Using Lighting to Transform a Room for Impactful Interviews

ETO’s Education Media Specialist, James, will talk about what went behind the filming of the two-person interview videos created for one of the modules in Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG), an online course in the Mining Industry Management Program (MIMP). James reviews the different types of lighting used in the shoot as well as how he embedded the pedagogical purpose of this video through the technical setup. As these videos tackle incredibly important and sensitive topics, including residential schools, we wanted to elevate the visual experience to match the weight of these discussions.

He will share insights into how ETO transformed a space from this:

A photo of the student lounge at the School of Graduate Studies - Student Services house, at its normal state.

to this:

Before we begin: Setting up the video

This video is part of a series of interview videos focused on Indigenous affairs in Canada’s mining industry, featuring two Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). On the left of your screen, we had Jason Rasevych, the interviewee, and on the right, Monica Ospina, the interviewer. Shooting a video like this is a team effort; at the shoot with me were my two ETO colleagues, Marisa Curmi and Cheryl Lee.
Before setting up the lights, we first worked on the composition and subject placement as they would dictate how we lit the scene. We decided on a two-camera setup: one for a wide shot and another for a close-up of Jason.
To provide visual separation between the interviewer and the interviewee, I angled the shot to give each person a distinct background.
Caption: LEFT: Jason and his background. RIGHT: Monica and her background.

In particular, I seated Jason in front of the fireplace, whose dark, matte green tiles provided a stark contrast, making him stand out. The tiles lent a solemn, distinguished look fitting the gravity of the discussion. The fireplace structure also functioned as a subtle frame for Jason, emphasizing his role.

This arrangement also worked really well for Jason’s close-up shot. The dark green tiles behind Jason become almost black in colour—especially on lower quality displays—with just a subtle splash of light in the top left of the frame, allowing Jason to stand out further as the primary visual interest.

CAPTION: A close-up shot of Jason.

Let's dive deeper

  1. Purposeful lighting configurations
  2. Lighting the primary subjects with key lights & rim lights
  3. Creating flattering lighting using a softbox
  4. Avoiding overly dramatic lighting using a fill light
  5. Don't sleep on your ambient lighting
  6. Putting this all together - watch a snippet

Curious about the hardware used in this video shoot? Just to the equipment list.

1. Purposeful lighting configurations

All the lighting you see in the scene was purposefully designed, as lighting is arguably the most important element in achieving a high-quality visual outcome. Admittedly, I had spent a week mulling over how to best light the scene to ensure the interview videos had remarkable production quality that would befit the significance of the topics discussed.
There were a total of eight light sources, six of which were artificial (see Equipment Used for the Shoot):
  1. Key light x2
  2. Fill light x1
  3. Spotlight x2
  4. Natural light x2
  5. Practical light x1

Below is a simple illustration showing them from a top view of the shoot:

CAPTION: A top view illustrating the lighting setup for the shoot.

2. Lighting the primary subjects with key lights & rim lights

Key light simply refers to the primary light source used to light the subject. In this shoot, I used a technique called “reverse cross-key lighting” (sometimes also called “rear/back/inside cross-key lighting”), as demonstrated in the illustration below:

CAPTION: An annotated illustration demonstrating the key light and rim light setup for Jason and Monica.

This technique allowed me to provide each subject not only a key light, but also a rim light with just two light sources. A rim light (sometimes called “hair light”) is a light source placed behind the subject to highlight the subject’s outline and hair, thereby adding depth and contrast. I also used the large window to the left of the fireplace (not visible in the shot) as an extra rim light for Jason, subtly lighting up his right upper arm and the right side of his armchair.

CAPTION: A screenshot of the wide shot from the interview, with annotations showing the effects of Jason's rim light and key light.

Each key light was positioned so that it illuminated the far side of the subject’s face, creating shadows on their camera-facing cheek. This added contrast, depth, and dimension to their facial features. It’s an extremely common lighting technique that you have already seen countless times in movies, TV shows, and YouTube videos!

CAPTION: A collage of 4 screenshots from different media that used the technique of lighting the subject's far-side cheek. TOP LEFT: Heat (1995). TOP RIGHT: "What Does A Great Cup Of Coffee Taste Like" (YouTube). BOTTOM LEFT: The Good Place (2016). BOTTOM RIGHT: Easy A (2010)

3. Creating flattering lighting using a softbox

We used an 85cm softbox as Jason’s key light and an LED panel as Monica’s. A softbox is a big dome or rectangle box you put in front of a strong, harsh light source to soften it and eliminate hard shadows, making human skin look smooth and flattering. Think how defined your shadow looks on a sunny day compared to an overcast day, where you don’t even see much of a shadow because the clouds have drastically softened the sunlight. Ideally, both key lights would have been softboxes, but because we only had one, I opted to use it on Jason, the primary subject.

CAPTION: A photo from the shoot, with annotations shwoing the LED panel and the softbox equipped with the honeycomb grid.

To keep the dark green tiles behind Jason in the shadows, I attached something called a “honeycomb grid” in front of the softbox. This grid reduced how widely the light scatters, making it more focused and directional. Then, by carefully angling Jason’s key light, I created a slight splash of light on the tiles and wood frame, producing a subtle glow behind him.

CAPTION: A screenshot of the wide shot, cropped to only show Jason, with annotations showing the light glow on the mantel from Jason's key light.

4. Avoiding overly dramatic lighting using a fill light

To avoid overly dramatic lighting—after all, we weren’t shooting a movie—I placed an LED panel with medium brightness about 7 feet away from Jason and Monica near the wide camera as a fill light. This subtly filled in some shadows on both subjects, making the overall lighting appear more natural.

CAPTION: A photo from the shoot, with annotation showing the placement of the fill light.

5. Don't sleep on your ambient lighting

Lighting the subjects is only part of the complexity, as the rest of the room occupies most of the frame. To prevent Monica’s black shirt from completely blending into the dark background, I put an LED tube light on the floor illuminating the alcove behind her. The lit red wood conveniently complemented the green plant in the foreground, as red and green are complementary colours.

Finally, I turned on the two ceiling spotlights located on the ceiling above the fireplace. These spotlights had a very warm colour temperature (i.e. orangey light), adding just a touch of warm light to the mantel without affecting the main frame.

CAPTION: A screenshot of the wide shot, with annotatiaons showing the effects of the spotlight and the tube light in the background.

6. Putting this all together

Watch this snippet from one of the interview videos in the course!

Equipment used for the shoot

Category Model
Camera Sony A7C II
Camera Lens (wide shot) Samyang 35mm f/1.8
Camera Lens (close-up shot) Tamron 28-75 f/2.8
Key Light (Jason) SmallRig RC-120D COB Light + Neewer 85cm Parabolic Softbox
Key Light (Monica) Ledgo LG-900 LED Panel
Fill Light Ledgo LG-900 LED Panel
Practical Light (tube light) Nanlite PavoTube 6C
Field Monitor OSEE LILMON 5
Microphones Rode Wireless GO II

Want to create an interview video like this? ETO can help!

If you're interested in learning more about creating your own video, contact the ETO at fase.edtech@utoronto.ca. We'd love to learn more about your ideas.


Article Category: Best Practices
Tags: Lighting