How to Film and Light an Interview

Are you looking to improve your interview filming and lighting skills? Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned videographer, capturing a captivating interview can be challenging without the right techniques. However, with the right knowledge and equipment, you can create professional-looking interviews that grab the attention of your audience. In this blog, we will explore the essential tips and tricks for filming and lighting an interview, from setting up the camera and positioning the subjects to using the right lighting equipment to create a visually stunning interview. By the end of this blog, you’ll have the knowledge and confidence to film and light interviews like a pro. Let’s get started!

How to Film and Light an Interview

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Some of my favorite videos I make these days are the little documentaries I produce on other photographers where they get to talk a little bit about their work and their Process and it’s great because I get to get out from in front of the camera and get behind it and become a little bit of a filmmaker where I have to select the right shots find the right b-roll work out the pacing in the edit choose the Right music but at the core of all that is capturing the photographer themselves talking about their work so to make sure that I was filming documentaries of a high standard I knew I needed to go out there and teach myself how to light and film a good-look interview and so I went And did a lot of research I watched a lot of other documentary films and series to work out how professional filmmakers are lighting and capturing their interviews so that I could build my own philosophy around it my own system for lighting and filming and capturing audio so that I knew that when I ared with those photographers on on the day I wouldn’t be wasting anybody’s time and that I would be prepared so over the last few years I’ve developed some skills and come up with a system that works for me and a setup that I know that no matter which interview I’m Filming it will give me a consistent quality across all the documentaries that I film and I realized the other day that at this point I probably have a lot to pass on so in this video I’m going to share with you the cameras that I use the focal lengths that I choose the Audio setup that I have to capture clean audio how I light an interview to make it look compelling how all that works together to make sure that it’s a story well told so let’s start with the setup that I use and a bit of the theory Behind it when it comes to building the look of your interviews I think it’s important to first decide what sort of look you’re going for and for me I like a naturalistic look and the naturalistic look is built on motivated lighting motivated lighting seeks to imitate existing light sources in the scene Rather than create new ones a light source should be just justifiable if the viewer chooses to question where it’s coming from this preserves the geography of the space and helps the audience believe the world of the story let me start by showing you examples of cinematographers who don’t take this Naturalistic approach just so you can see the difference between the two this is the work of yanish Kaminsky who is a cinematographer who’s a longtime collaborator with Steven Spielberg and you can see in these shots that the lighting is beautiful but it’s not motivated there hairlights coming from Ceilings which don’t really make visual sense there’s side lighting coming in and separating lighting that that is beautiful to look at in the scene but if you actually ask the question where is that hairl light actually coming from you wouldn’t have a ready answer it’s beautiful to look at and it’s an Absolutely valid approach to beautiful cinematography but it’s not naturalistic motivated lighting like these stills from the film Pulp Fiction the cinematographer here is Andre secular and you can see that he doesn’t care about trying to make the lighting make sense he just wants things to look Beautiful I mean take a look at this shot of Samuel L Jackson you have to ask yourself where on Earth is this hairl light coming from there seems to be a light coming from the ceiling that’s that’s almost as bright as the light outside maybe even brighter that doesn’t Make visual sense in the scene but it’s a great looking shot this is another great example from Tarantino of the same sort of thing this unfeasibly bright overhead light indoors and this is the work of Robert Richardson he’s the cinematographer on in glorious bastards and I Have to say by the way that this scene is one of my favorite scenes in all of Cinema so there’s no right or wrong about this this is just a stylistic preference but if you look at the shots from the scene where is this overhead light coming from you can see from the Shadows that it’s coming from directly overhead it’s not coming from the window outside and when you look at the reverse shots you can see that the light on the table is brighter than the sunshine shining Outdoors which doesn’t make any visual sense to us but it doesn’t matter Because this is a style ized approach they’re not going for naturalistic Motivated lighting okay so now let’s look at motivated lighting these are stills from the film 7 which was directed by David Fincher the cinematographer here is Darius conji you can see in each scene where the light is Coming from you can see Outdoors a very naturalistic lighting with rain falling he’s not trying to fill Shadows or hit Brad with hair lights or anything like that and this shot indoor of the two talking in the lounge you can see that the lighting is supposed to be coming From the lamp on the left there’s no way it actually is because it’s not bright enough to do this but the direction of the light and the color of the light they’re trying to sell you that the light on that left hand side of the frame is what’s lighting the two of them They’re attempting motivated naturalistic lighting and you’re probably sick of hearing me talk about him on this channel but Roger deacons for me is a master of naturalistic motivated lighting he does light his scenes but he often lights them in such a way as to make the lighting look Invisible this shot of Leonardo sitting in a restaurant you can see that the sunlight is coming from the right direction there’s a bit of a bounce off the table there’s probably is Lighting in the scene but it looks naturalistic you could buy that that is one light Source coming in through a window this shot from No Country for Old Men is a great example I can see the lighting in this shot there’s definitely more light on him than there might be in that scene naturally but Rogers made sure that the light comes from the window side so you Buy that it is actually window light and he’s maybe boosted it slightly but he’s resisted the temptation to throw in hair lights or rim lights from behind to light that subject because he still wants the scene to feel natural so when I started doing research and looking at How interviewers lit their scenes I realized there was the same kind of Separation some wanted to light things naturalistically and someone wanted to stick in a lot of lights and make things sort of hyperreal with lots of hair lights and rim lights and back lights I gravitated more towards those one light Motivated lighting naturalistic setups and I noticed a few things about these naturalistic interview setups one is that the look is usually built on one motivated light source which is just designed to lift the subject slightly away from the background by making them slightly brighter in the frame two is That the subject is pulled away from the background to create some separation in that depth of field and that falloff and three is that the camera is almost always shooting into the shadow side of the face and not the lit side and I’ll show you how this works in the setup This is important because it creates interesting shape and mood and character to a…

Choosing the Right Lighting Approach

When it comes to lighting an interview, it is essential to decide on the approach that best suits the desired look and feel of the footage. There are two primary lighting approaches to consider: motivated lighting and non-motivated lighting.

Non-Motivated Lighting

Non-motivated lighting, often seen in cinematography, focuses on creating visually appealing lighting without concern for practicality or logical light sources within the scene. This style often features hair lights, back lights, and rim lights to highlight the subject and create a dramatic, stylized look. Examples of cinematographers who use non-motivated lighting include Janusz Kaminski, Andrei Sekula, and Robert Richardson.

While non-motivated lighting can produce stunning visual effects, it may not always align with the naturalistic look that some filmmakers aim to achieve in interviews. This approach allows for creative freedom and stylistic choices but may not be suitable for all interview settings.

Motivated Lighting

Motivated lighting, on the other hand, seeks to imitate existing light sources within the scene. It aims to create a naturalistic look by ensuring that the light sources are justifiable within the context of the setting. Cinematographers such as Darius Khondji and Roger Deakins are known for their mastery of motivated lighting, creating compelling visuals that feel organic and authentic.

When filming interviews, motivated lighting can help maintain the integrity of the setting and enhance the audience’s immersion in the story being told. It focuses on creating a balanced and realistic illumination that complements the subject and supports the narrative.

Implementing Motivated Lighting in Interviews

For filmmakers seeking a naturalistic look in their interviews, motivated lighting can be achieved through the use of a single, strategically placed light source. By carefully positioning the light and considering the direction and ambiance of the scene, filmmakers can create a visually compelling and authentic setting that enhances the interview subject.

By embracing motivated lighting, filmmakers can elevate the visual storytelling of their interviews and convey a sense of realism and depth within the frame. This approach not only ensures a consistent quality across interviews but also contributes to a more engaging and immersive viewer experience.


As a filmmaker, mastering the art of lighting interviews is essential for capturing compelling visuals and conveying the narrative effectively. By understanding the principles of motivated lighting and its impact on the look and feel of interviews, filmmakers can create authentic, visually engaging content that resonates with the audience.

Whether choosing a naturalistic or non-motivated lighting approach, the key lies in the thoughtful consideration of light sources, composition, and the overall visual storytelling. With the right lighting techniques and a clear vision for the desired look, filmmakers can elevate the quality of their interviews and create captivating cinematic experiences for their audience.

FAQ: How to Film and Light an Interview

Q: What are the basic elements needed for filming an interview?

A: To film an interview, you will need a camera, a microphone, and proper lighting equipment.

Q: How should the lighting be set up for an interview?

A: The lighting should be set up to create a well-lit and flattering image of the interviewee. You can use softboxes, key lights, and fill lights to achieve the desired effect.

Q: What are some tips for getting good audio during an interview?

A: Use a lavalier microphone or a shotgun microphone to capture clear and crisp audio. Make sure to monitor the audio levels and minimize background noise as much as possible.

Q: What are some common mistakes to avoid when filming an interview?

A: Some common mistakes include improper lighting, poor audio quality, and shaky camera work. It’s important to plan and prepare in advance to avoid these issues.

Q: Are there any specific camera settings that are recommended for filming an interview?

A: It’s important to set the camera to the appropriate white balance, shutter speed, and aperture to ensure a well-exposed and sharp image. Experiment with different settings to find the best look for your interview.

I hope you find useful my article How to Film and Light an Interview, I also recommend you to read my other posts in my blog at this link.

If you need help with anything join the community or do not hesitate to contact me.

Best of luck! and follow your passion.

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