Sorry, I lied. This topic is brought up a lot on the internet. But specifically this topic is brought up with incredibly clever titles such as “How to light an interview” or “How to light ANY interview”. Most of these titles are made for pure clicks and views, I get it. I just hate it. If i need to know how to change the oil in my car, or change a light bulb, then these phrases are okay with me. When it comes to the topic of art, to often we treat these things as facts. In the topic of lighting, or cinematography, these things need to be opened as conversations. The entire point of making films is about having conversations about the world around us. The way someone sees someone and the way we see them. 

In hopes to add my part in this conversation, i’m going to attempt to do it in the way that I would be proud to see. I would like to merely share my experiences on this topic, simply because I do a lot of them, and i get a lot of questions about it.  


These are ideas, and at the end of the day, things that I am visually attracted to. You as a filmmaker are attracted to different things than me. EXPLORE THAT! make up your own ideas about the way you like to do things. BUT! I am sure somewhere in here you will find that we AGREE on many things when it comes to shooting a talking head. 


BEN JOYNER is a genius. my friend and 95% of the time, my DOP. So a lot of these ideas are things that me and him find sexy. so yea. 


Whenever I find something that is striking to me, be it sitting in a theater, or sitting on my couch. I tend to enjoy films where I can't see the photography anywhere. Roger Deakins talks on this topic a lot, Its a simple idea that there is a difference between good cinematography and the RIGHT cinematography. My theory is that a lot of this is due to the careful thought behind MOTIVATION of light. How light plays in a scene. And the more and more subtle these motivations are the more natural your image seems to be. 

So when the team is going into a location, once you figure out the blocking of the scene, or interview. My first thought is, what is natural in this location/room. Whether its created by natural light of windows, or by practicals set in the room there is motivation everywhere. 

So here is the interview shot 

and here it is slightly graded. 

Simple enough. So lets deconstruct it a bit. 


This location had very few options to it. One being that it was night, and two been that is was night. So the first thing we look for is practicals. In the room was a large computer with a few midi controllers. Also on the desk was a small tungsten lamp. 


This seems to be a fine place to start. I’ve always found that when you give a viewer VISUAL CLUES they brain seems to connect the dots to what they should be seeing. For example:

show them sources surrounded the key, and your brain connects them to the main key because another light MUST be over in that corner to create the light on his face. And if the can find the subtle value that the key should be pushed to then no one’s the wiser. 

Our main source for this setup was a simple tweenie bounced into some bleached muslin tapes to the wall. 


This is a big idea for me, because I LOVE black. To me making images is all about understanding the battle between shadows and light. But i think it should remain a battle. I can count on one hand the times in my life I have used a fill light. cause i hate it. 

ANOTHER DISCLAIMER: what i just said is for me. Not for everything. Obviously commercial jobs would call for something different maybe a bit more bright, with nice eye lights and incredibly bright rooms that reflect a reality where buying things they don’t need actually  makes them happier. But I am saying what I like. BLLLLLLLAAAAAACCCCKKKKKK


another challenge in this location is the same challenge that many other locations will make you deal with…ITS WHITE!    I HATE WHITE!


easy fix, throw up some neg and you’re good to go. 


The challenge with any image is the task of creating layers. Giving dimensions to a space. Making the viewer easily access the geography layout of a room so they can follow whats going on in the story without having to try and figure out where they are. Same as in life, If i’m driving and trying to remember where I am or where to go, the actual task of driving becomes secondary. If I know where I am and how to get there I can focus on the one thing that is most important. So a simple idea to make sure you are playing in your head is LIGHT IN LAYERS. 



very easily in this interview you can create layers of light that will yes, help the subject separate from the background. But most importantly, creating a natural geography of the room so people can easily place themselves in the room. 

Here is a before and after picture of the back practical lights. 



These back lights were a group of two lights built together to add texture to the background. 


these are just ideas that can be infinitely built upon. There’s so many things that are not mentioned here, but these are the ones that I would say are most important to me. 

Again here is the final shot. 

Christian Schultz2 Comments