Review: How to Setup, Light, & Shoot Great Looking Interviews
Posted Apr 24, 2007

How to Setup, Light, & Shoot Great Looking Interviews ($40), the latest training DVD from Doug Jensen and Vortex Media—best-known for the HandsOn HDV series—provides an excellent introduction to techniques for shooting broadcast-quality interviews in the types of low-key interior-location shoots common in small-studio corporate videography. While the hour-long DVD doesn't touch on audio at all (a noteworthy omission), it does an excellent job of explaining and demystifying things like three-point lighting, manipulating depth of field, and making interview shoots work in non-studio locations where your control of the environment is limited at best.

Jensen narrates the disc in a clear and easygoing style, and although his narration is virtually the only audio on the disc (save for some well-chosen buyout music used in transitional segments), this never feels like a "talking-head" training video because most of the time he's showing us what he's talking about instead of just describing it. What we see on screen is a varied mix of interview clips illustrating subject and equipment positioning issues, good and bad lighting, and the like. Much of the DVD focuses on setting up and lighting one particular interview, but Jensen, a 25-year freelance cameraman and DP who says he's shot for every major network, does a terrific job of selecting different clips (and showing them all in letterbox) to illustrate his points.

Jensen kicks off the disc by confronting one of the key myths about what it takes to shoot broadcast-quality interviews: cost of equipment. While insisting that you can buy all the lights and lighting accessories you need for under $1,500, he provides a fully detailed list of what you need, with prices and brand recommendations for pro equipment from a number of different manufacturers. He advises videographers against purchasing "prefab" lighting kits because "none have all the components you'll need, and all have stuff you'll never use."

Following tips on scouting and choosing locations from limited choices, Jensen gives good explanations of where to situate the camera, subject, and background in relation to one another to get the right shooting angle, how to apply three-point and background lighting, and how to create the shallow depth of field that's a hallmark of broadcast-quality interviews. He also does a good job explaining and illustrating the exposure settings you'll need to make the subject pop against the background while maintaining your shallow depth of field.

Other useful segments cover the use of "warm" cards for white balancing to get warmer skin tones (full disclosure: Vortex Media sells warm cards on their site, but it's still a great idea), using soft filters, varying focal length and camera angles (when practical), shot composition, how to deal with windows in the shooting environment (some cool, cost-saving tips here involving ND filters and gels), and the benefits of having powder makeup on hand.

Whether you're doing corporate/commercial work or concept videos/biographies/Love Stories for your wedding and event clients, knowing how to shoot interviews right will boost your bottom line, and shooting interviews badly will certainly hurt it. Lighting, setup, and composition are all essential components to effective interview shooting, and Doug Jensen does a great job of explaining them in this DVD. Here's hoping he follows up with a How to Shoot Great-Sounding Interviews title soon.

Stephen F. Nathans is Editor-in-Chief of EventDV.