No, Stephenie Meyer’s 2008 dystopian novel The Host has not, in fact, become a reality (although given the year we’ve had, it doesn’t seem so impossible, does it?). The rings of light you’ve noticed in the pupils of your favorite YouTube makeup artist and the coworkers you participate in video calls with aren’t evidence of alien possession or a new contact lens trend – they’re just the reflections of a ring light, a lighting innovation originally used by dentists to illuminate their patients’ mouths and more recently repurposed to create professional-looking environments for photos and videos in the modern age of Zoom calls, YouTube tutorials, and TikTok videos.
The advent of COVID-19 has given rise to a massive uptick in the number of professionals working from home, and home office upgrades for both comfort and aesthetics have followed suit. From ergonomic chairs and standing desks to essential oil diffusers and house plants, 2020 has been the year of remote work-related improvements. The one aspect of an ideal work-from-home setup that often goes overlooked, however? Area lighting.
Natural light is nice in theory, but often doesn’t cooperate with your conference call schedule given the time of day or the position of the sun. Desk lamps are often too bright, casting harsh shadows that can be distracting.
Where once it may have only been regarded as an essential element of the flawless selfie, good lighting is now being recognized as a crucial component of the home office. TED’s head of television, Juliet Blake, argues that a well-lit space isn’t a sign of self-centeredness so much as it is an indicator of respect.
“I think it’s polite to try to put your best foot forward,” Anne Quito quotes her as saying, in her Quartz article titled, “Seriously, it’s time to get a ring light.” To that end, the TED organization included ring lights in the packages they shipped out to team members who were working to make the annual conference possible despite the global pandemic.
Scientific studies, like the one published in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2001, back her claim: Poorly lit environments encourage the release of melatonin in the body, evoking sleepiness and difficulty focusing. Plus, no matter how hard you might try not to look, it’s virtually impossible not to stare at your own grainy image on your computer screen, which can be particularly distracting if you’re contending with weird shadows, bad angles, and desk-lamp glare that can make even perfectly matte makeup or clean skin appear greasy.
A space that looks well-lit, on the other hand, imparts a sense of professionalism and enhances video call attendees’ ability to pay attention to the host or presenter. It also sets the call, whether a routine Monday morning meeting or a virtual conference, apart from the more casual catch-up a person might have with family or friends on the same video call platform now used so frequently for work.
Even if you’re secretly still wearing your pajama pants and fuzzy slippers, a ring light can help you appear put together and ready to engage. We’re no strangers to curating our presence on social media, and in the new landscape of remote work, our online professional personas don’t have to be any different.
Some employers are even allowing employees to expense their ring lights if they intend to use them for work meetings, suggesting that presentation still maintains a high value even as the shift to remote work has introduced a certain degree of relaxation in other traditional work aspects (see earlier mention of pajama pants). It’s not vanity, then – it’s well-invested effort that indicates a person’s continued dedication to their own career success and their company’s longevity in spite of a year riddled with unexpected events.
Look at it this way: You may not be an Instagram influencer or a YouTube channel star, but if you’re working from home and using a video conferencing platform to conduct business with coworkers and clients, you’re essentially earning your living online now. In an article for The Atlantic entitled “Americans Got Tired of Looking Bad on Zoom,” Amanda Mull writes, “Given the limited time per day to make a direct impression on your colleagues and the people who determine your salary, working from home means being the star of the most boring YouTube channel ever, with the smallest audience and highest personal stakes.”
It might not feel like the most professional move to take staging cues from 16-year-olds who are famous for their TikTok videos or Twitch streams, but in this instance, the influencers know what’s up. Internet entrepreneurs definitely have had a head start in terms of learning how to make a positive impression on their online viewers, but their pre-pandemic realization that good lighting is a major step in garnering legitimacy and presenting with authority serves for the benefit of all the working professionals who now find themselves in need of a virtual glow-up. The tools are readily available, easily affordable, and instantly integratable.
With a ring light, you don’t need to spend an enormous amount of money on a professional lighting setup to achieve that enviable even-skinned, bright-eyed, camera-ready look. Take the Bomb Lighting Ring Light, for example: Less than $30 nabs you a ring light with 10 brightness settings, three warmth settings, a 360* adjustable tripod stand, a cell phone stand, and a Bluetooth remote controller for selfies that look like the results of professional photo shoots.
And if ring-light eyes aren’t your style, not to worry. There are tricks to minimize the glare – even for glasses-wearers. By experimenting with the angle and placement of your ring light, you can determine the configuration that helps you appear on every video call as the most polished yet natural version of your work-from-home self.
Plus, a lighting upgrade for your professional online persona is a win for your personal presence, too. All this time at home has afforded an unanticipated but welcome opportunity to explore new facets of creativity – if you’ve been toying with the idea of starting your own YouTube channel, podcast, TikTok, Instagram account, etc., you’re now one step closer to producing eye-catching, engaging online content.
Long story short? If you’re working from home, you’re an influencer now. Time to look the part.