We live increasingly uncertain times, and with uncertainty comes anxiety, and anxiety usually gives birth to a desire to beef up home security.
Luckily for us, our modern era has birthed many incredible technological innovations, including compact, user-installable security camera systems.
Whether or not you go with one of these systems or a more traditional hardwired one properly positioning your cameras both for field of view and taking into account varying lighting conditions is essential for proper operation.
How do you position your security cameras near lights?
Position them so they don’t have any bright light shining into their lens, either directly or as a result of the reflection of a shiny surface.
It is also important to strategically direct lights to maximize the field of view, and reduce shadows that intruders might hide in.
There’s quite a bit for the average homeowner to consider on this topic and in the remainder of this article we will delve into some of the more nuanced factors that might affect where and how you place your security cameras.
Basic Principles of Security Surveillance
The basic principles of placing security cameras for effective surveillance around your home, business, or other installation is not rocket science and these principles are easily learned and understood by most people.
Generally speaking, security cameras should cover likely avenues of approach to your property as well as all potential ingress points.
Properly positioning and focusing these cameras so they have the best field of view is important, as is positioning them at a vantage point where they will not easily be tampered with or disabled.
One commonly overlooked but challenging factor in the placing of these security cameras, especially around a home, is the location and orientation of exterior lighting, and taking into account the location and orientation of other light sources it could be on a neighbor’s house, a street lamp or something else.
Failing to account for this could result in your security cameras having very literal “blind spots”, or could see a major degradation in the quality of the images or video captured to the point where they are all but useless.
Problems with Light
Most of us are already familiar with the aggravation and problems that varying light levels or worse, right, direct lighting, can cause when taking photographs or recording video.
Bright light that is directed into the lens of our camera or even reflected into it off of a shiny surface like polished metal or still water can completely wash out the image making details and even colors difficult to discern.
The image captured by the average security camera is no different, and depending on the quality and options of your specific system, the cameras could be more or less vulnerable to bright light.
For instance, I personally performed a security assessment on a client’s home, discovering that they had a security camera positioned under the eaves on the backside of their house.
On the opposite corner of that same side of the house, a security light was positioned to illuminate the driveway, the very same area that the security camera was covering. Good idea, right?
Well, we’ll give them an “A” for awareness but a “D-” in execution.
The security camera was essentially facing into the security light, and the angles were shallow enough that, whenever the security light came on, it completely flooded the camera’s lens and recorded the image with intense LED light, washing it out.
To make matters worse the poor homeowner had not even cared to check the image or his recordings at night when the light was programmed to activate upon sensing movement! He was oblivious to the failure.
If something had happened and he was depending upon his recordings for evidence, they would have been useless taken under those conditions.
Reflections Can Be Just as Bad
As mentioned above, you can do everything right when it comes to positioning your cameras and your lights so they work well together but still spoil your recordings or your live image due to reflections. Talk about aggravation!
Glare can be a sneaky source of frustration, and can come from many places. It could be the polished, stainless steel exterior of your uncovered outdoor grill.
It could come from the still or gently lapping water of your pool. It might be a bit of polished chrome on an automobile or a pane of window glass when the light hits it just right.
Some sources of glare are obvious, and can be easily dealt with out of hand through an abundance of caution. Others might be one-in-a-million situations, or only present themselves in highly specific circumstances.
The only way you will know for sure is by taking the time to review your live camera picture or the recordings to check for glare.
When you consider that clandestine military and government agency operatives train to utilize glare in order to defeat common surveillance cameras you might begin to understand how big of a problem glare can be for your security apparatus!
Take Care with Shadows
I have written about personal security considerations, particularly home security, before and often preach about the delicate balancing act that is required for proper use of security lighting.
You want your security lighting to provide as much visibility as possible over as wide an area as possible in order to give you a good opportunity to spot anyone who may be lurking.
But, at the same time, you should avoid if at all possible the casting of deep, nearly impenetrable shadows that can serve as concealment all on their own.
Easier said than done, especially if you don’t want your house to be visible from the International Space Station!
This same principle, though, also applies to your security cameras, though it might have more or less effect depending on the quality of the camera.
Generally speaking, most optical systems are better at penetrating dense shadows than the human eye. A pool of shadow that looks like spilled printer ink to you might only appear dim when viewed through your camera’s monitor or on the recording.
Then again, it might not. Obviously, this is something you’ll need to verify for yourself under a variety of conditions to ensure you aren’t making the problem worse.
Also consider what effect options for enhanced capability from your cameras will have. True night vision systems can turn even the most impenetrable shadows into broad daylight.
Start To Think Like The Intruder
Nobody knows your property better than you and that makes it easy for you to spot the areas that need to be covered. Additionally, burglars only have a finite amount of time to complete what they are there to do and leave.
This means they can be sloppy and get caught on the camera footage if you have enough of the vantage points covered with fixtures.
Having a wireless feed to your cameras can increase the response time for the situation. If you’re able to initiate two-way audio through a built-in speaker you can blow their cover and throw them off guard.
Thieves don’t like visible security because if they can see the camera, it can see them. Having some additional real cameras or even fake cameras can be enough of a deterrent to keep prying eyes away.
Properly Placing Your Lights the Easy Way
If you have any choice in the matter you can avoid a lot of headaches by positioning your security cameras where the lights are already, or vice versa. This will ensure a sort of coaxial setup that will allow you to aim the light and the camera at the same place.
When taking this approach, use care to ensure that the body of the light remains generally behind the camera’s aperture, but is orientated in such a way that it will not cast a shadow off the body of your camera.
Similarly, carefully aim the light so that it does not bloom or light up the soffits of the roof or any other exterior surface of the home, potentially backscattering light into the camera’s lens.
There are quite a few combination mounting solutions available for commercial security cameras that can facilitate exactly this approach in a comparatively low-profile manner.
Possible Security Camera Locations
There are many possible locations that may or may not give you the proper vantage point that you’re looking for.
If you’re unsure of where on your specific property they should go then consider a professional installation for your surveillance system. The best home security systems will cover all entrances and exits.
Here are some of the common locations that offer the best security camera placement opportunities.
The front door is the easiest and most direct access point to the first floor and a lot of thefts happen through this entrance. Keeping your camera up no lower than 7 feet up and at a downward angle will ensure you get the entire doorway.
This camera will be close to your Wi-Fi signal so that you can have real-time access to your footage. Smart home monitoring systems provide extra security at this front entrance.
A lot of theft occurs from the side door when the front is adequately covered and this is due to it being the next easiest access point. It’s also far less conspicuous to approach a house from the side door than it is from the front.
Most people will place their side door cameras on the back corner of their house facing up the driveway.
Some houses have an outside entrance to their basements and this should be treated much like the porches or side door.
This is the second most common way for break-ins to get inside because it is usually out of sight of witnesses. Outdoor security cameras should always cover this entrance and the front at least.
One outdoor camera can be pointing away toward your backyard and capture any activity coming from that angle.
If the doors are secure then the intruder will try the next easiest option, mainly the windows. Particularly cautious homeowners will even put a camera facing outwards from the hallway to the window. This gives a vantage point of someone if they somehow get in through the windows.
If you are covering the front, side, and back doors then these windows should be within the frame.
Going through this way gives the thief access to vital areas such as the living room, kitchen, and the stairway going upstairs. Keeping a security camera with motion sensors pointed at the garage will highlight anyone snooping around.
These are some of the best tips to remember when setting up your own cameras near a light fixture or other possible locations.
Consider Infrared lights – These devices will greatly enhance your night vision with newer cameras capturing a ton of depth.
Motion Sensor Technology is your friend – This eliminates the need to always have a light on. Sudden floodlights turning on will always catch someone off guard.
Vertical Illumination vs. Horizontal Illumination – One of the problems with a horizontal light is that it will cast shadows on someone, especially if they are wearing a hoodie or a hat.
Vertical illumination fixes this problem by shining the light from top to bottom. This works well with something like a floodlight cam as they cast a large area of light
Installation of home security cameras can be a smart choice for anyone in this day and age, but to get the best use out of them, they will have to be carefully coordinated with exterior lights around the structure.
You should take care in positioning your cameras or lights so that the latter isn’t shining directly into the former or reflecting off any shiny surface to the same ends.
So long as you use a little care and common sense during the installation procedure you shouldn’t have any problem illuminating the camera’s field of view without interfering with the images it captures.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.