How to create quality webcam lighting for less than $15

In a recent blog post, I demonstrated how you can create flipped classroom content with Articulate Replay. Several people then asked how I created the video, so I thought I’d share some of my production tips. This first one is about my camera lighting setup.

Anyone who shoots video will have to figure out how to get good lighting. No matter what kind of camera you use, your challenge is to create lighting that helps the on-screen talent (you!) look their best.

Over the years, I’ve tried out any number of solutions, ranging from cheap (a shop light covered with parchment paper) to fairly expensive (professional softboxes). And while the easiest way to get good lighting is to pull out the credit card and purchase a specialized, 3-point lighting kit, my favorite method is definitely the Do-It-Yourself design I accidentally discovered a few weeks ago.

The Webcam Lighting Challenge

My home office is in a basement room, where the only sources of light are a couple of overhead fixtures and a south-facing egress window. A few weeks ago, I rearranged my office so my desk faced the window, which let me see a little bit of sky and the tops of the trees in the yard. The natural light that came through the window was nice, though at times intense and direct.  On a recent morning, I recorded some video samples on my new webcam and was struck by how much more natural I looked with just this indirect light than I did when I used the professional softboxes.

Option 1: Light Your Subject with an Exterior Window

So your cheapest option is to do what I did: Sit in front of a window that has some indirect sunlight. You may be pleasantly surprised by the quality you achieve. Remember, though, that the sun doesn’t sit still, so some hours will be more optimal. And if the sun starts to shine directly into your window, your webcam may have a hard time adjusting its exposure settings. This is particularly troublesome here in the northern hemisphere, where the low winter sun shines directly into my window.

Option 2: Window with Direct Light - Build a Diffuser

It was intense sunlight that led me to devise a $15 solution to turn solar glare into a natural, even light. Here’s how it evolved: I was about to conduct a video chat interview when the sun started shining directly into my window. My webcam couldn’t adjust to the intensity of the sun, so I needed a quick solution to diffuse the light. I happen to have a large pop-up light tent that looked promising as a diffuser, so I opened it halfway and wedged it in front of the window and on top my monitors. It looked ridiculous resting just off-camera above my head, but it worked beautifully, and the quality of light was awesome! Voila: I’d created a softbox with the sun as my light source.  

Inspired, I went to the fabric store and for $6 purchased two yards of the same ripstop nylon used on light tents and softboxes. Next, I purchased some one-inch PVC tubing and four elbow joints at the home improvement store for around $7. In less than an hour, I had everything I needed for my diffuser.

Building a light diffuser is really simple. First, measure the inside dimensions of your window and build a PVC frame that fits snugly inside the window opening. Then, cut your ripstop nylon so it’s a few inches wider and higher than your frame. Notch the corners of the fabric to create four long tabs that extend over the sides of the frame, then sew the tabs around the frame to finish your diffuser.


Another option is to pin or tape your ripstop nylon directly to the window frame, so you can easily experiment with one or more layers of fabric. Either of these will set you up nicely the next time you need to diffuse the bright sunlight into natural, even light for your webcam recording. You’ll love the results!

One last thing to consider is the consistency of lighting you’ll need for your project. Since natural light’s always on the move, you may only have an hour or so before you have to adjust your lighting, change locations, or end your recording session for the day. If you think you’ll be recording for awhile, you may want to save yourself some logistical hassles and use artificial lighting to get a consistent light quality across your takes.

I hope these easy lighting ideas help you get some great webcam recordings. Do you have lighting tips and tricks you’d like to share? If so, please add them to the comments below. We’d love to hear about your innovative solutions! For more great e-learning ideas, follow us on Twitter.

Ikemefuna Nwosu

Mike, Thanks for the inspiration. My challenge was my desk and home-office set -up just wouldn't allow me to move the desk to the window. I opened up a track lighting system that I bought for a few dollars from a garage sale 3 years ago and never used. Converted it to power up from a socket instead of a wall switch (by reconfiguring an old extension cable) Attached it to a 2X4 ($17)and laid the plank across the top shelves of my library shelving on either side of my desk. Next for light diffusion, I cut circular patches of fabric from a torn white t-shirt. Used clips to attach them to the three lamps. Voila! A Mike Enders Inspired light diffusion system. You can see the difference in lighting before and after as well as pics of the system attached to the link below. Th... Expand