How to Light & Shoot Interviews for TV & Video
A DVD based on this written tutorial is available to buy, see bottom of this tutorial for more details.
As Lighting Cameramen, we all have to use lights, and I would estimate that approximately 95% of what we usually have to light is people; what’s more, this is typically in an interview situation with the interviewee looking off camera. So this tutorial is going to address two things, the best type of lights to use and how best to set them up to light somebody in an interview situation.
There are of course many makes and models of lights and there is an infinite amount of accessories to go with them. What I’ve done for you here is to take all the hard work out of choosing a decent lighting kit by choosing one for you. The following kit is my personal favourite right now and it is my every day bread-and-butter money-making kit that never lets me down.
It’s important to buy and own lighting equipment that is well built, compact, lightweight and overall, reliable; the latter is of paramount importance. Also, a good quality lighting kit will last you a lifetime; chances are you will still be using it twenty years from now; so a good investment now will save you a lot of money and headache in the future. If you buy cheap now, you will only be replacing it 3 years down the line, probably for another cheap lighting kit, the story continues down the years, and if it is cheap it won’t be built that well and won’t be quite so reliable.
The kit I personally use and recommend is of the highest build quality, it’s incredibly tough and it’s ultra reliable and the quality of light this kit omits is beautifully soft, yet very controllable. The kit I’m using for this tutorial is high quality professional gear, but it doesn’t cost the earth.
The kit I use, and the one I’m using here is typical of an Interview Lighting Kit, and is as follows:
Key Light = Starlite with 1000w tungsten lamp and a medium SilverDome softbox with in-line dimmer.
Fill Light = Dedolight DLH1X150S with 150w tungsten lamp and a Dedoflex mini softbox with in-line dimmer.
Back Light = Dedolight DLH4 with barn doors with in-line dimmer.
Background Light = Dedolight DLH4 with gobo projector lens and gobo with in-line dimmer.
ABOUT THE PHOTOFLEX STARLITE
The Starlite is a continuous tungsten softlight system. The beauty of this system is that it takes a very robust 1000w bulb and places it in the optical center of a softbox; this has a large advantage over the standard method of placing a softbox over the front of a hard-light in that the efficiency is much higher and the quality of light is better due to better light distribution on the front face of the softbox. The Starlite produces a soft even light that wraps around your subject beautifully. This is the most efficient method for creating soft-light – there are a number of products that also create soft-light this way, but what makes the Starlite special is the build quality of the fixture which is a very tough aluminum heat sink that extends lamp life by heat management; it also pulls heat away from the front of the softbox (where your subject is sitting). It is also very good value and should provide years of high quality results. The Softbox that comes with the Starlite in the kit form is incredibly well made. The linear bulb is much tougher than standard 240v bulbs – this means it does not blow when you accidently knock it over or kick the stand. The bulbs are also economical.
Invented by the German DoP Dedo Weigert in the 1990’s, the Dedolight is without doubt the most versatile and controllable hard light on the market today. It normally runs off mains but can also run off any 12v battery such as a car cigarette lighter socket. Don’t let its small size fool you; this light will be the first one out of your car every time. With a spot to flood ratio of 1:20 (the next best technology is 1:6) a 150 watt Dedolight produces the same light output of a 500 watt fresnel on flood. On spot it has an incredible throw of over a 100 feet; all the light remains in the beam, which is great for lighting very specific areas from a distance; like a speech or wedding ceremony. These unique lights have a very clean field with no hot spots or holes, even when you go from flood to spot. And with the great barn door control, it is easy to shape and flag the light. The Dedolight also has a projector attachment system (and many other accessories) that uses gobos to throw many different focusable effects such as background patterns, venetian blinds, sunlight through trees etc. All of this comes at a price, but the Dedolight is very economical to run once bought, has excellent bulb life and when they do eventually go, they only cost £3.50 each to replace. Because of this, the Dedolight will pay for itself over a few short years.
In January 2006 Dedo Weigert designed a brand new Dedo ‘Soft Light’. There are a few options available with the new soft light, but the most popular model is the DLH1X150 Tungsten Soft Light, which is designed to fit inside the small softbox designed specially for it; you can also remove the front baffle diffuser from the softbox to get a harder light source with more spread as well as being able to buy an ‘Egg Crate’ to attach to the front of the softbox to make the soft light more directional. The new soft lights are available in 150, 300 and 1000-watt power outputs and start from £375 including softbox and inline dimmer switch. If you are buying for the long-term (unlike cameras, lights have a long working life) you could do a lot worse than invest in a kit of Dedolights. Lights with an in-line dimmer start at £350 per unit. Once you own them you will never want anything else!
HARD LIGHT vs SOFT LIGHT
The quality of light produced by either a natural or artificial light source is often categorized as Hard or Soft light. When Lighting Cameramen refer to hard light and soft light, they mean just that. One omits light from a point source and produces hard shadows (like the sun) the Dedolight is a very good example of a hard-light. This type of instrument with good optics will also offer a lot of control; this is very useful for adding interest to a scene when used carefully. The other emits a soft light this is defined by the size of the source in relation to the subject, for example a soft source on a face is at least as wide as the subject’s shoulders. This allows the light to wrap around the face when placed around 3’ of the subject. Soft light will provide modelling and pleasing shades, which graduate from light to dark smoothly. The use of both sources is essential to come anywhere near an image that has any filmic quality and the real issue in mastering them is in controlling the light i.e. Barndoors, Softbox, Grids etc.
An unobscured sun or an undiffused tungsten light (such as a Dedolight) for example are both hard light sources. These types of hard lighting sources reveal shape and texture and create the overall modeling for your subject. Hard light gives the picture definition and vigor, and is essential to create a three-dimensional illusion. Hard Light refers to a point source of light, such as the sun or a single open-faced tungsten light, which produces hard shadows. The best point sources are also very controllable, with the use of barn doors and/or projection attachments for example. Hard light can be used in many ways as it has a long throw, however, it does create dense and high contrast shadows that need to be watched as they can produce very unflattering results. Hard-light creates sharp edged shadows. To fix this the contrast must be controlled by the fill-light. Hard light is eminently necessary and desirable for some shooting situations, especially when you want to simulate intense sunlight or the crisp light of the moon. However, hard light has to be used carefully. Strong modeling and dramatic shadows will give your images a dynamic appeal but, if it is used badly or inappropriately, hard light can produce crude modeling and coarse tonal contrasts. For most of today’s high definition (HD) shooting situations, many Lighting Cameramen like to use at least some level of diffusion to give a feeling of natural lighting. Even a light frost sheet of diffusion material attached to the barn doors of a tungsten light will help create a more natural lighting effect. The Dedolight DLH5 that I’m using in this tutorial is without doubt the most versatile and controllable hard light on the market today.
Most modern lighting is a subtle blend of hard and soft light. Although most key light sources were usually hard in the past and you always had to control their shadows and tonal contrast by introducing a certain amount of soft ‘fill light’, these days in a modern HD (high definition) world, the use of a soft key light is generally preferred. Soft Light refers to a light source that has a large surface area in relation to the subject, so that the light ‘wraps’ around the subject. In the past, lighting cameramen would achieved this effect by bouncing light off ceilings and walls, but this is now largely considered to be a very crude way of achieving soft light, as it is very uncontrollable and can end up producing very flat images. More common ways to create controllable soft light is to use softboxes; these are black fabric boxes with white diffusion material across the front, which converts the hard light source into a soft light source.
Softboxes can be used with fresnels and open-faced tungsten lights. However, they do turn the light source into a more inefficient one. The advantage of softboxes is that they produce a lovely soft light source and they pack away efficiently. However, setting them up and packing them away can be time consuming, especially when they have been on a hot tungsten light for a few hours as the ring and other metal parts will be very hot and you will have to wait for them to cool down first. All soft lights can benefit from the use of grids (also known as egg crates). These grids enable the soft light to be controlled so that the spread of light is confined to the subject and does not spill all over the set.
3-POINT LIGHTING TECHNIQUE
There are many ways that lighting cameramen light people in interview situations; there is more than one way to skin a cat as the saying goes. Out of all the artistic and creative ways to light a person, for me, there is only one that truly works that will give professional results time after time; and that’s the ‘3-point lighting system’.
The 3-point lighting method consists of a key-light, a fill-light and a back-light. Of course you can add more lights to this basic configuration, and I often do. The modern consensus for 3-point lighting in a HD world is to go ‘soft’. So the key-light is usually soft, so too is the fill-light. The back-light is usually hard; though a bit of soft diffusion can be added. Adding a fourth ‘background-light is something I usually always do, this is typically a hard light source with a gobo or cookie projecting pattern onto the background. It’s this 3-point lighting set up that I’m going to demonstrate in this tutorial on how to light somebody in an interview situation.
If you are a corporate video producer, you won’t always have the choice or any say in the actual room/location for the interview, so you’ll have to make the best of what is on offer. Once at the location, take a few minutes to take a look around the room before you unload any of your equipment. What you want to do is look for the most suitable corner to set up your talent, a corner that will make a nice backdrop to your subject. You don’t want anything too distracting or cluttered so use your artistic judgement here. Don’t be afraid to move furniture around and/or move distracting objects from the background. Putting in a little effort at this stage will yield much better results. But be sure to leave the room exactly as you found it; we don’t want lighting cameramen getting a bad reputation for being messy people who don’t clean up after themselves.
Whatever the size of the room, be it big or small. I recommend shooting from corner-to-corner i.e. set the subject to be interviewed up in one corner of the room, and have your camcorder in the opposite corner. This way, you are getting the maximum length out of the room, which will allow you more control over depth-of-field. Also, shooting somebody square on to a flat wall looks plain dull, but shooting against a corner wall that is plain white is almost as dull also, so find a backdrop that has a complimentary colour and preferably a non-distracting pattern, or use a Dedolight DLH4 with projection lens with a gobo and coloured gel to add interest like I am in this tutorial. If the room at the location is small, you can also consider shooting through doorways to get even more distance from camera to subject; this is a technique I often find myself using in cramped environments.
The idea is to place a chair approximately 1/3rd away from the corner, this leaves 2/3rds space between the subject and your camcorder. Place your camcorder as far back into the opposite corner as it will go, leaving you room to stand behind it of course. Just to re-cap - if the room is 30 feet from corner-to-corner, place your interview on a chair approximately 10 feet away from the corner, with your camcorder on its tripod approximately 20 feet away in the opposite corner, give or take 2 or 3 feet for you to have space to move around the tripod.
Your subject should be seated on a non-swivelling chair; otherwise they will almost certainly swivel side-to-side, with nerves, or just because they can. Either way, on camera this looks very distracting. The chair should also have a low back, and not one where you can see the back of the chair coming up over the shoulders of the subject.
With the subject seated 1/3rd away from the back corner, and your camcorder backed up as far as it will go in the other corner you will be in the perfect position to control the depth-of-field in a way that will allow you to throw the background out of focus slightly. Throwing the background out of focus will send the viewer’s eye to the person being interviewed, it will also give depth and dimension to the shot.
I would recommend opening up the camcorder’s iris all the way, then stop it down just ½ to 1 ½ stops, then control the exposure with the camcorder’s built-in ND (natural density) filters, or with the in-line dimmers of the actual lights. Using the latter will affect the colour temperature, so be sure to do a fresh white-balance once all the lights are set up and their output has been adjusted accordingly.
Although the 3-point lighting set up will look very similar, no matter who physically sets them up, there are many ways of actually arriving at the final stage. How you get there will essentially be down to you, but some ways will yield a better final result. The order in which I personally go about setting up the lights is one that works for me and it gives me excellent results; you might chose some kind of variation on my methods.
This tutorial is going to assume that the room is relatively dark i.e. all blinds and curtains have been closed. Darkening the room as much as possible will help you control the lights, and it will also prevent having mixed light sources of daylight and tungsten. Of course it is possible to use a colour correction ND gel on the windows, but this is only usually done if an open window is to be in shot for artistic and visual reasons. It is also time-consuming to gel windows.
HEAD ROOM & COMPOSITION
It’s important to compose your shot properly. Your subject must look natural and pleasing to the viewer, and poor composition can make the overall image look unpleasing, strangely uncomfortable and just plain unnatural. Here are a few tips when composing the shot and seating/positioning your interviewee.
Don’t leave too much headroom; in fact it is preferable to actually ‘cut in’ to the subjects head slightly, rather than leave too much headroom (see picture above for how it should be). This is a mistake amateurs always make. Too much headroom will send the viewer’s eye to this open/vacant space above the subject’s head. I often see this with outdoor shots and I always expect an airplane to fly across the sky; as if the cameraman has composed the shot in anticipation of this, so I’m busy looking for airplanes and not listening/watching the subject. When setting up and composing the shot for an interviewee, try and put their ‘eye-line’ about one third from the top of the screen (this is called using the rule-of-thirds; see picture above) While I’m on the subject of the rule-of-thirds, don’t forget to leave ‘looking room’ for your subject. By this I mean don’t position your subject directly in the middle of the screen. The only exception to this rule is for newsreaders that are addressing the viewer/camera directly. In most interview situations this won’t be the case, instead the interviewee will be looking slightly off camera to either a real, or imaginary interviewer. You should pan the camera left or right (depending on which way your subject is looking) so that there is extra room for the subject to ‘look’ into (see picture above). Pan the camera around until your subject has approximately two thirds of looking room and one-third space behind them as shown in the above picture.
Don’t cut your subject off at natural joints such as elbows, wrists, waist, knees, neck etc. This looks freaky and displeasing to the viewer’s eye. Instead, cut your subject off just below the tie-not area and/or across the forehead for a close-up shot, or between the shoulder and elbow, or between the elbow and wrist etc.
Once my camcorder is in place and composed nicely on the interviewee, I usually start by setting up the key-light as it establishes light levels. The key-light is the most important light here; it is the light that is going to be doing the main job, hence key, of illuminating the subject. The key-light should be a soft light source; this is more flattering on your subject. The light I use is a Starlite and it’s very unique. It has a very long elongated bulb and its housing acts as a heat sink to dispel heat. Like the DLH4, the Starlite is really tough and should last a lifetime. The Starlite is housed inside a medium heatproof soft-box to make it a soft light source. The key-light is positioned in front of the subject on the opposite axis to the back-light behind the subject. The key-light should be mounted on a stand approximately 6 or 8 feet high coming down at a 45% angle at the subject, however, the fill-light can also work well coming from below the eye-line to fill in the shadows under the chin and eye-line; this will make your subject look younger as it irons out wrinkles. Your subject should be seated so that the seat is actually pointing towards the key-light, which is about 30% off axis to the camcorder, the subject then turns his/her head slightly away from the key-light and towards the interviewer who is sitting between the camcorder and the key-light. This will allow you to angle the key-light to illuminate the left side of the subject’s face. Use the zebra (face) settings on your camcorder to expose for this illuminated side of the face. With your camcorder’s iris virtually all the way open (half to 2 stops down from fully open), adjust the light output using the Starlite’s in-line dimmer to achieve perfect exposure on the illuminated side of the subject’s face. It is worth noting that sometimes a hard key-light would look better depending on the subject matter. Interviewing hard man Vinnie Jones on a tough subject such as the movie Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels would probably look better with Mr Jones lit with a hard light as we don’t want him to look like a glamorous Hollywood actress now do we. Think about the subject, then decide whether to use hard or soft light.
Once the key-light is in place and set, we now come to the fill-light. The fill light is a soft light source and it is here to gently fill in the shadows on the darker side of the subject’s face that have been created by the key-light. The fill-light I use is a Dedolight DLH1X150S, which is a very compact and rugged light that is housed inside a compact light-box, making it a soft light source. Position the fill-light on the opposite side to the key-light at the same height as the key-light (approximately 6 to 7 feet high) so it is coming down at a 45% angle towards the subject. With the camcorder correctly exposed for the key-light, adjust the fill-light’s output by slowly bringing up the light using the inline dimmer until it gently fills in the shadows created by the key-light. As a rule of thumb, the fill-light should be about 1 or 2 stops less in light output than the key-light as a rough rule of thumb, this will retain ‘modelling’ on the subject, giving dimension and depth to the shot. However, be creative and go for whatever looks good to you with regard to the key and fill light ratio; less or more contrast will be required depending on the type of interview being shot. If both key and fill lights were set to the same power output the subject would look ‘flat’ with a severe lack of ‘modelling’ and dimensionality so go easy on the output of the fill light or it will simply take the shape and modelling out of the subject. Remember, TV screens are flat, so as Lighting Cameramen it is our job to create the illusion of a 3-dimensional world so the viewer gets a sense of dimension and realism in the picture. It’s worth noting that if you use a dimmer, the colour temperature of the light is going to change i.e. get warmer as you dim. If your fill light is dimmed to attain a nice contrast ratio to the key-light it could be that you are working in a mixed colour balance situation. I’ve found that taking a white balance reading off a white (or warm) card with light falling on it from both the key and warmer fill gives decent enough results. However, if you want to be a perfectionist you can either use ND gels to dim down the fill-light, or drop the fill-light output down using a dimmer then use a colour correction gel on it to bring it back up the same colour temperature as the key-light.
The back-light should not to be confused with the background-light, which lights the background behind the subject. The back-light is placed behind the subject opposite to where the key-light will be placed. The back-light is what is going to give a nice rim of light to the hair and shoulders of the subject from behind; this will help separate them from the background, adding depth and dimension to the shot.
The light I always use for the back-light, which is the one I’m using here, is a Dedolight DLH4. This is a really unique light. It’s totally rock solid and bombproof and it’s very compact (about the size of a cricket ball). But the unique thing about the Dedolight DLH4 is that it has an in-built focusable lens, which means you can point the light exactly where you want it, making it very easy to control with zero light-spill. This unique lens system also means that the 150w bulb housed inside, throws out an equivalent of about 500 watts. This is due to the light source being magnified through the aspherical lens. Unlike regular tungsten lights such as old-fashioned Redheads, the bulbs in the Dedolight won’t blow or explode if they are accidently knocked. You can literally knock the stand over and have the light come crashing to the floor and the bulb continues to push out light as if nothing happened. The DLH4 is also splash and up to a point, waterproof. I wouldn’t recommend going scuba-diving with one, but if you are filming in say a bathroom set and a light stand gets accidently knocked over and the DLH4 ends up submerged in the water, it continues to work and it won’t electrocute anyone who might be in the bathtub.
I start by placing the DLH4 on the opposite axis to the key-light, about 4 feet above the subject’s head coming down at about 45%. With the blinds and curtains closed, switch off the key-light and fill-light for a moment; if you have the key and fill-lights switched on at this time, judging the amount of rim/hair light will be much harder. Use your judgement as to how much rim/hair light you dial in using the in-line dimmer. Too much will look like one of those 1980’s big hair glamour girl shots with a total halo of light around the head and shoulders, too little won’t give enough separation from the background. See the 'Back-light only' picture at the end of this tutorial to see how much rim/hair light I personally like. This light source is a hard light source, but you can clip some diffusion gel onto the barn doors if you wish. Use the DLH4’s barn doors to flag down the light and control it directly onto the back of the head and shoulders of your subject, preventing any spill onto the rest of the set. This light can be left as a hard light, or you can add diffusion gel to the barn doors, or you can even experiment with coloured gels for a different look.
The fourth and final light that I use is the background-light. This light is designed to shine light onto the background to complete the shot by adding that final touch of added dimension and depth that will really make the subject ‘pop’ out of the scene. The background light can be used to simply splash some plain light onto the background, or it can be shone through a ‘cookie’ pattern to throw a random pattern onto the background, or you can fit a projection lens onto it, in which you can place a small metal ‘gobo’ (a disc with a pattern cut out of it) that will allow you to project the gobo’s pattern onto the wall/background behind your subject. The difference between a cookie and a gobo is quite simple. The cookie is simply a piece of thick card (about 2x2 or 3x3 feet) with some random pattern that has been cut out of it with an art knife, the cookie is fixed on a stand and placed directly in front of the background light and positioned so that its cut out patterns shadows are cast directly onto the background. The closer the cookie is positioned to the background light, the more out-of-focus it will be cast onto the background, the further away you position the gobo from the background light, the sharper it’s pattern will appear on the background.
The projection lens with a gobo is much easier and a lot more accurate to work with, although it costs more, it provides lots of variation more easily. Cookies (or Stencils as they are often called) you can make yourself for a few pounds, whereas the projection lens costs a few hundred pounds. The background light I use is a Dedolight DLH4, then I attach a Dedo projection lens, which is about 8 inches long. This projection lens has a focusable lens inside and behind this there is a slot in which small metal gobo discs can be placed. The discs are very thin and about 3 inches in diameter. They are available in a multitude of pre-designed patterns, you can even have your own patterns custom made, including company logos etc. With the lens attached to the background-light and the gobo in place it’s simply a case of positioning the background light out of shot and in a position that will allow you to project the gobo’s pattern onto the background behind the subject. Experiment with angles here. If you have a venetian blind gobo pattern, you might want to position the background-light at a similar height to that of an actual window and have it shine across the background wall at a slight angle so the venetian blind effect shadows are at an angle that mimics that of a real window with blind. Then use the lens to focus or de-focus the projected image. Personally I always throw the projected image out of focus to the point that you can make out the pattern, but not so it is clear and sharp; the latter is the equivalent of having a very deep depth-of-field with the background in sharp focus; something I don’t want. Throwing the projected background image slightly out of focus will achieve the best results when trying to create depth and dimension. How much you throw the image out of focus will be down to your creative and artistic style. If you are using a home-made or shop-bought cookie, the methods are identical, only with less precision of course as you won’t have the control over focusing and aim that the projection lens and gobo gives. You can also experiment with coloured gels on the background-light. You can cut out small circular pieces of gel and put them in the same slot as the gobo. Splashing colour onto the background can change the ‘feel’ of the shot. A corporate shoot might want a very serious official kind of look, which could mean adding a little blue to the background. Whereas a warmer orange gel on the background will make your CEO appear more friendly in his/her warmer environment. Remember to white balance to the key-light only with your subject holding the white-card tilted slightly towards the key-light. To be safe, turn the back-light and background lights off if they have coloured gels in them during the white-balance setting up process. The light output of the background light should be dimmed down so it does not distract the viewers attention away from the interviewee; experiment.
Depending on the ‘look’ you want, you can try white-balancing to a Warm Card. Warm cards are just like a regular white-balance card, only they have a very light blue colour to them. So when you use a warm card to white balance too, it tricks the camera’s system and gives your overall image a slightly warmer ‘look’. I personally always use warm cards when white balancing with digital formats, why? Digital formats by nature always have a slightly cold/cool/bluish ‘look’ to them when white balanced to a reference white card. This often makes people have cold skin tones that are unnatural. Using warm cards will bring that colour back into their faces. Warm cards come in different strengths from half, one, two, three. I generally use half or one as I like a little bit of warmth, but not too much. Using a number 2 will generally give you that very warm Saturday morning TV show look. The warm cards I use are made by Vortex Media.
The following sequence of shots shows the difference as various lights are added. They show each light being added from key-light only, then key and fill lights together etc. The final shot shows what the back-light looks like on its own highlighting the hair and putting a nice rim of light around the shoulders to give more separation from the background. Sometimes just a single backlight is used when interviewees want to keep there identity hidden, such as on police and crime programmes on TV.
THE DVD – BUY IT NOW
DVuser & Generic Pool Productions have just finished filming and producing a brand new training DVD entitled “How to Light & Shoot Interviews for TV & Video”. Everything that is in this written tutorial can be seen in action with lots more lighting techniques on this all-new training DVD. For more information, to view trailer or to buy the DVD click here: http://www.dvuser.co.uk/content.php?CID=261
There are many variations on this basic 3-point lighting set up, but if you follow these basic ground rules that I’ve laid out here in this tutorial, then you will always achieve high quality and professional looking results. But feel free to experiment with your lighting; be creative and enjoy.All the equipment I use personally and used in this tutorial is listed below with UK shops where it can all be purchased.
KEY-LIGHT - Starlite with 1000w tungsten lamp and a medium SilverDome softbox with an in-line dimmer.
FILL-LIGHT - Dedolight DLH1X150S with 150w tungsten lamp and a Dedoflex mini softbox with an in-line dimmer.
FILL-LIGHT (option 2) - Photoflex reflector on stand.
BACK-LIGHT - Dedolight DLH4 with barn doors with an in-line dimmer.
BACKGROUND-LIGHT - Dedolight DLH4 with gobo projector lens and venetian blind gobo with an in-line dimmer.
WARM CARDS - Vortex Media
My recommended dealers for Dedolight & Starlite equipment: www.videokit.co.uk & www.proav.co.uk
For further details about these lights and their technical specifications visit the UK’s sole distributor website: www.cirrolite.com
©2011 Nigel Cooper