How to Set Up Interview Lighting

Today I’m going to give you some tips about setting up your interview lighting.

Interview lighting setups can be a little complicated, so I’m going to break it down for you step by step.

Look at Your Interview Space

The first thing you want to do is assess your space. Is there a lot of natural light in the space? You’ll want to work with it. Or is there no natural light and all artificial lighting? You’re going to want to bring in a lot of your own.

The next thing to think about when you look at the space is the size of it. How much equipment can you fit into that room? That is definitely a consideration you’re going to want to make as soon as you see the space that you’re shooting in.

The next thing you want to do is find your angles. Believe it or not, you actually want the subject to be as far away from the background behind them as possible. That’ll make the background kind of blur out and fall away and make sure your subject is the star of your shot. After that, you want to set up your camera as far away from the subject as the room will allow. That way you can zoom in and further blur out that background. Now if you’re in a really, really tight space, here’s a hack for you. Set up your camera in the adjacent hallway and shoot through the doorway. That’ll give you more space between you and the subject and allow you to bring the subject forward and blur out that background even more.

Should Your Interviewee Sit or Stand?

Next, you want to decide if your subject is going to be sitting or standing. Standing is great if you want a really wide shot. But if you think you’re going to be tighter on your subject, I would definitely recommend having them sit, because they’ll be able to wiggle around less and you won’t have to worry about them moving out of the frame.

Now if you want a particular piece of art showing behind someone in your shot, you might not want them sitting in a traditional height chair. You may need to bring them up to a counter height, or a bar height stool or use what’s available. 

How to Light the Interview

Okay, finally, let’s actually get to the light. The most traditional lighting setup is a three point lighting design. In this three point light setup, you have the key light, which is the main light lighting your subject space. The second light is what’s called the fill light. And this could be as bright as the key light or dialed down lower depending on how moody you want your shot to look. And the third light in a traditional three point light setup is the hair light. This lights the person’s head and shoulders and really helps them pop off the background.

So that’s the traditional configuration of a three point light setup, but you can make modifications to that if you need to. Sometimes you might have your three point light setup perfect, but then the background looks dark. In that case, you might want to take a fourth light and light up that background from the side. And if you’re in that situation where you have a dark background, but you do only have three lights, you can work around that as well. So set up your key light and your hair light and then take that fill light and use that to light up the background. And then take a reflector and use that as your fill, so you’re bouncing the light from your key light onto your subjects face from the side. It’s a more subtle lighting look, but it definitely works.

Another option is if you’re in a room with a lot of natural light, you can use that natural light as a hair light, fill light, or key light depending on how you orient your subject.

So now that you understand the basic lighting setup, let me give you a few tips that will help you along the way in different situations. So if you’re in a situation where it’s really important to see what’s outside of a window, I would expose your camera for the windows so you can see what’s going on out there, and then set up your lights to match that exposure. You’re really gonna have to blast your subject with a lot of light, but that is how I would approach that situation. Another thing you want to think about is whether or not there’s overhead lighting like in, let’s say, an office space. Overhead lighting is so unflattering, I would definitely turn those lights off and bring in your own lighting in that situation. Overhead lighting casts really ugly shadows on someone’s face, under the nose, maybe in the divots under the eyes. Nobody looks good with that overhead lighting, I would just do away with it entirely.

Is Color Temperature Important?

My next tip for you is to make sure you have uniform color temperatures throughout your shot, unless you’re going for a more stylized look. Traditionally you want all of your color temperatures to be the same. So my tip for you is to get bi-color LED lights where you can dial the light temperature to be either warmer to match a lamp or cooler to match daylight that might be coming in through a window, so you can really control your artificial lighting and match the existing lighting in your space. And then what you want to do is white balance to make sure that the color temperature in your shot is matched for whatever lightscape you have going on.

My last tip for you is to really think about the context of your video project when it comes to lighting. So remember, lighting isn’t just supposed to be flattering, it really can help you tell your story.

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Jenn Jager