How to use your laptop's built in camera for surveillance

Updated July 20, 2017

Many laptops today come with built-in cameras designed to take pictures of the computer user and transmit them over the Internet. These cameras, also called "webcams," can also be a useful tool for you to do surveillance of a fixed location such as a room in your home or office. To convert your laptop into a security camera, you simply have to install a webcam surveillance software program.

Choose a webcam surveillance software. Important features to look for include: automatic recording (if you want the computer to start recording at a preset time), motion detection (if you only want the camera to record when it detects movement), realtime streaming (if you want to be able to watch what's being recorded right now), Internet accessibility (if you want to be able to access footage over the Internet) and PC/Mac compatibility.

Prices vary, as do features and program complexity. HomeCamera is designed for simplicity of use and, as of 2010, ranges from free to £19.40 annually, depending on the features included. Webcam Watchdog provides a relatively high quality image and can be run as a Windows service invisible to the user (in case you want to see who's using your computer when you're not around).

For Macs, EvoCam ($25) can create time-lapse movies so that you can review hours of footage in just a few minutes.

The websites for these companies can be found in "Resources" below.

Install the software. Most webcam surveillance software can be downloaded directly onto your computer; simply choose the "download" option on the software website and follow the instructions that appear on the screen. If you purchase a CD-based program, insert the CD into your computer and follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer.

Place the laptop in a stable position from which the built-in camera will have a clear view of the space you wish to monitor.

Run the surveillance program. You may wish to set up the program for automatic recording or motion detection before you place it in position. To do so, follow the instructions provided by the program manufacturer.


Before purchasing any software, check to be sure that it is compatible with your camera. Do a test shoot to be sure that the webcam is accurately recording the space you have chosen. Try placing the laptop on a high shelf and aiming the camera downward to capture a broader view.


Beware of downloading any software that includes malware or spyware. Webcam surveillance software programs are a hacker's delight. If you choose a software that will enable you to view footage online, be sure your firewall is configured to prevent intruders. Otherwise everyone else in the world may also be able to access your footage.

Things You'll Need

  • Laptop with built-in webcam
  • Webcam surveillance software
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About the Author

Ty Scalera has nine years of experience as a professional writer and editor. Her experience includes educational writing; food, wine, and travel writing; copywriting; business reports; fiction; and screenwriting. Scalera has a master's degree in writing from the University of Southern California and is currently working on a memoir of her experiences as a private investigator in training.