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Video: How to Establish Motivated Lighting for Natural Looking Interviews

Lighting plays a prominent role in the visual aspect of a film—no matter the production. Here’s your primer for motivated interview lighting.

Cameras capture a scene in a 2D space, so it becomes the job of excellent lighting to make the frame feel as 3-dimensional as possible. With a great lighting set-up, you start to add contrast, shape, texture, and compositional space to the scene. We can take this even further by having the light source appear as if it’s being projected by an element within the scene. This is called motivated lighting. Here is a before and after of my interview scene:

Add a few lights strategically, and boom! We can see our talent’s face; we have added a rich background texture to an otherwise bare wall and even sprinkled in a practical to add more depth. Here is the final result:

Find out the thinking behind this interview lighting setup and the gear I used to create this scene in the video tutorial below.

1. Compositional Framing

As with any interview setup, it is essential to first find the framing and then light around it. In my initial shot, we have a nice amount of depth to the shot, a few items to add visual interest, a practical, and a large window on the left side of the frame which will help us a bit.

Now that we have our shot framed the way we like, I will adjust my exposure to expose the window. Then we can start adding in lights, which are more critical now than ever because we can’t even make out the talent.

2. The Key Light

The key light is usually an essential light during an interview as it is the main light that illuminates the talent. As you can see in the final image, we have light from the left side of the frame illuminating the right-hand side of the talent’s face.

The placement and direction of that light are very intentional. Remember how I said that window would help us? By placing our crucial light on the same side of the frame as that window, we are allowing that window to be the motivation for our key light.

With the window in the shot, we naturally expect the light to come from that direction. So, by putting the key light on that side, we now have light coming from the same direction as the “window light,” thus resulting in a more natural-looking shot.

If I were to place the key light on the right side of the frame, it would not look as natural and could even subconsciously confuse the viewer.

With the exception of being outside in the direct sun, most environments we’re in typically have a soft quality of light. That’s a good thing because hard light sources are typically less comfortable on our eyes than soft light sources. For the key light in this scene, I used an Aputure LS 300D II with a 60-inch (152 cm) softbox to soften the light.

I’m also softening or diffusing the light because it looks more flattering on people than hard light . Lastly, to add shape and contrast to the talent’s face, I positioned the key light about 50-55º off from the camera. This helps make the talent look more three-dimensional. This key light also gives a nice catch light in the talent’s eyes to make them pop a bit more.

3. Practicals

The next light I want to discuss is the practical (the lamp in the background). A practical is simply any light source that is visible in the scene. This can be anything from a candle to a lamp or even a flashlight. In this case, the practical I am referring to is the lamp in the background just over the talent’s left shoulder. The lamp is serving a few purposes.

Firstly, it is an excellent addition to the set design. It balances the image and helps sell that it is a cozy living room. It also adds a subtle amount of exposure to the chair sitting next to it, giving the background better visuals and texture. Inside the lamp fixture, I used an Aputure B7c to dial the light’s exposure and color temperature to taste.

Additionally, the practical motivates us for another light; the edge light. The lamp was intentionally placed on the right side of the frame for that reason. I prefer to have my edge light coming in from the opposite side of the frame as the key light. Since the key light was coming from the camera left, I placed the edge light just out of frame on camera right.


The fixture I used for this was the Amaran p60c, which was a great choice as I could match the practical’s color temperature. The edge light helps separate the talent from the background, as seen on her shoulder. It also gives a small amount of exposure to the talent’s hair and even a little scratch when her hair is pulled back.

Move the slider over Chelsea’s right shoulder area to see the subtle effect of the backlight.

I like to keep edge lights very subtle. I had the p60c set to 30% only because of the fixture’s distance relative to the talent. Setting it to 100% would have looked less natural. Remember, the practical is the motivation; you would not expect a lamp that far back to cast that much light across the room.

Having it at 30% (with a softbox attached), the p60c is throwing [in my opinion] a natural amount of light, giving the illusion that the practical is giving a subtle yet enough light to separate the talent from the background.

4. Fake It!

Motivated lighting is a fantastic way to create natural-looking frames. However, what if there isn’t a window you can use as motivation for your key light, for example?

Well, you can fake the motivation. Let’s say you are in a conference room with no windows and you’re filming an interview. You can use a hard light source and use a cucoloris (aka “cookie”) or a projection mount lens with gobos and create a window pattern on the back wall.

Motivated Lighting Source

This gives the illusion that there’s a window just out of the frame and tricks our minds into thinking there is a natural light source. From there, apply the same principle and put your key light on the same side of the frame that the “window” light is. There you have it; you now have a key light motivated by a light source.

I also added a few Amaran T4Cs next to the window and in front of the sofa. This added a bit of texture in the foreground and helped it all balance nicely.

I always like to use the analogy of painting when it comes to filmmaking and photography.

Think of the scene our camera sensor is capturing as the canvas. The lights we use is the paint, and the modifiers are our paint brushes. Our lights and modifiers create depth, texture, and dimension to our scene to make it look real and natural.

Be sure to check out the YouTube video to see the other lights used to light this scene!

Want more motivated lighting tips and tricks? Check out these articles!

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