Have you ever needed to do an interview in an area that made it super tough, for one reason or another?
While in a remote village of Nepal for #standwithme, we needed to interview a few girls at a rehabilitated slave center. It was a crew of two with some LED lights, limited access to power, and very little time and space. These interviews had to cut in with that of Lisa Kristine or the Harr family, interviews that we had crews of four to five on, tons of gear, HMIs to recreate a sunny day, and hours to setup.
But for these interviews it was two people with 30 minutes and lighting that looked closer to a flashlight than something you’d find on a film set.
Now of course we couldn’t make something out of nothing. These interviews wouldn’t look AS good as the ones with Lisa Kristine’s, but we did have to make sure they could cut into the same film and story. And to do that we really went back to the basics. We listened to the light and looked for what was there, how we could best use the environment, and then just broke the light down into its core components and made the most of each.
Both of these interviews were lit in a crunch in the same side of a bedroom in a remote Nepal village. They are simple but clean by following each step of the tutorial below. The window as a key, some diffusion to soften it, and then a small LED light to add some fill. But it’s the details that matter here, and that we’ll cover in the tutorial.
I can’t tell you how many times over the years we’ve seen people with huge crews and massive lights spend hours lighting an interview that could have looked stronger by just working with the window light that was there.
Sometimes, we just setup what we think we are supposed to for an interview. Or we feel bad if we don’t use our most expensive and coolest lights.
But, as with most skills, if we master the basics before moving up, we can often do much more and go much further (exactly the same scenario with people jumping into huge Steadicams before they knew the basics).
So today on the blog we have something that really goes back to the basics. How To Light An Interview. It’s a complete lesson from Story & Heart’s Academy Of Storytellers. It shows you how to get setup and get strong results right away. It also breaks it down in a way that is easy to remember and apply on every shoot.
Pretty entertaining, right? And helpful too. As we show in this special lesson courtesy of the Academy, there are four basics of lighting interviews that will be relevant to you throughout your storytelling career.
Let’s break down Direction, Intensity, Softness and Color–DISC!– one more time:
- Direction. Lights can be studio lights, or a combination of studio lights and natural light. Start with your main light, your key light, and position it 30 to 45 degrees to the right or left the interviewee. Also consider the vertical height of the key light, and position it roughly 30 to 45 degrees above the subject.
- Intensity. You want to balance your light so light on the other side of your subjects face isn’t too dark. To do this, position a second light opposite the first light, or use a reflector or foam core to bounce light back in. If you’re using two of the same kind of lights, put one farther away to reduce its intensity. Also we want to balance the subject with background so that neither is too bright or dark. If your background appears too dark in relation to your subject, consider adding a light to the background to brighten it, but make sure it’s not brighter than the light intensity of your subject. The key here is balance.
- Softness. You generally want the light on your subject to look nice and soft. The bigger the light source, the softer it will be. You can make small lights bigger with soft boxes, umbrellas, or bouncing them off larger surfaces. And remember, the closer this light is to the subject, the larger it’s apparent size and the softer it will be.
- Color. To keep things simple use just one color or temperature for all the lights in the interview. This means you might have to cover windows or turn off any additional artificial lights so that the daylight from outside isn’t matching your tungsten lights inside. But this tip alone, if you stick to it, will result in MUCH cleaner looking interviews.
Now that you know DISC, what about gear Stillmotion uses?
For key lights, we often use a Kino Flo Celeb 200 light (Buy from BH). Because it is dimmable all the way from 0% to 100% per, it makes it easy to work on the intensity and balance it with the background or fill lights. And since you can dial the Kelvin temperature, or color, from 2800K all the way up to 5600K, it is great for matching the light in a room and having just one color. The Celeb is a little more money, but it’s killer.
While we’re talking about Celebs, I also want to mention the Road Rags kit (Buy from BH). We go for the larger kit which is 24″ x 36″ when put together. They’re light modifiers that are versatile and great for travel. Use the diffusion from Road Rags and snap it directly to the Celeb, then walk the Celeb in nice and close for a very soft key light.
Road Rags also have a net, which is good to cover windows to cut the light intensity without changing the color. It also has a flag to control spill from your key or other lights – often the key on the background, or the background light from hitting the interviewee.
If you’re watching your dollars a little more, check out the Lowel Pro Light (Buy from BH). We used it when we were starting out and it is still a great part of our kit today. We always recommend that you add the barn doors to it which allows you to direct the light better as well as quickly attach gels (more on this in a second).
The Lowel Pro Light is smaller, brighter, and cheaper. And like the tutorial suggests, because it’s smaller the light is going to be harsher. If you want your light to be soft you’ll need to make the light appear larger, spreading it out. While there is a softbox and umbrella option for this light, the easiest option is to just bounce it off white poster board (which you can find at Michael’s). And they’re cheap. Cheaper than a burrito.
Or, if you picked up the Road Rags kit above, use the diffusion on a frame and shine the Pro Light through that as a soft key. They’re white and bounce the light really well, so if you shine the light into the board and then have it bounce back into your subject it will make that light source considerably softer.
There are other ways to modify the Pro Light too. Gel kits are a great way to change the color to daylight or somewhere in between. Gels are also a great way to get rid of the green or magenta tint that happens with a lot of fluorescent lights, something very common in offices. We recommend the Rosco Color Correction Filter Kit (Buy from BH).
As we mention in the tutorial, fill lights are your second light source in interviews, the one opposite your key light. They are often needed to help balance the intensity of light on the interviewee’s face – the side opposite to the key. The simplest (and cheapest) option for a fill is to bounce back the light from your key. We generally use 42″ silver-white reflector (Buy from BH). Remember t use the white side which maintains the one color throughout the interview, as a silver or gold reflector will cool or warm your light respectively. To attach it the light stand we’ve always avoided actual reflector holders or arms and just use a grip head or spring clamp–these are cheap, around $3.
As a recap:
- The Kino Celeb as a versatile key light though a higher investment (Buy at BH)
- The Pro Light as a low cost key, or background light (Buy at BH)
- A Westcott 42″ Silver/White Reflector for fill (Buy at BH)
- A Westcott 24″x36″ Road Rags kit to help modify your lights (Buy at BH)
- A Rosco color correction gel kit to help make the most of a Pro Light or two (Buy at BH)
That’s the gear and these are the basics–Direction, Intensity, Softness, and Color–that you’ll find yourself considering time and time again. But more than just lighting your interview well, each can actually influence what viewers feel when they watch your story.
Each of these facets of light – Direction, Intensity, Softness, and Color – have that power. And each of these facets have their own tutorial on the Academy. These are lessons that provide real-life demonstrations and step-by-step, actionable advice that you can start using on your next shoot right away.
But what exactly is the Academy of Storytellers, and why is it so much better than all other educational platforms for filmmakers out there?
It’s collaborative. Respected and experienced filmmakers from a variety of industries—commercials, weddings, documentaries—share their secrets to what they do best. Then you join the conversation. Ask questions, share your experiences. Learn from one another.
It’s educational and entertaining. Other platforms are boring and ineffective because of one major missing piece: Pre-production. Lessons at the Academy are the culmination of interviews, scripts, rehearsals. They’re not too complex that you get lost and not too simple that you get bored. They’re the very best ideas with the best presentation.
It’s story-driven. No drawn out, long winded talking heads here. Lessons are dynamic—they show filmmakers in action, step-by-step screen flows, helpful graphics to break down bigger concepts, and B-roll to demonstrate techniques. You get to see and experience as much as possible.
And more than just lessons, it’s a complete community with discussions; webinars; downloadable cheat sheets, eBooks, and templates; gear discounts with LensProToGo, B&H; and so much more.
Enrollment is only $379 for an entire year. 50 tutorials now and another two added every week. Enrolling is easy and super quick. So you can get started right away.
As a reference, that’s one year of education that is guaranteed to make you a better storyteller all for less than the price of those light modifiers, the Road Rags, we linked to above.
We’re really proud of the work we did to help build and launch the Academy of Storytellers. Education is such an important part of our filmmaking journey and the Academy represents that dedication in practice.
I hope you join the Academy and check out our tutorials that explore DISC in greater detail. Plus 40 more available today and an additional 2 added every week.
We’ll see you in the Academy.