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Lighting for Home Digital Video Interviews

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 2/4/2010

Here are some tips on how to light home digital video interviews so they look like professional studio filmed documentary footage.

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    The Studio Environment

    What tends to separate what people see as professional documentary work from those who approach the art form with a “Do It Yourself" ethic is the setup of the interviews. One of the most important, and most difficult, aspects of doing a sit down interview for digital video is finding a way to light it effectively and dramatically. Each situation has its own sets of principle and challenges, but the “studio" set-up is the most controlled and usually the best for those new to this type of work.

    What the “studio" means is that it is a room that has satisfactory acoustics and in which you have control over all aspects. This could be just about anywhere from a professional news studio to the tool shed in your backyard; all that matters is how you dress the location that you are in. Rooms with carpets are often great because it cuts down on the amount of echo you will get in your audio, but if you are dealing with wood or tile just put down blankets around your subject.

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    Lighting for Home Digital Video Interviews

    You are going to want to use a portable light kit, but if you have no access to such equipment you can use certain home lamps for each light that would be in the light kit. Set up two chairs, approximately two to three feet apart from each other. Have one of the chairs close to the wall, and the other chair with a large distance between it and the background. That chair will be where your subject sits, and it is advisable to get as much distance between it and the background as possible. Place the camera on a tripod to the left of the interviewers chair, and a small Tota light to the right of the chair. This is a small square light, on a stand, with about a 600-800 Watt power reading. It is advisable to secure a white sheet umbrella on the light to soften the glow. Raise the light slightly above the subject’s head so that the reflection of the light will be in the upper-right area of the subject’s pupil. A strong lamp will work as long as it can be pointed in the direction of the subject’s face. You will know that the light is in the correct spot if you can see the shadow for the subject’s nose is perfectly in line with the crease that occurs from their nose to mouth.

    Next you want a fill light. A white card, or a white poster board, is best for this. You attach it to a stand and place it on the opposite side of the subject’s face. You bring this white card close enough so that the skin tone on that side of the face is illuminated enough to see but far enough away so that it will not be in the frame of the image on the camera.

    What really sets amateur and professional lighting apart from each other is the use of a backlight, or kicker. This is a light that is placed behind a subject and illuminates the back of their head. You are going to want to use a strong spotlight, ranging from 800-1000 Watts. You want to bring this light off behind the fill white card, pointing at the back-left of the subject’s head. You want to make sure that the back of the head is illuminated but not overly “hot," so angle the light so that it is just graced by the light but not overly bright. The light should be in a direct line to both the camera and the total light.

    The last light you are going to want to use is the same type as you just used for the kicker, and you are simply going to use it to illuminate the background. Place that kicker directly behind the other and point it at the background. Make sure that the background is colorful but that it is out of focus and does not have any readable text. That will only distract the viewer from watching the subject.

    This is a quick and easy way to set up a studio lighting that will transform any home digital video project into looking like a professional documentary.