Quite often using natural light for your documentary video production is your only option. Bringing in lights and a lot of equipment and taking time to set everything up just isn’t feasible on many documentaries or docuseries.
That’s true for both feature documentaries and business docu-style videos where you’re filming interviews with busy executives and/or customers and you have a very short window of time to get your shot so you better move quickly! In these situations it’s essential to master the art of ‘using what you got’ which means making the most of natural light.
I seem to do a lot of shooting in natural light. Check out some of my photography.
Related: why your company needs a video series.
Making use of window light in a documentary video production
There are many aspects of using natural light, each deserving its own post. So in this article I’m going to focus on using window light. Why? Because a docu-style video is probably the most common and widely produced format of business videos. And what do just about all of them involve? Filming interviews in a room with a window!
3 different looks with window light
Depending upon where you place your subject and camera, you will be able to get 3 different looks using the light from the window. No matter the look you’re going for, you usually don’t want direct sunlight. That is, sunlight that comes through the window and directly shines on the subject. Unless of course, you’re going to use direct sunlight for a specific look.
Generally speaking though, you want indirect light which will give you the most pleasing results and provides more versatility, not to mention no additional exposure issues. The three lighting setups below are based on indirect lighting.
Side light enables you to create more form in the image as it produces the most shadows.
The subject has one side toward the window with the other side away. Depending upon the amount of light and where exactly the subject is placed will determine the amount of shadow.
Rotate the subject from 45° toward the window to parallel with it to 45° away from the window to attain the degree of drama you’re looking for.
Related: Hemp Already video docuseries.
When front lighting, the subject faces the window. The cinematographer or photographer has their back to the window, In other words, you’re between the window and the subject.
This set up creates very few shadows on your subject. When facial features aren’t defined by shadows it’s called “flat” lighting. Flat lighting may sound like a negative but it’s often a desired look like in beauty videos so you can see the makeup clearly. It’s also desirable in a corporate video production that wants a bright and happy feel.
In backlit set ups, the window light is behind the subject and the camera faces it. This often results in the window light being blown out in the final image as the window light will be much brighter than the subject.
You can easily fix this by either bouncing light back on the subject with a reflector or by using a light. For interviews I usually don’t use a backlit set up and if I did, I would only do so when a more subtle backlight could be achieved.
Related: how to shoot beauty at the beach.
However, backlit shots are great for b-roll or other footage or images needed in your project. I certainly make use of them when the opportunity presents itself. For example, in the frame below we were filming a documentary video production about a musician at magic hour. The sun created a beautiful backlit scene for the conversation that was taking place.
So there you have it. Next time you’re scrambling to film your corporate video production with busy interviewees use the situation to your advantage and make use of natural light for your documentary video production.
About Gate5, a Los Angeles video production company
Gate5 is a creative video agency and full service video production company in Los Angeles producing high quality video content for the web, your social media outlets, kiosks and broadcast television.
We conceptualize, write scripts, secure locations and permits, cast actors, direct, film and edit commercial videos, narrative films, branded content, product and promotional videos, TV commercials, episodic content and live video streaming production.
Click here for Gate5 video samples.
If you have a commercial or a narrative project where you need a director and/or a video production company, feel free to contact me to discuss it to see how if we can work together on it.
Check out my photography here.