As social media consultants, we often encourage our clients to take more selfies and to put themselves “out there” on video. While this comes naturally for business owners who grew up with a smart phone, it’s a new skill for other business owners.

I’ll give you simple tools and techniques to make sure you look your best in photos, on video, and on Zoom. Let’s start with lighting, and what we don’t want. The least flattering lighting is a strong light that comes in from the side, as in this image:

A woman with glasses on looks at the camera.

While she looks attractive and interesting, and I’m sure I’d enjoy a cup of coffee with her, the strong lighting is putting any wrinkles into high relief. Most of us would prefer not to do that.

Here’s another example. Here the light is so strong, we’re losing some of the details of one side of her face.

A woman faces forward and smiles, strong lighting hits one side of her face.

Compare those two to this image, which looks like it was taken outside, on an overcast day.

A young woman looks at the camera and smiles.  She's outdoors and the day is overcast and the light is diffuse.

It’s not a fair comparison, since she’s younger, but we know it must have been an overcast day when this was taken, because the light is diffuse. There are no harsh shadows on her face. This light is flattering.

So what kind of lighting IS flattering?

Head-on lighting, where the light is right in front of you, is the most flattering. That’s why everyone you know is telling you to buy a ring light. What’s a ring light?

A ring light, shown on a stand, with phone holder and other accessories.

That’s what a ring light looks like. Usually your phone goes right in the middle, on a tripod adaptor. These are very popular with YouTubers and are a perfectly fine choice for those who don’t wear glasses. Those of us who do wear glasses will show up on videos with lots of little circles reflected in our glasses.

Let’s look at a good picture:

A woman in a portrait studio smiles a the camera.  The lighting is perfect.

You can see in this photo, which for all we know, has been edited some, but we can see that the lighting is diffuse, it’s nice, flattering light and she looks good.

If you’re ready to get a simple, affordable lighting set up, but you can’t use a ring light because of glasses, not to worry, the panel LED light is for you!

Neewer LED Panel Lights with barn doors.

These lights are affordable, easy to find and the Neewer brand comes with the stand and the storage bags. Unlike most lighting set ups, these really do fit back into their bags (except the stands, the stands don’t go into the bags.)

The “barn doors” or flaps on these are optional. They come with a plug, but if you need to be more portable, you can buy rechargeable batteries separately.

For photos and videos, you’ll want one or two LED panel lights. For Zoom calls, I put one LED panel light like this in my office and point it up at the ceiling. (It’s too bright if it’s pointed right at my face.).

When two lights aren’t quite right for the video you’re filming, you can tweak things by use a reflector, like this:

Person holding a round reflector that is silver and reflective.

A white foam core board from the office supply store can also do the same trick.

Here are a couple more accessories that you may or may not need. You may want a photo backdrop. The cheapest kind is photo paper, Savage is the brand. It comes on a roll, you use it and when it’s dirty or used up, you cut it off and roll down some more. It comes in various sizes and you would need a back drop stand for this, unless you wanted to cut off a section and affix it to your wall.

Photo paper is also great for product shots and is perfectly printed and balanced for photography. Sometimes blue paper that looks blue to you, doesn’t look blue to your camera. With photo paper, you avoid that problem.

And you might need an adaptor for your tripod that holds your phone.

A roll of Savage photo paper.

A Neewer tripod adaptor is shown holding an iPhone.

Keep practicing! Use flattering lighting, flattering angles, ask a teenager or college student for tips, and don’t give up! Schedule some time each week to take pictures you can use on your social media and on your website to promote your business and help customers get to know you better.

While it can be uncomfortable at first, with practice, we’ll get better, and it’s worth it! People want to do business with a real person, so put yourself out there and let people see you!

Two young women take a selfie, holding the phone high up.