Tag Archives: videography

Rembrandt Lighting (Video Interview Techniques)

I’m stationed at Combat Camera now.  I’ve been stationed here before, so I know it’s pretty rare to travel with a light kit.  We still have to shoot interviews, and we want those interviews to look as well-lit as possible.  So how do we do that?  My answer is: Rembrandt lighting.

Rembrandt?

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was a Dutch painter from the 17th Century [FIGURE 1].  Rembrandt lit his subjects so that one side of the subject’s face was well lit, and the other side of the face was in shadow except for the eye and a small triangle of light under the eye.  The triangle of light is created when the shadow from the nose reaches down to the corner of the mouth and connects with the shadow from the dark side of the face.  And that’s “Rembrandt lighting.”

REMBRANDT diagram

FIGURE 1:
Here is a self-portrait of Rembrandt as a young man. In this painting, the well-lit side of his face is facing the “camera.” When we set up our interviews, we usually want the camera to be facing the shadowy side of the face. See the examples below.

.

Here are some modern examples of Rembrandt lighting at work:

Dramatic Rembrandt

FIGURE 2:
Very dramatic use of Rembrandt. I pulled this picture from Lens Diaries’ great post on Rembrandt lighting. The photo is linked to their post. Check it out.

In the first example [FIGURE 2, above] the Rembrandt lighting is very sharp and defined. You probably wouldn’t use such a dramatic use like this unless your subject matter really warranted some drama.

.

.

Natural Looking Rembrandt

FIGURE 3:
Here is a more subtle use of Rembrandt. I pulled this photo from Louis Daniel Botha’s great post on lighting techniques. Click the photo to check out his blog post. (He uses an awesome WordPress theme)

In this example [FIGURE 3, above] the Rembrandt lighting is less sharp and contrasty.  I’m guessing the photographer used multiple lights on this one, but it is set up to look like it was lit with natural light coming from a window.  In my opinion, unless you’re going for a specific effect, the natural look is the way to go.

How to Do It Yourself

Like I said before, sometimes you just don’t have a light kit, but that doesn’t mean your scene can’t be as well-lit as possible.  Here are four simple steps to help you get better looking interview shots by using availible light to achieve Rembrandt lighting.

1. Find a Light Source and Position the Interviewee:

Find a window, and position your subject so that the light from that window is casting Rembrandt lighting across your subject’s face.  If you’re in a windowless room, try a desk lamp or some other available light source.

2. Position the Reporter Right in Front of the Interviewee:

Your whole set up is based on the available light source. So once your subject is properly lit, you’re not going to want him to move or turn his head to face the reporter asking the questions.  Position the reporter (which is probably you, right?) directly in front of the interviewee, so he stays properly lit while he’s answering your questions.

3. Position the Camera:

Position the camera so that it is on the shadowy side of the interviewee’s face.  If you look at the two Rembrandt examples [FIGURE 2 and FIGURE 3], you’ll see the camera is on the shadow side of the subject’s face.  Shooting the shadowy side of someone’s face has a slimming effect.  Conversely, positioning the camera on the bright side of someone’s face has a broadening effect.  Normally people want to appear slimmer, but there are definitely occasions where you would want to shoot the bright side to make someone’s face fuller.

(note: often the shadowy side is called the “short” side, and the bright side is called the “broad” side, but, whatever…)

4. Don’t Forget the Background:

Make sure your background isn’t too dark or too bright (ie: you don’t want the background brighter than your interview subject.) Sometimes it helps to kill the other lights in the room; sometimes it helps to leave them on or just kill a few. If I’m using a window as my light source, I usually try to kill all the overhead lights and open curtains to light my background. This helps me avoid mixed lighting situations.

Because you built this whole scene based on where the light was coming from, you don’t really get to choose your background composition, so make sure there isn’t anything crazy or distracting in your background.

Interview set up diagram

FIGURE 4:
Here is a diagram of how this set up would look from the top. We’ve got light coming in from a window creating Rembrandt on our interview subject. The reporter is standing right in front of the properly lit subject. The camera is pointed at the shadow (or “short”) side of the subject’s face.

That’s All Folks

Using available light to achieve Rembrandt lighting on your subject will give your video that extra touch of professionalism.  We can’t all roll around with light kits, flags and reflectors, but using this simple technique will up the production value of your interview footage.

Advertisements

Standard News Package — Science Awards

This is a standard news package, and at the Pentagon Bureau, we shoot a TON of these.  They’re boring as hell, they’re not very visual, and they are usually on topics that one could care less about.  As lame as this sounds, I try to approach these things like a challenge: How can I make the coolest, most professional looking product out of this award ceremony/wreath laying/plaque dedication/whatever?

In this package, I opened with a reporter stand up.  I really don’t like doing these because I’m a little self-conscious about my delivery.  With a story like this, however, there really aren’t enough good visuals to carry the piece, so having me in the beginning takes up a little bit of screen time.  I also feel like it gives the piece a little immediacy.  I use the present-progressive tense in my lead (“… the Navy IS awarding its top scientists …).  By having me on the scene and using the present progressive, I’m trying to give the viewer that “breaking news” feel.  Hopefully that adds a little bit of excitement to a boring award ceremony package.

Workflow

So what’s the workflow for a piece like this? Well, we start planning as soon as we get the tasking to cover the event.  Here are the steps we took planning and executing this shoot:

-Get a list of the awardees being recognized.  From that list, we isolate one or two of the awardees who have done VISUALLY EXCITING things.  Our plan is to interview these folks, and use some B-roll of their visually exciting work to make our package more entertaining.  For this event, we chose the Rail Gun team, and another team that didn’t make the final edit.

-Write the script.  With an event like this we have time to craft the script, and it usually doesn’t change that much.  We think of what soundbites we want from the interviews, then we craft questions to elicit those soundbites. Sometimes we get the predictible soundbites, sometimes we get better ones.

-On the day of the shoot, we brought two cameras to this event.  A Sony F350, which is a big broadcast camera that is good for shooting Main Cam (the podium shot for the 1st soundbite of ASN Stackley).  We also brought a Canon 7D DSLR.  With these events, I end up shooting Cut Cam, but I’m also the official event photographer for grip ‘n grins, so the DSLR is the all-in-one machine that I need to accomplish my mission.

-We set the Main Cam up first, so we are ready to roll when the event starts.

-Then we set up and shoot my stand up with the DSLR.

-After the stand up, my partner, MC2 Alexandra Snyder, goes and finds our interviewee while I re-adjust the camera composition and our lights so the interview doesn’t look exactly like my stand up.

-We shoot the interview.  It goes great, and then it’s time for the show to start.

-Snyder operated the Main Cam for this shoot.  Main Cam usually stays focused on the podium, or the main action on stage.

-I shot Cut Cam.  The cuts are what make my package, so I’m shooting non-stop (plus I’m shooting the still photos for the event). Usually, whoever is shooting cuts is also going to edit the product in post.

The Edit

Ok, so let’s talk about editing this thing, and how we use Main Cam and Cut Cam to stitch together sequences for the final product.

Podium Sequence

Right after my stand up, we have a Cut Cam shot of the speaker at the podium.  The audio under that shot is still the narration from my stand up.  The next shot is the soundbite of the speaker at the podium; this is from Main Cam.  This gives us a nice little two-shot sequence.  The Cut Cam shot leads the viewer into the soundbite.  We get this shot by design.  If you notice, the action matches up pretty well from the Cut Cam shot to the podium shot.  To make sure the editor can get that matching action,  Cut Cam has to capture a full range of the speaker’s motion.  He looks left, he looks right, he talks with his hands . I captured that Cut Cam shot for almost a full minute to make sure I would be able to roughly match action with whatever soundbite I used from Main Cam.

“I captured that Cut Cam shot for almost a full minute to make sure I would be able to roughly match action with whatever soundbite I used from Main Cam.”

Rail Gun Sequence

The next sequence is of the audience watching Rail Gun test footage.  We got lucky that they played this video at the ceremony.  We had already downloaded the video from DVIDS, and we were planning on using it to spice up our package.  Since they played the video for the audience, we were able to sequence it.  This sequence goes from Main Cam to a shaky, awkward Cut Cam shot, and then we use the actual footage we got from DVIDS.

Next, we go into our interview soundbite. How we chose this soundbite out of the all the great stuff she gave us would take up a whole blog-post, so I’ll just say this: her soundbite adds “color” to the line of narration that I read just before the soundbite. In my narration I explain that the Rail Gun uses electricity to launch projectiles, and her soundbite implies that using electricity is a really major step forward.

In Closing

Finally, we finish with my standard lame-ceremony closing sequence of applause.  As everyone knows, video rules say an editor should finish a piece with “negative action.” Applause is my negative/closing action.  I actually get the applause sequence in the beginning of the ceremony.  These ceremonies always start with the MC or the keynote speaker thanking a host of people.  This part of the ceremony is useless, so I use it as an opportunity to catch the applause sequence.

These ceremonies always start with the MC or the keynote speaker thanking a host of people.  This part of the ceremony is useless, so I use it as an opportunity to catch the applause sequence.

This piece isn’t going to win any cool-guy awards, but for the past 6 months, these stories have made up 85 percent of my workload.  So, since these pieces are the bread and butter that pay my mortgage and feed my children, I really have no choice but to try and make them as good as I can.

If you like this post, follow me on Twitter.  My handle is @bpcote1 and I post mostly about mass comm subjects. You can also friend my professional facebook page: Cote Brett.

-bc