January 26, 2015

4 Basic Concepts of Lighting: What You Need to Think About Before You Hit the Switch

When you think about lighting your scene, what concepts immediately come to your mind?

If you're just starting out, chances are you're just thinking about trying to dump enough light on your subject to not underexpose them. However, there are a number of basic qualities of light that you should consider before you hit record. In this helpful beginner-level tutorial from from Story & Heart Academy, hosted by S&HA's Zippy Etzel and Stillmotion's Joyce Tsang. Tsang explains how to approach lighting an interview by thinking of light using the acronym "DISC": Direction, Intensity, Softness, and Color. 

Now, if you're not a documentarian and are thinking, "But I'm not going to be shooting interviews," don't navigate away from this page. Tsang's method for thinking about lighting is actually just a solid way to think about lighting in general. 

Lighting a scene isn't just about getting a good exposure; the direction, intensity, softness, and color of your light, or DISC, as Tsang calls it, is going to affect the way your audience interprets your subject, content, and overall tone of your project, too. So, it's not only important to be knowledgeable about how to get the look you want, but it's also important to be aware of how your audience reads these stylistic choices.

These effects are broken down in the study of aesthetics (or aesthetic theory) something that we like to talk a lot about here at NFS. Although we tend to focus more on the film language of composition, the links that I just bombarded you with in this paragraph contain several intermediate and advanced lessons on lighting as it pertains to aesthetics, which will help you becoming a more visually literate filmmaker. (See -- there's another link for ya.)     

Your Comment

14 Comments

Try to not light like this. Do something interesting if you can. Depends on the documentary subject of course but this is so bland. Unfortunately this is what some people want.

January 26, 2015 at 12:51PM

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Jonathon Sendall
Stories
1714

Look at these beautifully lit interviews with Brian Eno and John Hurt.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fxgiQXzNIo&hd=1

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mqtc2Z3K8o&hd=1

January 26, 2015 at 12:54PM

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Jonathon Sendall
Stories
1714

Great interviews, thanks for sharing

January 27, 2015 at 3:36AM, Edited January 27, 3:36AM

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Yeah they look brilliant!
How do you think did they light them?
Specially the one with John Hurt, it looks like they mixed some hard and soft light...

February 12, 2015 at 2:18PM

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Yep, thanks for sharing. Great lighting. The main issue with the video up there is that they state as rule one way to light. If they had stated things like : "In this situation, this is what we do..." It would be acceptable but they didn't.

January 27, 2015 at 11:43AM

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AvdS
1533

i see where youre coming from, but for general introduction to lighting, this video might help some. however when you reach a certain level, lighting an interview like this is a clear turn off for me as well.

January 26, 2015 at 1:44PM

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Paul-Louis Pietz Pröve
director / dop / editor
440

Wunderbar!

January 27, 2015 at 2:27AM

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These guys really need to work on their framing. Subjects are way too left or right. One shot is half couch in the BG.

You dont put your subject centre frame but you dont put them on the very edge of frame and not even touch the centre line like here.

January 27, 2015 at 6:42PM

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This is great for a beginner, for the more advanced people this will be bland and uninteresting, but its a good resource for beginners.

January 28, 2015 at 1:08AM

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Wentworth Kelly
DP/Colorist/Drone Op
3117

Thanks for your efforts guys. No, people may not be tweeting your links due to the mind shattering lighting, but you have to have to know the rules before you can bend and break them. Follow this and you'll get perfectly well lit interviews, I don't see anything wrong with covering that.

January 28, 2015 at 11:50AM

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Julian Arriens
Editor
71

I agree in some ways Julian. I don't teach but I'd get students to attempt something out of the ordinary first. Why? Becuae that's the way to learn be better than most people through experimentation and mistakes. Once you've done that then how you approach "standard" lighting for an internview might be a lot better because your head has been pre-loaded with a different way to look at things.

January 29, 2015 at 7:26AM

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Jonathon Sendall
Stories
1714

Softness increases with less distance? hm.. But the intensity increases as well which gives you harsher shadows. So with no dimmable light this doesn't really help.

March 17, 2015 at 5:25AM

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David Laun
Video Producer / D.O.P.
147

"The closer you brin in the light, the softer it will be."

Huh, what?

March 17, 2015 at 11:22AM

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Ruben Jesus
Director
97

Great as an intro and good comments. I'm often running and gunning with my documentary work. Can anyone share advice or videos for interviews (which may be seated or may be on the move) where I have to make the best of the poor lighting situations I sometimes find myself in, with limited time and options? Like in rooms with terrible florescent institutional lighting, or high noon in the summer etc.?

May 18, 2019 at 4:15PM

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S. Peters
Documentary Producer
8