Excerpt from article written by Art Adams “The Simplest, Fastest Interview Lighting Setup—Ever.”
Years in the making, this technique works in almost every situation and makes almost everyone look great. Being fast is as important as making pretty images. This technique allows for both. Give it a try and see what you think. — Art Adams
Thank you very much Mr. ART ADAMS! This article was just the resource I was looking for! I now implement this technique in my documentary and storytelling projects.
Like Mr. Adams, I like a decent key to fill ratio when lighting interview faces on camera. Also important is the “classic portraiture” aesthetic for the nose shadow to fall along the “smile line,” which connects the corner of the nose to the corner of the mouth.
I had to find a fast way to create a big beautiful source using materials that were extremely portable and cheap.
— Art Adams
There are certain magic numbers and ratios in the film industry, and 4’x4’ is one of them. The 4’x4’ bounce or diffusion frame is very common in the industry because it does beautiful things in close quarters, particularly to faces. Art Adam’s solution incorporates the magic of 4’x4 with portability and cost efficiency.
2 4×4 bounce cards – one white, one black. The white card acts as the “key” source of bounced light from a 650 watt instrument. The black card acts as negative “fill”, cutting out the ambient light of the room as much as possible.
Since toting these from location to location is a bit unmanageable: Cut a 4’x4’ bounce card into two 2’x4’ pieces. Lay them about a half inch apart on the ground. Tape them together using 2” cloth tape. (The half inch gap allows you to fold them in half. Without that gap they’ll resist folding.)
On location, I attach each bounce card to a heavy duty rolling stand, then placed on either side of interview side of face approximately 2’ to 3’ from the subject. The 650 watt light source usually wants to be a little higher than the average subject height. While the nose shadow is very soft it’s not nonexistent, so raising the source throws it down a little bit into the smile line.
Fill the entire bounce card with light for greatest benefit. Spotting a lamp into the center of the card not only results in a smaller source with harder shadows but it’s also less efficient. Filling the entire 4’x4’ surface results in softer light, as the size of the source is much larger in relation to the subject, and reflects the most light possible.
In this setup there are two forms of unwanted light that I see most often: light from the glowing fresnel lens of the light, as seen through the gap between the barn doors and the instrument, or a reflection off the barn door farthest from the subject. The paint on black barn doors is shiny, and folding the far barn door the wrong way can mean catching the light from the fresnel lens and reflecting it directly onto the subject.
The best way to solve all of these problems is to back the lamp behind the negative fill card and use it as a flag, such that the subject can’t “see” the stray light. (If they can’t see it, they aren’t being lit by it.) If you can’t back the lamp far enough to hide the barn doors behind the negative fill it’s often enough to open that far barn door all the way, eliminating the reflection.
Backing the lamp behind the black card solves the issue of direct unwanted light on the subject. If this isn’t possible, make sure the gap between the lamp and the barn doors is wrapped with black wrap and open the barn door nearest the camera so the reflected light goes elsewhere.
The dark fill side using the black bounce card solo, however, is not always desirable. A great solution is to use the black card to remove the unwanted ambient light and then use a smaller bounce source to add desirable ambient light. A good fill source of choice on fast-paced corporate and documentary shoots is… (drum roll) … Copy paper. It doesn’t matter if it has type on it, just as long as it’s primarily white and reflective. I’ll usually place one sheet on the black card, as far forward as possible and at head height, to create a nearly invisible fill.
Putting it forward, closest to the camera, prevents the front of the face from falling into shadow: a bounce that’s placed toward the back of the card, on the side of the subject, will light the subject’s cheek and ear but will leave a very dark area around the fill-side eye. That’s usually not very flattering, so bringing the fill around the front of the face both eliminates that overly-dark eye shadow and hides the fill as a separate source as it no longer casts a noticeable shadow of its own. If more fill is desired, tape another piece of copy paper next to the first sheet.
Some additional teaks for sound considerations are easy to do too. To deaden any “slap” of sound bouncing back and forth between the two cards, cover the black 4’x4’ card with black duvetine. Cloth absorbs sound, whereas foam core does not.
— Thanks again, Mr. Adams. Not only is this set up a fairly quick way to produce attractive, cost effective results … I find it is much more comfortable for “talent”, not being directly “under the spot light”. I also use a back light on a C stand, typically a LTM Pepper 100 with a 200w bulb, since I prefer to separate subject from background a little.