Why Mastering Great Interview Lighting Will Transform Your Confidence and Skills

Imagine this scenario... You have an appointment with an interviewee at 11am. His name is John Gregor and he is the CEO of Biotech Inc. He's a very hard man to get a hold of and almost never does interviews. The Producer is nervous because he's know to be short tempered and blunt. Tension is running higher than usual because this is the only interview he will do this year and the producer has booked you to light and shoot the interview. But there's no budget for a sound recordist so you will have to record audio and light and shoot....(and carry the gear) The interview is for a documentary.

The situation is compounded further because John Gregor's office only ok'd the interview late yesterday and so there was not much time to plan.

You got the call and were available so said yes.

You as the DOP have not seen the room and so have to be prepared in advance for how you are going to shoot it. This is not uncommon and so you have to think about several key factors:

  • How big is the room?
  • What lighting will you take?
  • Are there windows in the room or can you shut out ambient light and control everything yourself? (the idea scenario)
  • How much time to you need to get to location, park, load in gear, set up and be happy with the shot and the lighting in time to change it if necessary?

Now - how confident are you that you can pull this off?

You might be mistaken in thinking this is the exception rather than the norm, but in my experience this type of scenario is more common than not. But if you are organised and confident you can pull these gigs off with relative ease when you simplify your plan.

The secret is to factor in more time than you 'think' you need. If you think something will take an hour, then allow 90 mins. It's always much better to have time to spare than be stressing that your running out of time. The key is to work backwards from the time your interviewee is expected to be with you. So if 11 am is the time then you want to be ready by 10.45am.

If it was me I'd want all the gear to be in the room by 10 am. (You may need or want longer to set up) The first thing I'd do is get the camera out and find my frame. This can take 10 - 15 minutes by the time you've rearranged furniture and tried some different ideas out.

Producers generally like to have a say here because often they will be cutting this interview into a longer piece and things like eyeline will be important. So you need to ask what the looking room should be, left or right , that is will the interviewee be sitting on left of frame looking right or right of frame looking left.

N.B. You need to ask this question first before you choose a frame as it will have a massive impact on determining where you sit your interviewee.

The advantage of choosing a frame first is that you isolate everything else in the room. This is an important aspect of your pre visualisation. Yup you have to learn to see the interview on screen in your minds eye.  Tip: If you have a monitor then this can really help!

Next you begin to light. Now how to light an interview is like asking how do you paint a picture? If the frame is your blank canvas then the lights are your paint brushes and any lighting gel and other light modifiers are your paint brushes.

If you'd like to learn more about how to light interviews creatively then you can speed up the process here: