Lighting interviews with natural light / by Glenn Dixon

I love that filmmaking requires you to do more with less. For assignment work I often travel with a single LED Litepanel and a flex fill for lighting my interviews. With these limitations, I have trained myself to use natural light to my advantage. For ninety percent of my client projects, I am the production crew. I typically capture six or more interviews during a single day in addition to BRoll and I don’t have time to manipulate excessive equipment across locations by myself. The aim of this article is to map out my process of selecting and lighting an interview location as a small footprint filmmaker.

Things I look for when selecting a space for an interview are (in descending order of priority):
1. Quiet space (ability to control and minimise background noise).
2. Acoustics (carpeted or acoustically dampened environments over hard reflective surfaces).
3. Available natural light (large windows).
4. Depth and background (lowest priority).

Once a space has been selected, I setup my equipment near a window in the room. I usually turn off the overhead fluorescent lights and base my lighting design on a daylight colour temperature. Positioning the interviewee’s chair at an appropriate angle to the window allows me to control the degree in which the light will wrap around the interviewee’s face. Depending on the situation, I will either place my 1×1 Litepanel on the window side to boost the key or on the short side of frame to fill in the dark side of the face. I will adjust the shutters/curtains on windows at the rear and side of the room to control the ambient light.

The biggest challenge with this approach is the dynamic and fluctuating nature of natural light. An overcast day is optimal and will provide more consistent lighting. On a day with scattered cloud, the light will change significantly as the clouds move across the sky. Not only will the light intensity change but so will the colour temperature. If your interview runs for a considerable amount of time, colour and lighting inconsistency will certainly be present. Many of my films are BRoll heavy so I’m not super fussed about subtle changes in light and colour temperature in an interview, most of which can be minimised with colour grading. From a creative and logistical perspective, I prefer inconsistencies in lighting than hauling extra gear across the country.

Photograph above:  Screenshot from a film I am working on with Mohamed Nur.
Photograph below: Peter Maggs adding some flare to the scene while I light the room for an upcoming interview. On location in Woolsthorpe, VIC with the Deparment of Education and Training.

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