How to Light a Documentary Interview

If you’re shooting an interview for your documentary you will be using either natural light sources or studio lighting. This blog post will outline how to properly use indoor or studio lighting to optimize the production value of your documentary.

If you’re shooting indoors or in a studio, the basic 3 point lighting technique is a favorite amongst filmmakers. It fully exposes the facial expression and emotions of your subject as well as isolates them from the background and hides unwanted shadows. The 3 point lighting system is the professional standard and it’s really easy to set up.

Your back light creates a nice highlight around your subject’s hair, shoulders and face that help separate them from the background. The key light is the main lighting source casting directional lighting and shadows on the subject’s face and body. The last light in this setup is called the fill light. The fill light is a softer light that helps fill unsightly shadows created by the key light. You will want to play close attention to how the fill light fills in the shadows especially around the nose and eye area.

You can get creative with the backdrop by using different colors, cookies to add texture or coloured lights to spice up your composition.

It’s also worth mentioning that you should light your documentary subject from upstage rather than downstage. The lighting that falls your subject’s face and body will be much more desirable. To light your subject from upstage simply ensure that the key light is positioned on the other side of your subject to where the camera is positioned. For example if the camera is on the right side of the subject than the light should be coming from the left.

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