Saturday, August 22, 2020

Tips to Up Your Webcast / Distance Learning Game, Part Deux

For the purposes of Part 2 of our journey here, let’s assume a few things when considering a setup for our Remote Office – and in the not even a month since Part 1 was posted, calling it a Remote Office any more seems moot until we’ve got a virus, for millions of Americans.  All of you out there working on the Front Line of our society, please stay safe and know that the whole of the world is thankful for being carried on your backs through this incredibly challenging and dangerous historic event.


We left off in Part 1 readying ourselves for color temperatures, lighting fixture types, how they look on camera, and some realities of computer software/hardware.  So much of this is out of your control, frankly, but there are many things you can do to make yourself knowledgeable about the color temperature and output of light that you need in your studio.


Spoiler Alert, or Lazy Person’s TL;DR Because We Know How You All Are:

For your dollar value versus your sanity versus the wide variety of potential camera-and-lighting setups out there in the wild to consider, let’s set a couple of ground rules for this article:

  1. Assume that you are going to get “white lights” for your Remote Office. What I mean by this is that you want to have lights that deal with providing light that is white, whether it is fixed at a certain color temperature, or whether it has a variable setting for color temperature. There is zero need beyond the occasional cosmetic joke shot on camera that you need fixtures with full color-changing abilities. You would be better spent by purchasing fixtures that have more focus on providing top-quality camera-quality illumination to make your camera shot look excellent.
  1. Regardless of the type of fixture you get, be it an LED ring, a Studio Box, a bare bulb that is hanging in your creepy basement Remote Office that you didn’t get the message about your home office being like a serial killer den, get the diffuser accessory/kit. You can soften a light that is harsh. Most bare fixtures will be harsh, especially the LED rings. Technically, the light ring is an accessory that lives on the front of a lens on a camera to produce specific lighting fill, and it got some cameo action in Dave Matthews Band’s video for the song Too Much, directed by Ken Fox with cinematography by Michael Bernard. They liked the way it sort-of looks like teeth. The more you know!



 Color temperature, when we’re talking about lamps (or “light bulbs,” as the folks in the package stores are going to call them, so get ready and leave your Leatherman at home, nerds) – ostensibly, color temperature is the amount of red or blue that a light source tends to in its output.  Confused?  It’s truly not rocket surgery, and this graphic always helps me visualize what the heck it is color temperature really means – it does however resemble a solid middle line between what looks like a great Jim Cameron battle scene between good and evil, no?




This is about the breadth of “temperature” the lighting we use in everyday life.  These numbers are measured in Kelvin – yep science class kids, that one – and if you look around in the last third of the 2000-3000°K range, we live around the 2,700°K range.  That particular amber color is what the market considers comfortable.  At the store, that end of the spectrum is called Warm.  The further towards 6,500°K you go, the market terms are “cool” and “daylight.”  Warm light = amber = firelight, and white = clouds = daylight = Cool color.


The higher on that range you go, the “whiter” the light gets, until around 6,500°K on the scale.  Notice the blend on the graph?  At that point, from about 6,500°K and above, the light begins to trend towards higher blue in its output.  If you think of the graph here and consider what a green filter, for example, would look like with a 2,700°K colored light behind it versus an 8,000°K light source would look like.  That’s leading us down the dangerous path to Color Rendering and the Index – or CRI (Color Rendering Index) – which is the basis of how we perceive a color depending on the color temperature of the light.  For the purposes of this article, let’s let our eyes and this guide be our guide.  Per se.


LED Ain’t New, It Just Got A Lot Better More Quickly


The long and the short of it:  LEDs are low replacement light sources for older incandescent and arc discharge lamps, which use a lot of energy and generates a large amount of heat in the process of making light.  Incandescent and discharge sources were and are still commonplace items in the tv studio, theatre, concert venue, or convention center, but frankly, the more and more we develop LED technology, even the biggest and brightest discharge lamps are getting nervous from the competition.


It feels so alien to be speaking about LED like it’s a newcomer to today’s market – it’s been around and competing since the beginning of lighting fixtures in this half of last century; ostensibly, LED product has been on the market since the 1960s.  The technological growth of the diode itself has given rise to a market full of fixtures that can dial up any color of light that you want, to the wavelength that you like depending on how deep your wallet goes, and because of that, we find ourselves using a scale that was developed based on reality versus replication of reality.  The reality used to be that the color rendering index correlated more closely to what light fixtures could actually do based on energy input and material because the index is based on science, on black body radiators and math and reality.  Incandescent fixtures burning at 20W put out a very low Kelvin, warm amber glow, over there on the left of the index – while incandescent fixtures burning at 300W will put off a light more in the 3,000°K range, closer to that magic white slice there at 6,500°K where colors look perfect and vibrant, like in sunlight. 

Older School: High-Pressure Sodium Vapor and Mercury Vapor


Particularly in Broadcast and Film, which funny enough is essentially what you are doing in your Remote Office, has been a driving factor of change in lighting technology – especially that of LED.  But to understand how we’ve gotten here, you need to know from whence we came, dear Remote Officed Individual.  Due to the properties of electric light, which provides incredible amounts of intense light depending on the actual light source, we use it generously to provide bright light whenever and wherever we need.  However, the gack needed to power one of these high-intensity discharge lamps is plentiful and heavy – and if you need to use it outside on a remote location, you’re going to need a big power cable as well.  Not an optimal situation.  A high-pressure lamp is ostensibly bottled lightning:  a high-pressure glass globe with a vaporized metal gas at super high pressure allows a high-voltage arc to jump across an electrode gap, making controlled lightning into a light source.  Sound simple?  Truly, it is in many ways.


High-pressure lamps that use gasses and metals to make very high amounts of light also use this range as well, and a classic example of this would be the nasty amber basketball-colored light of the high-pressure Sodium vapor lamps used in street lights.  That color temperature isn’t good for skin at all, huh.  A sodium vapor lamp is an example of an HID, or High Intensity Discharge lamp.  By the way, your standard streetlight/outdoor wash/high pressure sodium lamp at 1,000W is 2,100°K – so basically that amber color of yolks of eggs from really good chickens who are treated humanely and given a choice of paper or plastic at the free-range chicken grocery store in their town.  Really orange-y.  On the complete other end of the spectrum, again no pun intended, are the HMI, or “metal halide” arc discharge lamps, with some very high color temperatures reaching well into the 6,000°K range.  The gas used in these lamps is Mercury, which produces a very white light tending towards blue on the color temperature range above.  A tip for all you trivia nerds out there, the HMI in HMI lamp means Hydrargyrum Medium-arc Iodide, and it’s actually an Osram-trademarked term for the gas cocktail in their very high color temperature discharge lamps.  Hydrargyrum is Greek for Mercury.


The main reason we have moved away from these hot, high-energy consuming sources is that they are just that, hot, high-energy consuming sources.  LED fixtures operate at literally a fraction of the cost, provide good light, and with electronics and software are able to do smaller format LED lighting that works great for studios ranging from your Remote Office to film shoots.

Caveat Emptor in Lumen Apparati


There’s a reason that Barbizon created an online shop for making your Remote Office as high quality and professional as possible: In general, purchasing fixtures on the cheap will get you exactly what you ask for, which is a cheap fixture.  We've curated a range of fixures for various budgets and applications and even included some handy audio tools. 

It’s a good thing though to know that even the hippest Zoom background can’t fix horrible lighting.  When you’re looking at what to put in your Remote Office, consider everything interactive that you have to accomplish during the day:  phone calls at your desk, phone calls from your cell, video chats with your coworkers, video presentations and meetings – and let’s say you’re between jobs and taking remote interviews because industries all over the world are having workers produce from home instead of going into the office.  You look better as a candidate for a remote interview if your office space looks already prepared to do business.  Again, this is a situation where your monitor light on your face and a clever background just aren’t going to make you look appealing.  As unfortunate as it is for all of us out there, your lighting reflects outwardly a perception of what your work is like.  That means changing around your home Remote Office to accurately reflect your professional quality.



Sound:  The Other Important Thing We Always Forget


Think of what you prefer in your Remote Office when it comes to hearing your colleagues and clients in a digital situation.  Do you like a fully covered ear muff style headset, or are you an earbud person?  Do you use your cell phone a lot during the day as well as a regular phone or VOIP setup?  Do you prefer having a microphone on your lapel, or will a boom microphone connected to your headset do the trick?  These are all things to consider when looking at how you will interact during the day with your people, and all of these things will affect your choices.  Truly, in many cases, all of this will come down to personal choice.

One specific audio challenge will be how you use both your computer audio and incoming cell calls simultaneously – consider having your headgear on for meetings and interaction and also having to get your phone to your ear for a call.  Instantly, you can kind of see the problem with having to move and remove your headset to take a call.  Barbizon has a range of options so you can plug your headset into your computer and into your cell phone, which allows you to mute your computer and accept a call on your headset or buds.  There are mixers that give you control over more than once source, and to mix two sources into one set of headphones.  These are all things to consider when planning your set up.  Audio problems can plague a system and be almost as bad an issue as poor lighting.  You just straight lose the ability to deliver your message.


Diffusion:  Your Face’s Best Friend


We've been rattling off now about everything in the world except for one thing that is paramount to success in the Remote Office – the diffusion kit for your chosen fixtures.  There are a lot of variables that go into a Zoom or Teams call, for example, that create special challenges that can only be solved by the proper application of illumination.  Most team-type video meeting setups are going to be running some kind of algorithm on the camera feed to normalize the picture and make the best picture from the best available light.  By providing the camera with good light, in the beginning, all the camera is going to be doing is riding the intensity level.  But what you’ll realize is that most fixtures are very bright, and your camera is going to be blinded by the light, if you will.  What’s best for your look and video picture is nice, large swaths of soft light.  Most fixtures have a diffuser kit included, or as an inexpensive add-on if it’s not already integrated into the fixture. 


The best advice to take away here is to trust your eye when it comes to your camera shot.  If you think it looks bad, angle your lights around to be at a 45° angle with your face, and experiment with diffusion versus no diffusion.  You’re going to want to be looking at the picture your camera sees, not the opinions of the other people in your household.  Trust your eye, and trust the camera.  They do not work the same, but they can both help determine how to light your Remote Office for maximum effectiveness.


One more part, Part 3:  let’s take a look at some systems put together with equipment available through Barbizon to really put this in perspective.  Stay tuned, one more part to come!

Here's a helpful landing page detailing some of the many products and kits we have for your webcasting rig: