Interview Lighting 101

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

Interviews are probably the most common video shoot you will do. Lighting is a huge factor to consider when determining how your shoot will look. Here is one way you can develop a basic approach to lighting a single person interview with the interviewer off camera.

When you have determined where your talent and your interviewer will be, draw an imaginary clock face around the person being interviewed. Your camera will be at the six o’clock position of your clock face. Directly behind your subject opposite your camera is the 12 o’clock position.

Now divide the clock face into quadrants 12-3, 3-6, 6-9 and 9-12. This will help us identify and communicate where we will place our lighting. In this example we have decided to place the interviewer on the left side of the camera inside of the quadrant of 6 o’clock to 9 o’clock at the 7 o’clock position.

This will help us determine where our key light should go. We will use an Arri Lightbank IV kit for this example. The Lightbank IV kit includes the following light fixtures:

1 – 1000w open face w/ Chimera Lightbank
1 – 650w Fresnel
1 – 300w Fresnel
2 – 150w Fresnel

Establishing the Key Light
The key light is the primary light source used to light your subject. To the viewer it will appear as a main light source, not seen on camera, like a table lamp or window light.

One of the first things you will need to do is determine the widest camera shot or frame that you will use (not the widest frame your lens can go) for your interview. This is so you can see if any of your lights, equipment or anything distracting can be seen in the shot. Leave that frame on the monitor or viewfinder so your crew can see if what he or she is doing is in the frame or not.

In this example we will place the Key light at 8 o’clock. We will use the 1000w open face with the Chimera Lightbank attached to the front. The Lightbank is a cone like device that has a built in diffusion panel on the front. The purpose of this is to provide a large diffusion of soft light which is usually flattering to the subject you are lighting. If your light kit does not have something like this and you are using a light fixture that has a lens like a Fresnel (or no lens, which is called an open face) then you can attach a piece of diffusion to the front of the unit like Rosco Opal Tough Frost or Lee 216 White Frost. Another way, would be to create a panel of diffusion by using a roll of 1000H Velum Drafting paper, suspending it from a C+ stand or between two light stands. The purpose here is to create a large panel that your key light will project light through, thus creating a large soft source. Your panel should be placed close to the subject without being seen in the camera frame. Your source light is then placed far enough back as to fill the diffusion panel without spilling over.

The “rule of thumb” here is to place the interviewer between the camera and the key light. This will cause the person being interviewed to look toward the key light, which will produce a pleasant contrast of light and shadow on the subjects face. This is important when you are trying to show a 3 dimensional world in a 2 dimensional medium.

“Got Your Back”

The purpose of a backlight is to separate your subject from the background (remember, 3D world in a 2D medium).

Your back light placement is generally opposite your key light. Again using our clock face in quadrants, we will place our backlight in the 12 o’clock to 3 o’clock quadrant at the 1 o’clock position. Our back light unit will be about half of the light output as the key light. In this case you could use a 300w fresnel with a sheet of opal over the front of the barn doors. The opal (or diffusion of your preference) over your backlight will help soften the light just enough to take the harshness off. You can also double or fold the opal in half to lower the intensity and soften the light further. If you are tight on space behind the subject, you may want to use your 150w unit with a sheet of opal. You want your backlight to provide a rim or outline of light on the hair and shoulders- without being overpowering or drawing attention to itself. You can determine this by how it looks in the monitor or viewfinder. If your subject has little or no hair (or white hair) you have two options for the backlight.

1) Do not use a back light on that individual

2) Turn the barndoors on the backlight so that the larger doors are on the top and bottom of the light, and squeeze them together just enough to light the shoulders only and not the back of their head. Remember to use your gloves when handling a hot light fixture. If you forget, the light fixture will effectively remind you to wear gloves the next time.

To Fill or not to Fill?
This is an important question. I heard at a workshop conducted by Laszlo Kovaks, ASC that his gaffer once said that “The fill light is the most important light.” I would agree with this arguable statement. The purpose of the fill light is to soften or fill in the shadow created by the Key light.

When conducting workshops, I have been asked many times “How do you eliminate shadows?” or “Shadows are bad, right?”. My reply is usually in a question: “When you look around this room, do you see shadows?” Shadows on their own, are not bad. They may be in the wrong place(s) though. For the scope of this example, shadows are only bad if you have more than one on the face. The key light should be the only light producing a noticeable shadow.

Looking at your subject, you may decide that the look and feel of your interview is light and upbeat. You may decide that you would like to have the face look “full”, so you want to see the full expression and emotion of the face. This is where the fill or fill light comes in. The fill light in our example would be (using our clock face in quadrants) placed in the 5:30 position next to the camera inside the 3 o’clock to 6 o’clock quadrant on the other side of the camera (this is a suggestion not a rule). Try using a 150w unit with opal on the barndoors, moving it closer or further from the subject until it creates the desired amount of fill on the persons face. If the fill light creates a second shadow on the face, this is where the finesse comes in. The closer to the camera that you place the light, the less the shadow created by that light appears.

I personally like to use a bounce card instead of a light. A bounce card or reflector does not generate light in itself. It can only reflect (or bounce) the light that is coming from the key source or backlight. Therefore it cannot overpower, and rarely does it produce a noticeable second shadow. Since it needs a source light to reflect, you will need to place the reflector close to the subject opposite the source you are trying to reflect.

In this case we will bounce the key light. Place your bounce/reflector at about the 3 o’clock position on the same level as your subject and start from there. This will take practice, but it’s worth the results. You should begin to see on the subject’s face a noticeable “filling in” of light on the face. If not, continue to move the bounce/reflector until you begin to see this. When you do, move and place the card until you obtain the desired amount of fill on the face. Remember to have your camera framed to the widest shot you will be using. This is so you can see if the bounce/reflector is in the shot, and you can back it off if it is, or move in closer if it is not.

What if you can’t get the bounce/reflector in close enough without it being seen in the shot? The short answer is to use a fill light with the principles mentioned above.

“What’s my background?”
For your background, you may or may not want to light this area. This is up to you. If you decide you do want to see the background more than you can on the monitor, here are some suggestions.

First, make sure the background is not distracting from the subject. Check to see if anything funny is coming out of your subject, like plants out of the top of their head or a bookcase that is so busy that your viewer is trying to read the book titles instead of engaging in what your subject is saying. I’m sure we have all seen this funny but distracting event occur in “someone else’s video”. If this is the case, rearrange the background or move the subject until you achieve an acceptable background. Rarely does anyone know what the room really looks like unless it is a publicly recognized room.

Second, if possible, try not to set your subject up against the wall or background it usually makes for a boring and flat or uninteresting picture. Remember, 3D world in a 2D medium. You need to create some depth in your picture. When you shoot with talent against the wall it usually makes for a boring and flat or uninteresting picture.

When lighting your background here are some suggestions (tips). Choose a lighting unit that does not overpower or is brighter than your subject’s keylight. Place this light to the side of your subject, or behind your subject focused towards the area you desire to illuminate. If you have breakup patterns or a cucoloris place that in front of your light, you can try adjusting your barndoors to create a narrow band of light or slash in a diagonal on the wall. Don’t forget to use some color on this light. Blues and ambers are usually safe. Stay away from colors which make your subject blend in with the background.

Lighting for video takes time and practice, but the payoff can be quite rewarding and fun. Lighting for interviews will most likely be 80% of the videos you will work on. You will have many opportunities to experiment and perfect your lighting skills. Watch interviews on TV with the sound turned off. See if you can determine where the lights are in the scene. “Backwards engineer” it by diagramming it on paper. It could come in handy when you are asked to light a similar scene. It’s amazing how much you will observe in the scene with the sound turned off. It’s an inexpensive way to learn lighting techniques and also a good way to see lighting that others have done.

See if the lighting matches the mood of the subject. Is it upbeat, and does the lighting appear to be fuller on the face with shallow shadows? Is the story dramatic? Does the lighting need to have varied contrasts, with deeper shadows on the fill side, or in the background to reflect the tension of the story? News magazine shows tend to light in ways where you can see this.

Many times it is tempting to shortcut on lighting your scene, either to save time or because you are not confident in your abilities. Ask yourself this question, “If I were flipping between channels looking for something to watch on TV, would my picture cause me to stop and at least listen to what my video is saying?” Then ask, “Would the captive audience in my church be engaged in this video or will they wonder why church videos look like home videos at their friend’s house?”

Good lighting is as important as good audio and pictures. Most of all, you do not want poor lighting to get in the way of the story you are telling.