Mastering the art of lighting is a lifelong commitment. The intricacies of shaping light, creating atmosphere and evoking mood are key lighting concepts that take years, if not a lifetime, to master. For those predominantly working in dramas and other narrative forms with larger crews, budgets and the freedom to do more stylised shots, lighting a scene can encompass a rather broad range of techniques. However, working in documentaries and corporate often requires a much more stripped down and straightforward approach to lighting an interview for example – the foundation of every documentary. Light is light and knowing the basics of how to properly light an interview setup is the cornerstone of every working camera professional in the documentary, TV and corporate industry today.
The basic lighting principles of shooting interviews or anything else for that matter haven’t really changed over the years despite the evolution in cameras and lighting technologies that have occurred. Billy Campbell from Blind Spot Gear, makers of the awesome Scorpion Lights, recently sat down with his father Douglas Campbell, a professional cameraman with over three decades of experience in documentaries, corporate, drama and TV.
Obviously lighting techniques for documentaries is a broad subject, but in summary I think the interview above shared some very valuable insights. Keeping in mind that the subject being interviewed is the most important piece of the puzzle, rather than lighting is important to remember. Sure one can probably create a beautifully lit frame with practicals in the background and a nice soft key with some kickers, but if the interview doesn’t deliver great content, that beautiful lighting would have been a waste of time.
Working in documentaries requires one to be flexible and quick on their feet, as time is always of the essence, and more often than not, the subjects may not be experienced or camera shy. Making it possible for the interviewee to feel comfortable on set is key, as this way you get the most out of them in terms of good, truthful content.
Utilising natural light is a common technique in documentary and interview setups. Some of us over in Europe, don’t get the benefit of living in places with year round sunshine, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for the position of the sun, clouds and the weather in general as we can’t unfortunately control the big bright sun in the sky. Keeping aware of the environment such as position of the windows will help you get more out of the interview setup. Natural light can be rather unpredictable on our island here in the UK, so best to keep in mind the possibility of it changing abruptly.
Here is a quick example by Billy, who demonstrates how to utilise natural light for an interview setup.
Check out also this handy Over-The-Shoulder tutorial for a simple interview setup using Blind Spot Gear’s own Scorpion Light set of battery powered LED lights.
Lighting schematics for the interview setup above courtesy of Billy Campbell:
And the lighting schematic of the reverse shot:
You can also check out our coverage of the awesome Scorpion Light here. Also see the versatility of these lights in action on how to light an interview in a cave – possibly one of the most challenging locations for an interview in case Bruce Wayne agrees to an exclusive from the Bat Cave.
Billy and the crew at Blind Spot Gear are working on more Lighting tutorials, which we’d be sure to share with you guys as they come in. In the meantime head over to Blind Spot Gear for more demos and to get your own set of Scorpion Lights.
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