What’s Wrong With My Ring Light?

Most people are easily distracted by “shiny objects” that come into view.

We’re always looking for something new and interesting…so we’re susceptible to following new trends without investigating them first.

That’s why, for example, so many people have bought ring lights for their primary on-camera light source. Sure sounds like a good idea!

Yet…visit any professional photography studio, or TV studio for news and weather, and you’ll see lots of fancy light boxes and other lighting sources…but no ring lights.

As a professional videographer and photographer, I can assure you they’re a fad too quickly embraced, and not your best solution. 

Ring lights are more useful for putting on makeup and other close-up facial primping.

Sure, in a pinch, if that’s all the light you have, they can be better than NO lights if you don’t also have natural window lighting to brighten your face.

They are not, however, a good choice if you want to look your best on camera as we’ve been conditioned from watching so many TV shows and newscasts.

First, ring lights create a similar bright circular image in your pupils, which gives your eyes an unnatural and distracting look…and block some of your special color in the center of your eyes.

Eye contact is so critical to connecting with people – so anything unnatural in your eyes will distract viewers from staying focused on your message and purpose for communicating.

Second, ring lights don’t give the needed even modeling light provided by a photographer’s light box (that big black cube-like shape made of material, with white material across the front to soften the lighting).

And third, some are tempted to just put one ring light behind the camera, which flattens your face and loses the natural 3D look. 

Here’s basically how professionals light people for still shots or on-camera appearances.

KEY LIGHT – You need a main light in front of you, a bit to one side of your camera, and usually about 6-12 inches above eye level.  Your key is the main lighting to make your skin bright enough to achieve full, natural color and be in sharp focus.

Your key light should use daylight bulbs, or better, daylight LEDs.  Same as “full-spectrum” bulbs, they are white light vs. the orange of tungsten bulbs often used in lamps in your house.

Why daylight types?  Because they give the most natural, accurate color rendition.  Hardly anybody looks good with an orange glow.

A light pink filter over your key can help give pale-skinned women a slight rose-colored blush, similar to normal makeup.  An LED bank light with color-adjusting knob can bring a bit of color for men and women as needed.

Since your key light will cast obvious shadows under your eyes and chin, and to one side of your nose, you complete the natural lighting look with a…

FILL LIGHT – placed on the opposite side of the camera from your key light…maybe a couple of feet or so typically…and at about half-power compared to the key light.

Your fill light should also be daylight quality for color match.

Note that you can use a window off to one side as fill light, but it’s not always consistent brightness or color.  When clouds pass in front of the sun, or as the sun moves across the sky, or when it gets overcast – your color and brightness will be changing.

That’s why you’re better off with the controlled set-up of actual lights, set to the ideal brightness and pure daylight temperature.

Note:  while waiting for your replacement lights from Amazon to arrive, you can use your ring light as an emergency interim solution for the fill light (no bright rings in your pupils at least when off to the side) – but not as your key.

BACK LIGHT – If your background is dark, you may need lighting on the rim of your head or hair and top of your shoulders to separate you from that abyss.  Most setups don’t need a back light added.

Set-ups with a background lighter than your hair and/or clothing don’t require a back light, although a slight amount of such highlight is always a nice effect.

You can go to Amazon to buy an inexpensive narrow-cone back light (i.e., doesn’t spread out to light the whole room, but focuses the beam light a spotlight on a narrow area).  Trick is to find a way to mount it behind you and up high out of the frame.

With you key and fill lights properly set, you will always have consistent, natural looking lighting to keep your skin and eyes looking their most attractive.

What if you’re someplace without your lighting set-up? 

You can use natural lighting from outdoor sources (windows, glass doors, skylights) as long as you follow the same rules for good lighting.

The difference is that, instead of manipulating the lights, you move yourself around until you see the right lighting on your face (and a non-distracting background).

The simplest place is a room with two such natural sources – looking almost directly at one and having the other off to the side.

Adjust your “key” by moving closer to it or farther from it, or adjusting blinds etc.  Same way to get the right fill that’s about half the brightness of your key.

REMEMBER… outside light brightness and color changes with weather and time, and you lose it altogether after sunset.

So for a consistently controllable look, close the blinds and curtains so you can flip and switch and have your ideal look every time you go on camera.

There’s more to lighting that makes you look your best on camera, but following my guidelines above will go a long way to eliminate lighting distractions.

Questions?  Email me on my contact page, or, better yet, join my next Video Maestro Speed-Makeover Workshop and let’s get you looking and sounding like the pro you are.

Creating Hot Images of You for Your Brand

In my Video Maestro Makeover sessions, I help entrepreneurs look and sound like the go-to expert in their fields.

It’s a matter of fixing the camera right, lighting, sound, background, and one’s own body to eliminate all the distractors and let people focus on your face (to connect well with you) and your message (motivation to do your call to action).

Most people, however, drop the ball after that and use off-putting pictures of themselves in social media posts, ads, and etc.

Sorry, not the time to be putting out amateurish pictures with so much competition out there.

You want to attract your ideal prospects, not chase them off.

Not a great photographer?  Fine – you don’t need to be.

As a professional photographer on the side, I can share with you some pro tricks to make you look like the brand you’re trying to promote – so your ideal prospects will be drawn to you as the accessible pro you need to be.

BTW, you can always capture a still frame from any of your videos in your editing software by pausing the video on the image you want and clicking the little camera icon.  The problem is that sometimes it’s in the middle of a motion, and also your video quality may not have been super sharp. 

So let me show you how to use your smart phone camera to get the pro shots, and then I’ll share how to pick, crop, and tweak them for various uses.

CHECK YOUR COMPETITION.  Use keyword search in Google to find people doing what you do, and make a copy of poses you like.  Most aren’t great, but some will be shot by a studio photographer who knows power posing.

USE TRIPOD AND PHONE HOLDER.  Set up a tripod with a bracket to hold your smart phone at eye level.  They’re cheap at Amazon.com.  Don’t hand-hold…trust me on that one.

USE PROPER KEY/FILL LIGHTING.  No ring lights, no single light, no flash.  You can use all natural lighting if bright enough to get you good color and detail, or get some inexpensive LED box lights on stands and use the daylight (5600 degrees) setting.

Your setup is a simple 2-light approach. You want a main light source in front of you and just to the right or left, and a bit above your head level…then a lesser fill light off to the opposite side a few feet to soften the shadows of your key light.

DRESS LIKE THE PRO YOU’D WANT TO HIRE.  Most folks have gone too casual with the ease of Zoom.  Maybe some of your audience wears T-shirts, but remember they’re looking for a sharp guru, not a surfing buddy, so better to go with what they call “dress casual.”

For men it’s a plain colored shirt, collared, with slacks, and optionally a sport coat.  For women it’s clothes you’d wear to the office vs. a party.  Always solid colors that aren’t too bright…patterns distract from you and your message.  Clothing and jewelry should draw attention to your face and not compete with it for that attention.

GET SOMEONE TO TAKE THE PICTURES.  Doesn’t have to be a photographer, just someone who can make sure you stay in frame and save you tons of time from not having to use a timer.

SHOOT AGAINST PLAIN BACKGROUND.  Makes it easier to remove the background later.

SHOOT A VARIETY OF POSES & OUTFITS.  For your web site and promoting you as a coach, turn your shoulders 45 degrees right or left and looking at the camera is generally a good look vs. shoulders square. Try it both ways.  Smile naturally (often less is more).  Try every pose and emotion you can imagine…including surprise (“Aha!” Wow!)…never know when it would work in YouTube or elsewhere. 

LOOK STRAIGHT INTO THE CAMERA LENS.  Know where your lens is on your camera and look right there.  Studies have show that seeing the whites of your eyes engages people, so be sure to keep your eyes alive!

For YouTube thumbnails and ads promoting events and programs, you’ll want pictures of you in a variety of more engaging poses.  Point to one side, then the other, to connect with a title or image in your ad.  Hold your hands open in various ways.  Copy the competitor’s poses you liked.  Do as much variety as possible, in several different sets of cloths, with/without sport coat etc.  

You’re building your library of possible poses and uses, so let your imagination run wild. Chris Nixon, productivity coach, just finished a shoot with hundreds of images, in every imaginable pose, in 4 different outfits, and now he’s cropping a whole bunch of winners to repurpose in every direction in his campaign. That’s how to do it. (Thanks for sharing some with us, Chris.)

PS – Watch out for reflections on glasses.  Raise your light source or tilt your head down slightly if you can.  If you have enough hair, raise your earpieces an inch or two to tilt the lenses down without having to tilt your head.

SHOOT WIDE AND CROP.  Always shoot wider than you think you’ll need.  You may want full shots, so do some.  When done shooting, it’s time to make the picture 10 times more powerful and useful with smart cropping techniques.

  • Find the best shots, digitally make 2 copies.
  • Crop one as a medium shot (waist up)…then a medium close up (MCU, 3rd button down on a shirt usually)…then a close up (CU, called a head shot, more like second button down for the bottom).
  • Eyes are generally 1/3 down from the top and basically in the middle of the shot, even if you’re turned to one side or the other.
  • Leave a little space all around to not look crowded.

LET OTHERS PICK YOUR BEST SHOTS.  You have a preconceived notion of yourself from looking straight into the mirror all the time. Much better to have other people choose for you – a more accurate indication of what would appeal to your ideal clients.

REMOVE THE BACKGROUND.  You will often need a shot of you to lay on top of a background or ad design, so copy your final cropped shots and make the background transparent.  Canva Pro has a simple one-button process that works great.

STORE IN FOLDERS BY USE.  Set up a separate photo file for web site and media…YouTube thumbnails…Event and Program promotion…etc.  Makes it much easier to find the type of pose you want. Save the images as full resolution, and then a second version for the Internet (72 dpi).

With a library of really professional looking images that together build you a powerful and attractive brand, the work of marketing yourself is not a whole lot easier and more effective.

Competition, take that!

If you want advice on your best guru picture, email a few to Roy@RoyVarner.com and I’ll give you my feedback.

Text, Call, or Zoom? It’s All About 10 / 38 / 52

The younger generations have adopted texting as their main form of communication.

Now there’s a new trend among online marketers to send texts to your phone instead of relying on emails – because a noticeably higher percentage of people actually read texts than open emails.

Don’t know about you, but cold sales texts are extremely irritating to me, an intrusion into what should be the private world of my cell phone texts from friends and family.

I feel violated…and I’m not inclined to read the messages nor respond favorably. So they go right to trash.

There’s another reason, however, why marketing through texts may not be as smart as the gurus think.

The answer lies in the special numbers 10 / 38 / 52 – which add up to 100 — and what they tell us about how much of our full meaning is lost in most communications.

Turns out that decades ago, researchers tested how much of our total intended message to another person gets passed to them through different approaches to communicating.

We’re talking about the literal meaning, plus how much we like / dislike the person, plus our mood (upset, stressed, cold, etc.). The full 100% meaning is rich with signals that reveal a great deal about the thoughts and motives of the sender.

I’ve used this information effectively for over 4 decades in developing learning programs and producing video and film programs that persuade people to change their assumptions and develop new and more productive habits.

Of your total message you could convey, with all the nuances of meaning and intent, only 10% gets passed along using words alone.

For example, what is my attitude toward you based on just the words below?

“I need a refund on my order as soon as possible.”

Can’t tell if I’m mad, sad, stressed, carefree, or going nuts with frustration, just by the words. We have to guess at most of the writer’s feelings and intentions but the preponderance or lack of emotional words.

If we could hear the words spoken – now we’re cooking – because 38% of the full meaning of communication comes through tone of voice.

Just imagine the different feelings you could communicate by changing your tone in saying any statement. Same words but different emotions come to us through how our voice sounds.

But the big microphone drop is this major fact: 52% of our total message is communicated through body language. Clunk.

So a text or email sends words…10%…leaves us a lot in the dark about how to read the sender’s feelings, state of mind, and intent.

Now listen to a voice mail message, and words (10%) + tone of voice (38%) together crank the total up to 48% of the potential message. A lot better.

Now talk in person or get on a Zoom call, and you’ve added body language (the missing 52%) in your facial expressions, body movements, folded arms (resistance), leaning forward (interest), and much more.


If you just need to pass along information so another person can make a decision, words alone can work. Pick up 3 cans of black pitted olives at the store. Here’s the address for the party at 7 PM tonight. Daniele can’t make the party tonight because she missed her flight home from Albuquerque.

Most business problem-solving and personal communications need at least a tone of voice. Sharing an experience with a client or friend. Reminiscing about old times. Getting help to solve a customer service problem (phone call avoids a lot of back-and-forth ineffective emails and texts).

Words and voice alone are still lacking, however, if you’re wanting to persuade someone to accept your point of view or buy your product or service.

That’s where the 52% power of body language kicks in big time, in person or on a camera call online.

A warm smile, leaning toward you, eye contact – yes, steady eye contact is one of the most powerful uses of body language to connect deeply with another person.

Not all body language, however, is a conscious trigger.

For example, did you know that subtly mirroring the body language of someone you’re talking to in person can make them unknowingly feel positive toward you?

They lean forward on their elbows on the table, you do the same. They hold their drink in one hand and gesture with the other, and you do the same. Soon they’re really enjoying the conversation!

A tougher and more challenging task, though, is persuading someone to let go of one belief and accept another in its place. We need all 100% of our full potential message to come through, if we expect to get people to change their assumptions, biases, programmed practices, and habits.

Keep in mind the two components of any message: (1) the literal meaning of the words, and (2) the emotional feelings that the words trigger.

Which is more important?

No contest. Humans make decisions emotionally, and then justify them logically.

We buy cars that make us feel good, macho, cool, etc. We pick colors we love to look at. We feel like an Indy 500 race car driver zooming around corners and accelerating in our big horsepower sporty rides. None of that would be a logical choice for Mr. Spock.

Your messages to prospects and clients must be centered around their emotional pains, fears, needs, and wants, if you expect to maintain their interest or convince them to make a decision.

You need the power of your conscious use of body language to draw them into connecting emotionally with you, with your compelling desire to help, and with expectations of how great they will feel afterward.


Based on the facts so far, video sales and branding messages have much more power to connect emotionally with people than podcasts or written sales letters, for example.

While communicating is always better in person, face to face, video is the practical option to reach people all over the world.

Video done emotionally has the extra turbocharge of the combination of the spoken word (48% with words and tone of voice together) with two powerful visual synergies:

1 – How you use your gestures and the way you look, as tools to connect emotionally to people, and

2 – The ability to show pictures and video clips that greatly magnify the impact of your message.

Note that both of these approaches use a form of “body language” – i.e., they communicate visually, one with your body language, and the other with emotional photos, videos, and on-screen words that tell much more than words or voice can do.

An Air Force study reported that words and visuals combined can be 22 times more impactful on emotions and learning retention than either words or images alone…and way more than just a talking face can convey.

It’s called using your B-roll in video industry terms. A-roll is the talking-face announcer on camera, so B-roll is the visual you cut to in order to show exactly what the viewer wants to see as he/she hears your words.

That’s why I teach anyone selling or persuading to only sparingly use the talking face on camera, and only where you need a personal connection to the viewer.

All the rest of the time, viewers want to see what you’re talking about, not your face – and they are much more emotionally engaged that way.

Remember…we make decisions emotionally, and justify them logically. As long as you provide sensible, logical reasons why your solution is the best one for them, their emotions then give themselves permission to act and buy.

Think about these facts and how much you need to visual power of video to promote your products, brand, and services.

Put all 100% of 10 / 38 / 52 to work for you with powerfully magnetic sales videos that talk about your ideal prospects’ emotions and help them feel connected to you and your solution.

Whatever you do for your business, find a way to make emotional A-roll / B-roll video work for you.