An increasingly common corporate assignment is the fast-paced, high-pressure, small-crew gig; a two-camera setup where every detail matters. For many reasons we can’t always scout a location before the shoot. And sometimes the conference room or nice looking lobby we saw changes at the very last minute. We have to work fast with the least amount of gear to accomplish two important goals: to be completely ready when our client shows up, and to make them look great.
In a perfect world, we would work on a pitch black set with full control of the lighting and sound. That’s how movie sets work, but it’s not exactly what happens in real life. Quickly assessing the location’s brightest light source—and the quality of that light—will determine our lighting strategy.
If there’s a window and the interview will only last a few minutes (the more important your subject, the less time you will have) don’t be afraid to harvest that light, but do consider the direction in which the window is facing.
Northern light is typically softer than southern light. Eastern light is harder in the morning while western light is harder in the afternoon. At night, the light sources need to be positioned outside the shooting angles, and during the day the window light often needs to be diffused. There are plenty of handy smartphone apps that can give us a hand with this.
I typically like to expose the talent about a stop to a stop and a half brighter than the background, and I almost always want to catch some light on the subject’s eyes. Generally speaking, the higher the contrast between the high key and the fill light, the more emotional the piece. A 1:2 ratio is pretty standard and usually a good starting point. I tend to use a soft light for portraits, especially when photographing women. The soft light helps hide skin imperfections and provides a glamorous look. But, as always, there are some disadvantages. Soft light is much harder to control, especially if the light source or diffusion materials are large.
The traditional placement of the backlight is directly opposite to the keylight, but sometimes (especially when working with extremely tight deadlines) we might not even use a backlight. A typical example of when not to use a backlight is if we are shooting a subject with white hair against a black background or a brunette against a white wall. In these instances enough separation has been created naturally and we can use our time dealing with other challenges.
Sometimes we need to alter or completely reverse our original plan in order to work within the project’s constrains. The lessons I’ve learned are simple but extremely important: know your equipment, trust your instincts, think fast, be open to new ideas and don’t be afraid to break some rules.
Eduardo Angel is an independent Technology Consultant, Educator, and Visual Storyteller based in Brooklyn, NY. He currently teaches at The School of Visual Arts and the International Center of Photography, and mentors the photography program at the Savannah College of Art and Design.
He is a co-founder of the idea production company The Digital Distillery, author of popular filmmaking courses on Lynda.com, and regularly shares his thoughts on technology, photography, and cinema on his website eduardoangel.com.