Lighting Basics

How I Setup and Light Interviews for Interiors

A detailed look at how I choose cameras and lenses and light interviews for interior locations.

In this video I’ll go over by complete interview setup. I’ll cover:

  • The challenges I face – this dictates the choices I make
  • Composition and lenses
  • Lighting

Here’s the video on how I setup and light interviews in interior locations:

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Links mentioned in the video:

The challenges I face

The two biggest challenges I face in terms of location are:

  • The actual space itself, and
  • Audio – or noise pollution


Most rooms, offices and cubicles are small – around 10-15 feet, with ceilings about 8 to 12 feet high. This limits everything. Think about the following:

  • If the subject is about 3 feet away from the wall, I only have about 7 feet left for the camera.
  • Because I use a 50mm lens (on a full frame camera), I need to be about 4 or 5 feet away to get a mid shot. For tighter shots I use an 85mm lens.
  • The width of a shot is about 5 or 6 feet, so your lights cannot be closer than about 4 feet (assuming the subject is slightly to one side of the frame).
  • This means if the subject is about 3 feet away from the edge of one wall, the key light might be about 2 or 3 feet away from the second wall. This is just enough space for a softbox.
  • Now add spanners into the mix – furniture, windows, doors, bathrooms, interior decorations, etc. that restrict you even further.
  • Finally, with low ceilings, it’s better if your subject is seated.

So most of my lighting choices are a result of the constraints due to location. If I get more space, cool, otherwise I’m still ready.


I live in Mumbai, and it’s not uncommon for noise levels to be in the 80-100 dB range. If the location is near a main road, even with the windows closed the noise is still bad.

For this reason it’s important to place the subject facing the window, so the shotgun microphone can point away from it. This further restricts my choices for lighting and composition.

Whenever possible, I like to close windows and block them out. Windows in my part of the world are nothing to write home about, and are not aesthetically pleasing or relevant. Neither are the views most of the time!

Lastly, if you’re shooting many interviews a day, you need to setup and pack up quickly. I give myself 10-15 minutes from opening the bag to having the lights “roughed in” and camera ready. When the subject sits, I’ll make small adjustments if necessary while speaking to them.

Composition and lenses


I prefer a 2:1 aspect ratio, and I mainly use a 50mm lens on a full frame camera.

With a super 35mm camera like a C300 or FS7, that would equate to about 35mm.

For tighter closeups, an 85mm is the preferred choice. If you bring the 50mm too close, it starts to distort the face. Sometimes I even shoot with a 135mm lens on full frame.

I prefer the depth of field I get at f/2.8 and f/4. f/4 on a full frame sensor would equate roughly to what you get at f/2.8 on an APS-C or Super 35mm sensor.


I place the subject in the short lighting position, which means they are facing me, the interviewer. I’m sitting as close to the camera as possible. The camera height is roughly at the subject’s eyeline. If I need to lessen a few pounds, I’ll raise the camera slightly higher, but I’ll remain at the eyeline. You can’t overdo this. This is what a typical shot might look like:



I tend to keep the entire head in the frame and frame somewhere at the top of the belly. This avoids bellies (never a bad thing) and helps maintain focus on the subject.

I don’t like backgrounds that call attention to themselves. After all, it’s an interview:

The most important thing in the interview is the subject and what he/she has to say.


The short lighting position means the light is on the same side as I am, so it’s the camera, me and then the light.

Sometimes I go to the broad lighting position, which takes the light to the other side of the camera (Light, camera, me), but it’s rare. I take the call based on the constraints mentioned earlier and how the subject looks lit.

The main light is always a soft source, you don’t want prominent features casting shadows that distract the audience. It should also be a diffused source, so you don’t get specular highlights on the forehead or bald spots.

I use hair light in a subtle way, and spend more time on it with long/unique hair. It’s the hair that decides this not the gender! Mostly I just want to enhance the hair as best as I can. You can’t go overboard here, because almost every interview is intercut with other interviews, and you want your subjects to look ‘uniform’. Especially in the corporate video business, there are lots of egos involved.

This is what the entire setup looks like:

Interview Lighting Setup

I hope you’ve found the video and article useful.

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