At Blue Barn Creative, we film a lot of interviews in many different scenarios and the biggest variable we face is light. So we figured we would do a blog that might offer some tips and tricks to other filmmakers specifically for interview lighting. In any given scene there is often a mix of daylight, tungsten light, or fluorescent lighting. Not only does that make it hard for the camera to discern proper white balance, but the spectrum of light from artificial lights is quite dismal and people look less than flattering. Which is another reason why a good set of lights with accurate color, dimming control, and power are necessary tools for lighting interviews.
The lights we use are Kino Flo Celeb 200’s. It saves us a ton of time and gives us really accurate colors. The color accuracy rating on them is 95 CRI which are the same as high end, industry standard HMI lights. But these are lightweight, they run very cool (no gloves!) and at 100 Watts you can plug them in anywhere! Filmmakers everywhere can appreciate that I’m sure. The results from these lights are incredible. We get powerful yet soft light that allows for really nice skin tones and falloff (NOTE: falloff is the way light gently decreases over a certain distance). Really soft falloff makes for very smooth transitions of light into shadows, which is very pleasing on peoples faces when you sculpt the light according to the shape of their face, which we’ll speak more about below.
Interview Lighting Setup: The Color and The Shape….
Color temperature is the first of two main challenges when lighting an interview, the second is face shape. In the best case scenarios, we can shut off all of the ceiling lights and lamps and use our own lights to light our subjects. We prefer that kind of control over the colors in our scenes. But, in some cases, we find ourselves having to mix our interview lighting with the existing lights, which can be a variety of colors and hues. In these “mixed” situations we pick the most appropriate color temperature from the mix of ambient light (mostly concerned with the light near the subjects face in order to get excellent skin tone rendition) and then we digitally dial in our lights to match that chosen color temperature. Traditionally, lights are modified with colored gels, but we opted for lights with digital color control built in (2700-5500K).
Also, we try to shape and bounce the light so it flatters our subject as well as the background in the most pleasing way possible. The use of black flags can take light away from a scene in order to add shadows or “cut” the light, and reflectors can bounce light and “fill” in certain areas. The options are endless and every scenarios requires a different amount of each to make it all look great. Gaffers know this art well but in today’s world of smaller production this is a hat that many filmmakers have to wear. So learn the fundamentals, play with the video lighting and do what looks best to your own eye.
This leads us to the second challenge, face shape. Every face is different. The shapes and contours of a face will react differently to the light you project onto it, and from which direction or angle you project that light. Sometimes the light will make people appear larger or thinner, or accentuate a forehead, a nose, ears, or neck (you know, the things people get self conscious about). What looks good on one person may look terrible on another depending upon their physical traits. One of our main goals when doing an interview is to put people at ease since we like them to open up about whatever it is we are discussing. If they are worried about looking terrible it will take away from the final product, the film itself. So, it’s not only a nice thing to do, but it’s in everyone’s best interests to light people in the most flattering way possible. There are countless techniques out there to accomplish this task, so, how do you sift through it all to achieve great results?
A few years ago, something (a bit obvious) occurred to me. That is, the artists most equipped to deal with this problem are actually portrait photographers. So why not study their techniques in order to make everyone look their best on camera? There is a wealth of knowledge out there on how to light your subject’s face and ever since that realization, I have studied their techniques from blogs and books. In a world where photographers attempt to be cinematographers and vice versa, this is actually one of several, major crossovers from still photography that applies to filmmaking. So I encourage all filmmakers to take a serious look at portrait photography lighting setups and study the angles, the way the light hits the face and creates shadows. It will give you confidence that no matter what type of light you find yourself in, with a few proper tools you can shape and color the light in your favor. In the end, your clients will thank you!
-Stephen Alberts, Creative Director / Director of Photography