A Unique Situation
When trying to videotape a subject, for an interview or otherwise, each location presents a completely new set of challenges. When you are trying to record someone sitting in a classroom, auditorium, or theater where there are rows of seats behind them you have a great opportunity to get a lot of depth and character for the scene. Since this is a unique location you have to approach it a little differently than you would other lighting situations.
Watch For Natural Light
Like shooting in any room, make sure the windows are closed and covered as much as possible. If it is at all possible try to black out the windows with drapes and blankets to make it as dark as you can. This is even more important than normal because you are going to be lighting both the subject and many objects in the room behind them.
Since you are going to be including a number of things in the scene you need to make choices about what you are going to show. When showing rows of seats around and behind the subject you do not need to have the whole room visible. A few seats will be satisfactory when representing a room.
Camera and Key Light Position
You need to position the camera correctly to get this shot right. It is best to have the camera as directly in front of the subject as possible so that you can get the area around them as well. If you are conducting an interview make sure to have the interviewer sit directly in between the camera and whatever light you are using as the primary key light on the subject’s face. The key light is going to be positioned to illuminate the long side of the person’s face, and should be placed six feet from the subject and lifted one foot above their head. Like always, a great way to see if you have the key light in the correct place is to see if the shadow of their nose is resting directly in the crease from their mouth.
You should position a white card, or white poster board, as a fill light about one to two feet from the other side of the subject’s face. Though this is always a good idea, it is going to be even more important in this situation because the room is ideally going to be darker than normal. Anytime there is no natural light on the location you need to use a fill light.
Backlight and Background Light
You are then going to use a backlight to light the back of their head, placed about six to eight feet behind them to illuminate the back of their head. You will then place another large light directly behind the backlight illuminating the seats behind the subject. You want to raise this light higher than normal and tilt it down to make sure that you illuminate just the chairs and not anything else.
Frame the Image
You want to raise the camera up slightly higher than normal and tilt it slightly down towards the subject. This is not usually a good idea because you always want to keep the camera at eye level when focusing on a subject’s face, but in this case you want to get a longer of depth of field behind them. Zoom the frame of the image as close to the subject’s face as possible while still getting the illuminated chairs behind them. You do this to make sure that you get all of the dark seats behind them out of the frame and keep only the ones that are lit. This will make it appear as though they are sitting in a whole room full of chairs that are all dramatically lit.
Remember the Points
Once you do this you will have an image of a person sitting or standing in front of several rows of chairs that are lit with a heavy contrast between light and dark. As long as you position the camera and key lights properly, use a fill light, and position the background light correctly on the chairs you can have an effective and haunting image for your project.
This post is part of the series: Lighting for Digital Video
Different techniques and topics on lighting for digital video filmmaking.