Thursday, April 16, 2020

Dramatically improve your webcam video quality with this one simple trick!

By Steve Endow

Sorry for the click bait title, but I've always found the psychology of those annoying headlines rather interesting.

But in this case, it's an honest title, because this is a single "simple trick" and it will dramatically improve your webcam video quality.

I present a before and after image:

Before and After

The image on the left is my webcam video with only the room lighting.  It looks terrible!

I have recessed lights in my home office, with the lights to the left and right of me.  Notice the dark shadows around my eyes and under my chin.  And notice the color--due to the white balance of the video and room lights, my skin looks very dark.



My Simple Trick

I use a small battery powered LED video light on my desk to light up my face.

Amaran AL-F7 Battery Powered LED Video Light

I place the light on my desk, directly in front of me, pointing at an upward angle towards my face.

I'm using the Aputure Amaran AL-F7, but there are dozens of much cheaper brands and models you could use (like this one for example).  This wasn't the intended purpose of the Amaran AL-F7 when I bought it (I use it completely differently for my videos), so it isn't 100% perfect for this use, but it does work very well.

There are hundreds of desktop lighting options, and your desk setup, webcam setup, and room lighting will affect what works best for you, but the concept is the same:  Get some direct light on your face.


Two Key Features

If you buy a different brand or model or style light, I recommend looking for 2 features:

1.  Adjustable brightness level:  You will want to be able to finely adjust the light brightness to work well for your work area and your room lighting.  Avoid any light that only has on/off, and look for a light that can go down to at least 50% brightness or lower to give you the most flexibility.  For maximum brightness level, 1000 lux should be plenty.

2.  Adjustable Color Temperature:  THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT!  Adjustable color temperature will allow you to (somewhat) match your room lighting.  If you use standard residential lights, those are probably in the 2700K - 3000K range--also called "warm" lights.  If you happen to know that you have 3000K or 3200K or 3500K lights, you can find a light that can cover that range.  Even if you know your lights are rated as 3000K, still get a light with adjustable color temperature.  You may see this feature called "bi-color", as it means the light has both cool and warm LED bulbs.

My office lights are supposed to be 3000K, but when I use the Amaran AL-F7 on its warmest setting of 3200K, the light looks warmer than the light in my office.  So the adjustable color temperature is essential.


Power Options

The small LED lights like the Amaran usually use the "Sony NP-F" style batteries.  The Amaran AL-F7 can run on either an NP-F battery, or a USB-C power cable.  Many light "kits" will include a battery and charger.


Soft Light

Once you get the light setup and dial in the color temperature and brightness, the light may be harsh or may shine too much in your eyes.

Ideally you want a diffuse or soft light on your face, so you will probably want to put a diffuser on the light, if it doesn't come with one.  The Amaran AL-F7 does not come with a diffuser, so I have taped a piece of diffusion fabric to it.

Diffusion Fabric Over Light

You could try a tissue or tissue paper, or you could purchase a yard of diffusion fabric like this one or this one.

Admittedly, while this does seem to work well, it is annoying to have a relatively bright light shining in your face.  So I wouldn't use this for every casual web meeting, but I just used it today for a live video stream of the Power Platform Share, and I think it worked out quite well.



Steve Endow is a Microsoft MVP in Los Angeles.  He works with Dynamics 365 Business Central, Power Automate, Power Apps, Azure, Dynamics GP, SQL Server, and .NET

You can also find him on Twitter and YouTube



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