Video Calling 1: People Just Don’t See Me In The Right Light

polycom-hdx-4500-photo-01-300pxSince taking up my new gig with ZipDX and Polycom a splendid HDX-4500 has graced my home office. It’s without question the most sophisticated end-point device that I’ve encountered. It’s a real treat to use, especially since I do so many calls using video these days.

The HDX is large enough that it gets a desk of it’s own, located across the room from my primary desk, desktop PC et al. When I’m using the HDX I always have my laptop on that desk as well.

The trouble is that I’ve had some difficulty getting the lighting correct for video calls. I’ve muddled along trying different solutions with what I’ve had on-hand, and playing with moving things around the space. Recently I’ve come to think that I need to take more significant steps to provide consistently good lighting.

I’ll begin by describing a bit about the physical reality of my home office. This will help you to understand the existing mix of natural and artificial light present in the space.

My office was once a garage apartment. It’s basically 20 x 20 feet, so about 400 square feet. A portion of that space is carved off to create a bathroom.

I’ll save some words by providing you a sketch of the space.

Office-Layout

Here are the noteworthy and relevant attributes:

  • The largest part of the space has a vaulted ceiling with a skylight
  • That area also has a ceiling fan with lights
  • There are two sets of terrace doors facing west
  • The HDX is in a portion with an 8’ ceiling
  • That area has no overhead lighting

When the HDX first arrived I decided that the best short term solution was to put it on  table in front of one pair of the terrace doors. I don’t use those doors for egress anyway so it was ok to block them with a table.

The west facing windows effectively front-lit me during certain times of the day, most especially on sunny days. However, on cloudy days there was not quite enough light. It was ok, but not ideal. And in the evening if was just too dark.

I tried moving the HDX to different locations around the space. In doing so what I found was, while there might be more light in some spots, it wasn’t coming from the right direction. A lot of light from overhead makes me appear with a lot of shadow to others on a video call.

If you look closely you see some wires at the top center of the picture below. There was once a small set of track lights there, which I removed. I could put something back in that location, but it would be downward facing, so far less than ideal. It would create a lot of shadow, like the skylight does in the other end of the space.

HDX-4500 on desk

 

It may not help that the walls are painted Billiard Green. It’s a relatively dark color, but I recently found a reference indicating that green was in fact a special case. They claim that green is the one color that is most likely to reduce stress and fatigue. I’ve simply liked this as an office color ever since I had a chance to design an editing suite in the early 1990’s.

I’m not likely to repaint them any time soon. Even if I did that wouldn’t entirely solve the problem. It would still be too dark on cloudy days and in the evening. It has become quite plain that I need more light, and more appropriate lighting.

Please recall that I come from the broadcast industry. Moreover, my wife was a TV Producer & Director for many years. We know people who do lighting for film and video. So I asked around for some advice. I also posed the question to my Twitter followers.

I’ll have more to say about this shortly. In the mean time, here are some links to some online advice for adapting your home office space for video calling. These ideas are equally applicable to any home or small-office application of desktop video, including those who want to video blog or host Google Hangouts.

How To Design The Ideal Home Office

Video Conference Room Design & Boardroom Setup Tips

Pants Required: Attending Meetings When Working from Home

Top Video Conference Tips – Lighting

  • sean

    Lighting for film/video/photography IS everything.

    It’s an interesting world we live in: people want video calling, mobile phones that connect them to anything all the time, but they could care less about the quality of the phone call and video lighting. People want the best camera with the most megapixles to capture the most grain because they couldn’t be bothered to have better lighting. My humble opinion is people don’t try to achieve better quality because only a small portion of people know HD calling and how to setup good lighting.

    The photographer who made it clear to me that lighting IS everything for video/film/photography is joe mcNally: http://www.joemcnally.com/blog/

    • mjgraves

      Yes, indeed. There are two important things to remember; convenience trumps all else…and most people simply don’t know any better…yet. That’s why it’s worth putting the information out where it can be seen. Sharing the personal experience, and hoping that others will do the same.

      I’ve worked with numerous photographers & lighting directors over the years. Sadly, where most larger TV stations once had a lighting director now most just wing it…or hire a freelancer to come tweak the lighting on occasion.

  • Greg

    What about a simple florescent wall mount light positioned behind the monitor. Wouldn’t that provide the necessary front facing light and could be turned on/off depending on natural light conditions?

    • mjgraves

      That could work. It would require bulbs of the correct color temperature. I have issues with fluorescent lights, especially when they flicker. They’re difficult to integrate with the remote controls that we use around here. The two table lamps pictured above actually have CFL bulbs in them, but I’m slowly moving to all-LED lighting.

      OTOH, I’ve ordered something interesting that will be arriving later today.That will be the basis for a follow-up post.

  • Lurker

    You will probably not want to do this, but moving the video station to a 45 degree angle to the daylight door/window would probably give you fewer shadows during the day. The other thing I learned (read) is that the artificial lightning should rather not be produced by different types of bulbs. That said: It’s all still theory to me.

  • John Katzung

    The Picture you shared looks like there is not enough light based on the fact that there is a lot of noise in the picture you shared. The 2 desk lamps are placed in a good location, so I would recommend brighter bulbs, and new shades that allow more white light through. Should be a simple fix.