Creating Soft Lighting for Interviews

BY KAMRIN VACLAVIK | 29 JANUARY 2021

Soft lighting isn’t always the easiest thing to achieve. There are several factors that go into creating a smooth falloff in an interview setting. You don’t always have the ideal situation, especially when shooting on-location. Recently, we were faced with a bit of a unique challenge while filming for The Jill Smith Team.

The situation: We had large windows allowing cool sunlight from the overcast day to flood the room, but the section of the home we were filming in had harsher, warm LED lights coming from the kitchen cabinets and overheads.

Turning off the cabinet lights was not an option; we were using these as our main backdrop. We also could not replace the bulbs due to the location’s restrictions. So we were left with a situation where we needed to merge the two varying color temperatures in the most smooth way possible.

Whenever softening light there are a few things to think about. First, consider the sources of the light and how you can utilize diffusion cloths or plates to spread the light. There wasn’t too much more diffusing that we could do to the cabinet lights, so we fell to our second option.

Along with simple diffusion, you must consider the light wrap and fill. This is a popular method, especially in the cove light technique, that creates the illusion of soft light even when it is not present.

The way this works is simple. You use multiple light sources at varying intensities to wrap the lighting around the subject’s head. Moving from brighter intensities to barely any light at all creates a smooth falloff like highly diffused light.

In our situation, we were able to achieve this light wrap using only three lights (plus the sun and cabinet lighting mentioned before). Our main lighting would be motivated from the cabinets since that was the practical that could be seen in the frame. The first thing we did was set up a diffuser on a stand with two battery-powered LED panels matching the color temperature of the cabinets.

The light closest to the cabinets had a greater intensity, and we lowered the light output of the next panel. This created a smooth wrap from the backlight caused by the cabinets.

Next, we needed to handle the sun. The light coming in was already soft, but we needed a bit more of a wrap to merge the two different color temperatures. We did this with a point light flown on a c stand and a 32in octagon softbox. We placed this behind our subject to act as a slight hair light that was also soft enough to smoothly merge the color differences.

With this, we were able to create the illusion of an incredibly soft light source motivated by lights already present in the house. This created a nice, flatter light that fit the style of this interview.