Good Lighting is by far the most important part of looking good on webcam. Webcams are very limited in their ability to display colors and objects due to their small size, therefore proper lighting is extremely important. Please see the page on Recommended Webcams.
Ambient room lighting may look bright enough to your eye, but will force your webcam to use a high level of gain, which results in a dull picture with visible noise. Additional lighting is strongly recommended to produce a crisp image with vibrant color.
Purchasing a quality studio lighting set is the simplest way to generate soft (diffuse shadows, low contrast), flattering light. A two umbrella kit is a popular choice, with one umbrella placed on each side of your webcam. Some models add a third light—such as a ring light—directly behind their webcam.
Softboxes produce soft, even lighting and provide more control over light dispersion compared with umbrellas. Softboxes are typically box-like in shape and enclosed around a light. The light source then fires forward through an internal diffuser before passing through another sheet of white diffusion material that covers the front of the 'box'. The resulting light, after reflecting off the interior and passing through both diffusions, has a pleasing, soft, even look to it.
Positioning the lights
A big part of getting a good image is avoiding shadows as much as possible, as random shadows generally make the image look less appealing. The most flattering light is soft light, which is the result of a large & diffuse light source. To make any light source softer, move it closer to you. To make a light harder (more contrast between shadows & highlights, sharper shadows), move it away from you.
In order to get the least amount of shadows in the image, position the light(s) relatively close to the camera. For example, you can have just one light above the camera, or two lights, one on each side of the camera.
But remember, the higher you put the light, the more shadows will fall on your face, which is not recommended. Avoid putting your main light below the camera as upward shadows look strange (we almost always see faces illuminated by overhead or front lighting). Positioning the center of your main lights slightly above face level works well.
There are two details about lighting you should know before buying or using lighting gear.
The first relates to color temperature. That is, all lights have different color temperatures, which is why you have to white balance your cameras before shooting, and why all webcams have automatic white-balancing functions. If you mix lights with different color temperatures, you produce bizarre colors because your camera can’t tell what’s white. Make sure your lights share a similar color temperature.
The second detail relates to the Color Rendering Index (CRI), which is a measure of how accurately a given light source renders color. CRI is independent of color temperature. The higher the CRI, the better the color rendering ability (see photos at right). Bulbs for general lighting have a CRI between 72 - 100.
Different types of bulbs are available including incandescent, halogen, fluorescent, compact-fluorescent (CFL), and LED.
Incandescent and halogen bulbs are bright and produce a continuous spectrum of light that is warm (very yellow) having a low color temperature (2700K - 3200K) and a CRI very close to 100. However, they are very inefficient and only convert about 5% of the energy they use into visible light. The remaining energy is converted into heat. If you plan to use halogen, keep the air conditioning running or window open because your room will get hot!
CFL or LED bulbs with high CRI (90+) are recommended. The light emitted by these bulbs has a higher color temperature (less yellow), which more closely simulates daylight. Daylight-color bulbs are available (4700K - 5600K), which are ideal when supplementing natural light. These bulbs are much more efficient, requiring 1/6 the energy as an equivalent brightness incandescent bulb.
If your living situation rules out dedicated studio lights, you can still get good lighting by using standing lamps (torchiere lamps, column lamps, multi-head, etc), placing table lamps on side tables so they are at eye level, or even utility work lights from a hardware store. Work lights come in different shapes and sizes including freestanding and clip-on.
Look around the home to find any type of light that is bright and portable. Desk and floor lamps work well. The goal is to make the light source as large as possible. If you have a neutral color wall right behind your computer/webcam, it can become an excellent diffuse light source by pointing 2+ bright lamps at the wall. This technique works well as a fill light. Another way to produce a makeshift soft light source is to use a scrim (thin fabric) in front of the light.