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How to light your Zoom call like a professional

Ban those dark circles and shadows with these tips from how to bounce light, where to place lights and even small lighting devices you can buy for very little investment

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We're all living a Zoom life now, and if not, we're using one of several video options like Houseparty and Skype to connect with co-workers, cousins and even our neighbors right across the road. Some people are also conducting job interviews virtually, or even closing real estate deals. These online chats are helping many of us feel connected, less isolated and calmer during these uncertain days. They're also — quite literally — casting many of us in a bad light.

While some of us are blessed with picture perfect lighting designs in our home, or giant picture windows that stream filtered sunlight, others are inside apartments with single light bulb fixtures that could use some help. Here are several options you can pick up today and try today, probably with some things in your home right now.

Light you, not your back

Business Video Conference Lights in front of you, and behind the camera, can add a glow to your face that's softer Getty Images

First, put the light behind your camera — not your back. This goes for a window or lamp. Ideally, you want the light to illuminate you — so you want it pushed towards your face and body. Facing a window is great especially if the light it diffuse and soft, or a lamp.

The goal is to get the light towards your face so you're bright and clear. If you have a fairly hard light, think about bouncing that light against another surface instead of directing it at you. All that means is aiming the light at a wall next to you, for example, which then forces the light to re-aim, or bounce, towards you but is now less strong.

White board

Stand for placing images and texts. 3D A simple piece of white poster board can help to bounce and soften harsh lighting Getty Images/iStockphoto

Professionals often use white boards to bounce light up to people's faces, and also to fill in shadows. You can do the same thing with a white poster board or a piece of fabric that you pin into a frame or tack on to a board.

Ideally, the white surface should be a bit lower than your face — and lower than the camera (and of course behind the camera so it's not seen.) This isn't going to create a huge amount of light on your face, but it can help to re-direct other light back on to you, and create a softer halo effect.

Add some color

C by GE smart light bulbs C by GE smart light bulbGearBrain

Smart lights can glow millions of different colors. But turn your C by GE or Philips Hue bulbs to purple or blue, and you're likely giving off more of a Dance Party vibe than you may want. Instead, shift to the white tones and go for those that are mimic natural colors on the warm or cool spectrum.

You can, however, cast a bit of color if you want — perhaps some rose — into the space or experiment with light colors that are best for your skin tone and complexion. You don't want to be heavy handed here with the settings, but instead focus on adding some glow back into your cheeks.

Small light stand

Closeup of circular neon LED lamp at white background. Popular modern light for make-up and beauty portraits A ring-shaped light stand can create a halo of light around your face Getty Images/iStockphoto

You can buy small lights designed just for this purpose online, small lamps, sometimes called selfie or ring lights,, often with LED bulbs that glow right under your camera and your face. These often have multiple settings from a low to medium and then a higher setting depending on what you prefer. You can sometimes get these for under $25.

Some are battery-powered, others have a USB end that can plug into a smartphone, or use batteries. Make sure you know what you're buying, to make sure it works where you typically hold your video calls.

The closer the light actually is, the better shot at it creating a cloud-like effect rather than a sharp spot. And consider placing it at an angle, rather than right in front. The optimum points when adding lights around your face are at 10 and 2 pm if you're sitting at, and facing, high noon. You'll also want a slight light behind you – again from an angle.

Hand or Stand Mirror

Single magnifying beauty mirror on stand isolated against pure white front view A hand mirror can beam more directed light towards you face if placed below you, and behind the camera Getty Images/iStockphoto

A mirror placed in front of your face can also bounce light on you, and it's something that professional lighting people use too only they call them, reflective lighting kits. You kit may just be the small stand mirror from your bathroom, but the idea is the same. You're basically using the mirror, instead of a wall or a white board, to bounce light from another light source towards you.

You'll want to practice a bit here so you don't bounce light that creates a flare or swath. The goal here is a soft, diffused glow and not a flashlight spot that is harsh.

All of these options are fairly affordable, and shouldn't set you back more than $50, at the most, to get started. Given the uncertainty of how long people will be asked to keep their physical distance from each other, it's fair to not invest a lot of funds into a set up right now.

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