Quick Overview

  • Two most important things in making a video look nice are camera framing and lighting.
  • Use rule of thirds. This breaks an image down into 9 evenly sized boxed. Position the subject on these thirds and make them look across camera.
  • Position the subject next to a window and use the natural light the light them.
  • Use a tripod.
  • If you want to go the extra mile, think about the background and the colour in the image.

Camera framing

Framing a shot is all about balancing an image, which is essentially the art of making an image just look “right”. You would have probably heard about the Rule of Thirds, which is about dividing a frame into thirds both horizontally and vertically and putting key points of an image on the intersecting lines between these thirds. The Rule of Thirds is a good way to learn, however I need to stress that it really is more of a guideline to help train your eye than a rule.  The use of leading lines is another technique used that could be helpful in making a nicer shot. This basically refers to the use of line in an image which draw you eye to the subject. Think about what lines can be found in your location, this could include railings or pathways. These two techniques can provide a huge boost in the visual quality of your filming, while often only requiring a slight adjustment of the camera or location.

Another thing to note is the tripod positioning. Aim for you tripod height to be around the height of the subjects shoulders/head. If the tripod is too low or high it would look unnatural, as we are used to talking to each other around the same eye level, and looking up or down at a subject also has the subconscious effect of making the subject seem really powerful or intimidating, or really weak.

Also remember to set focus on the subject’s eyes, as that is what we are used to looking at when we communicate. This means having out of focus eyes is immediately noticeable and jarring. You also get bonus points for getting a glint of light in their eyes, which you can do by positioning a light so that the subjects eye reflects it. This is called a “Catch Light”.

Lighting the shot

Lighting a shot properly may be a bit more faff than is necessary for a general quick interview. But if you’re making a professional documentary, and you’re wanting to make your showreel absolutely stunning, then learning about lighting is the way to go.

Lighting Setups

The most standard lighting setup is the 3-point setup, which consists of:

Key Light – main light being used which provides the majority of the illumination. Generally deployed to shine on one side of the subject.

Fill Light – Light deployed on the opposite side of the subject to the Key light. This is used to fill out the shadows caused by the Key light.

Back Light – this is a light deployed behind the subject, this results in a sort of lining of light around the subject causing it “pop” from the background.

We only provide a few lights at the media store, although I believe they have more at the Diamond. Either way a simple and effective lighting setup is simply to have 1-point lighting and use a window as a key light. Natural light always looks great, and using a window as a lighting source is a great way to get soft lighting, which is something I’ll get to shortly. Simply position the subject with the window light shining on one side and the camera facing parallel to the wall.

Hard and Soft Lighting

Hard and soft lighting is defined by the shadows created on the subject.

Hard lighting – Creates a very defined shadow on the subject where the gradient between full shadow and light is very short or non-existent. This is made by a light source which is smaller than the subject.

Soft lighting – Is the opposite of hard lighting. Here there is much more of a gradient from light to shadow, giving the shadows a much more feathered look. This is created by having a light source larger than the subject.

As stated earlier, a good way to easily get soft lighting is to position the subject near a window and use that as a light source. The best thing about this is that you can make a shot look amazing for an incredibly low amount of effort, which means you can concentrate more on the interview itself.

High-Key and Low-Key Lighting

This refers to the strength of the fill light in a 3-point lighting setup. The difference in the level of the fill light means a difference in the light and shadow contrast on the subject.

High Key – This means that the fill light is bright, so it lightens the shadows cast by the key light. This results in a brighter happier image.

Low Key – This means that the fill light is weak or off completely, so the shadows cast by the key light are really dark. This results in a darker and more dramatic image.

In Practice

Here’s an example of using the magic of windows to light your interview. The window in the bottom shot is lighting the subject in the top shot (along with a cheeky back light). So really all that’s been done is positioned the interviewee to take advantage of the light, which is handy if you’re in a rush. There is a lot you can do for very little effort if you pay attention to and utilise the environment.

Location and Aesthetics

Recording location

Please keep in mind the location you will be using for the interview, as this will have a big effect on the quality of the finished product. A big thing to keep an eye on is the amount of background noise, as this could drown out the audio from the subject, or at the least result in an annoying thing you will spend way too long trying to remove in Premiere Pro. So, try and find a place with minimal background noise; that means no cafe’s next to busy roads! If background noise is unavoidable, find the direction the noise, and record with the microphones aiming away from it.

Background

Although it’s important to make the subject look nice on camera, you cannot forget the background. A good tip to keep in mind is to try and create depth in the shot. Don’t record someone with their back to a wall, as it just looks a bit boring and 2-dimensional. Instead, maybe film them at a mid-point on a wall, with the wall angled so it acts like a leading line as it goes from the foreground to the background. You want the background to be interesting to look at, ideally you would have it be relevant o the subject. For instance, if you were interviewing a chef, it would make sense to have a kitchen in the background, as this would emphasise who they are and what they do. Remember the background is to provide context and texture, not to steal the show, so make sure there’s nothing there that draws the eye too much.

Colours

Colour theory is an interesting thing to learn about if you have the time. Essentially it boils down to certain colours looking nice together, and certain colours giving a psychological effect. For example, red and green are a classic combination used in film and TV, art and design, as they are contrasting colours. Red also gives the impression of danger, anger, and even warmth. While green is often associated with nature and harmony. So, having your interviewee wearing a red shirt with a red background will give a different impression to if they wore a green shirt with a green background.

Realistically you probably won’t have time to put too much effort into this aspect, but if you know that your filming location has red walls, it’s probably worth asking the interviewee if they have anything autumnal to wear.

Tone

This is an important thing to think about. What kind of story are you reporting or telling, and how can you make the film reflect that? If you’re doing a piece on someone’s unique and interesting hobby, how will you present it? Light-hearted or deathly serious? Will having moody low-key lighting create a feeling that reflects the story? Probably not. Keep the tone in line with the content.

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