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How to look good on Zoom, according to two movie lighting/production experts

Lighting experts offer tips for Zoom meetings (or Zoom dating). Natural light is good, and so are lamps. Overhead lights? Not so good.
Lighting experts offer tips for Zoom meetings (or Zoom dating). Natural light is good, and so are lamps. Overhead lights? Not so good.ake1150 - stock.adobe.com

Many of us live on Zoom and FaceTime now.

We do business there. It’s where we celebrate birthdays and check in on loved ones.

Some people are even dating on Zoom.

But it can be difficult to look good on these platforms. There is no magic filter — yet.

What’s the secret to looking better — or even just more like ourselves — on these calls?

Two lighting experts — who’ve worked on a bunch of local films — offered some tips. Katherine Castro, a New Yorker raised in Massachusetts who’s been staying in Boston with family, is a cinematographer who worked in the camera department on local films such as “The Equalizer,” “Detroit,” “Ted 2,” and “Spotlight.” Joshua Dreyfus has worked as a gaffer/chief lighting technician on local projects such as “Little Women,” “SMILF,” and “Manchester-by-the-Sea.” His latest is “Defending Jacob,” which premieres on Apple TV on April 24.

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Cinematographer Katherine Castro on set.
Cinematographer Katherine Castro on set. Handout (custom credit)/Handout

According to Castro and Dreyfus, who offered their advice separately, here are the rules:

  • No overhead lighting. Castro said overhead lighting is not good for anybody, and that “it’s always about lamps.” Natural light through windows works, too.
  • Know your bulbs. Your bulbs should match, Castro said. If they’re in the same room, they should be giving you the same kind of light. Dreyfus said that if you’re buying an LED bulb and you want warm light, you want the color temperature to be about 2700k. If you’re mixing it with daylight, he said, it should be closer to 6000k.
  • North is good. Dreyfus says to take your Zoom calls near a north-facing window, if possible.
  • Look for shadows. Natural light is great, Castro said, unless it’s too strong. If shadows on the wall are sharp, you might need to dampen the light a bit.
  • Many things can be curtains. Related to the last tip, both Castro and Dreyfus listed items that can mute harsh natural light when necessary. Try shower curtains, printer paper, pillow cases, or a bedsheet.
  • Date Tip 1: Dreyfus said that if you’re having a Zoom date, keep the light source behind you, and low.
  • Date Tip 2: Dreyfus recommended taking the date-night call in a small space because the wall in front of you will bounce the light from the lamp back onto your face. That kind of glow is more flattering than direct light.
  • Follow the cat. Castro says that if you have a cat, pay attention to where it curls up, because that might be the prettiest, warmest light in your living space. That’s where you should take calls.
  • Position your equipment. This isn’t a lighting tip, but both Castro and Dreyfus agreed that your camera shouldn’t be looking up at your neck. “Everybody knows how to take a selfie,” Castro said. “You want to take it from above, not looking up your nose. Angle your laptop so it’s straight on your face.”
Joshua Dreyfus, on set.
Joshua Dreyfus, on set.Courtesy (custom credit)/Courtesy