Monthly Archives: May 2023

Interviews with natural light

I recently celebrated my 57th birthday. And the older and more experienced I get with a camera, the more attracted I am to shooting interviews in natural light. Maybe it’s just because I’m tired of all the work involved in setting up lights, grip and everything required to impose your vision on a scene. But I think it’s because, after all these years, I’ve finally realized that nature does it best.

Examples of natural light interviews

A couple months ago I shot for a wonderful organization called Friendship Circle (not my client, but I was hired by the New York based agency to DP most of the Seattle-based production). Take a look at these interview frames:

If I had this shot to do over, I’d add more negative fill to the camera-right side of her face, to giver her face a little more dimensionality. It’s a little flat this way, but I love how creamy soft the natural light is.

The two images above are a mother and her daughter, who were interviewed in the same room. I simply reversed the camera angle between shots, to get a different look. By opening and partially closing the blinds, I was able to control the light enough to make it work.

The setup for the daughter’s interview

But shooting without lights doesn’t mean shooting without anything. If you examine the frame above, note the diffuse reflection in the upper camera-left side of her glasses. See that soft white glow? That’s the 4×4 bounce, shiny side up, that I placed to try and make that camera-left side of her face a little brighter, to get a bit of wrap.

On her mom’s frame, I needed to use the bounce on the camera left (shadow) side of her face, because the shadow side of her face would have been too dark without it. So depending on the situation, I’m either wanting to add a little or take away a little light. And this can be achieved without light fixtures, just by carefully placing the subjects in the frame.

Natural light (with a little help)

The edge light on this frame is a little too hot. The correct intensity is in the frame below.

In the two-shot of the couple, I’ve placed them so that they are lit by a large bank of windows in their living room, with the kitchen behind them. There are some lovely small lights in the background that add interest and the window in the kitchen provides motivation for a light (but in this case, does not provide the amount of light I needed to separate them from the background). So this is a case where I added one small light, an edge light as it’s called, to just make them pop off that background. So this is a case where the shot isn’t entirely naturally lit. However, the shot would have worked fine without it. Adding it felt like a nice extra touch.

Because it wasn’t the key light, setting up this edge light (a Dedo DLED-7) was super easy – I just placed it on the floor, aimed upward with a parallel beam adapter. On a c-stand with a boom arm, I placed a #3 Cine Reflect Lighting System panel into the beam, which gives a nice soft light that is easy to focus without needing to set any flags. Done.

Naturally wrapping window light

I love this face. The way the natural light wraps around it in this shot, it’s like a painting. I would have had to set up a very large source (with a lot of flags to control the light spill) to achieve this look artificially. But with natural window light, with a little cutting and bouncing, it just works.

On another project, for UW Medicine, I shot a doctor interview last week in a conference room that had a long row of windows along a southern exposure (see frame above). Luckily for me, the interview was shot during the day when the sun was at a high enough angle that it wasn’t reaching too far into the room, which allowed me to use the windows as soft key sources of light (sky blue). Note, that if the weather had been mixed, as so often is the case here in Seattle, with partial clouds and sun breaks, this wouldn’t have worked. The exposure would have fluctuated with the cloud movement.

The setup for frame above, using blinds to control light entering the conference room with bounced light on the fill side.

To make this shot work, I used a 4×4 floppy to darken the background to get good separation, and a 4×4 bounce on the shadow side of his face to lower the contrast. I also had to warm the shot a lot in post, as that sky blue is very cool light, and I wanted a warm vibe.

How might this same shot have looked in artificial light? I just happen to have a comparison, because I interviewed another doctor in the same conference room a year ago. Here’s how that looked:

Same location, virtually same camera angle, but with artificial light. Feels artificial and “sourcy” to me.

At the end of the day, working with naturally light is all about seeing the light, and realizing what you can do with it with just a little shaping.

Finally, here’s the finished Friendship Circle piece: