of the face.
To do so, you would need one light in front of the face, to one side of the camera. A second light to the other side of the camera will help "fill in" the shadows cast by the first light.
If the lights are pulled back well-behind the camera, and are out to the sides a fair way, then the light they project will naturally soften over their distance. When shone through a filter, the light is weakened it will be further-softened.
Either very bright lights or multiple lights on the left and right will combat this weakening effect.
(Multiple lights could technically be done a little above and a little below the face, but the shadows are extremely difficult to work with, and the image it creates looks terribad.)
The flatness of cancelling shadows ∞
The more perfect the lighting, the more balanced and positioned it is, the more seemingly-"flat" the image will be.
Shadows are quite important for us to perceive depth. So to enhance three-dimensionality, shadows need to be subtly encouraged.
If one side of the lighting is slightly weaker than the other, then just enough of a shadow will be cast on one side that the face will "pop out" more.
Product suggestions ∞
- Beginners just testing the waters can start with a couple of old desk lamps and good positioning.
- Amateurs can use a stand for their lights, use good light bulbs and cheap diffusion sheets.
If you take this very seriously, then consider a "studio lighting" kit.
- Fancierstudio 2400 Watt Light Kit Lighting Kit Three Softbox With Grid New Model FGD2 By Fancierstudio
There are some other nice suggestions here: