Creating Depth and Lighting for Direct Address Video

Those of us in video production all know the situation… we’ve been given the task to shoot a direct address style video and it’s up to us, the DP or the director or the only person holding the camera to make it look good. Well, several months ago I was presented with the same situation.

Back in May I uploaded a preview video for a series featuring Chris Hogan, one of Dave Ramsey’s premier speakers. The four video series is catered to people who are facing bankruptcy and are in search of helpful information to help them out of their situation. We needed the series to not only grab people’s attention visually but also reach people where they were on a personal level.

Knowing this information, my first task was to capture Chris so that his surroundings could present familiar textures but not be distracting. I turned to my friend David Bean to use his space Westlight Studios. The studio is three rooms that have very different looks but all share a pathway so that all rooms can be seen. So, I decided that I’d put Chris in one room and shoot through the doorways so that I could see all the other rooms behind him. I didn’t want to shoot too shallow so you couldn’t tell what was in the background but drop my aperature just enough for the background to not be distracting.

Creating Depth and Lighting for Direct Address Video

Our biggest challenge was that all three rooms had huge windows at the same end opening up to a busy downtown street in Nashville. We weren’t going to be too close to the windows but during the scout of the location I noticed that on a sunny day we may get reflections from the cars passing by those windows.

Obviously blocking the windows would solve this issue but then another problem presented itself… lighting. We did not have a huge budget for this part of the production so I had to be creative and use my resources well. We owned an Arri four light kit but I knew that wasn’t going give me what I needed to light three rooms plus Chris.

So here’s what I did:

For Chris’s key light we used a Filmgear 1.2k HMI with a 4X4 China silk flag. We used a full stop 2X4 scrim flag to cut the light off Chris from about mid torso down. Using the scrim and cutting the light put more focus on Chris’s face which added to that “relating” factor. We also had a 2X4 black flag on Chris’s right to provide some negative fill. We did not use any back light or hair lights. All we used for Chris was one light and a few flags to shape the light and setting.

Creating Depth and Lighting for Direct Address Video

For the green room behind Chris we again blacked all the windows with the exception of the very top ones close to the ceiling. These windows didn’t effect our scene but bounced off the white ceiling well to give us an overall ambient light. However it wasn’t enough to light the background, for that we needed some help.

I took a Filmgear 4k HMI and split the light beam using a 4X4 floppy. With the floppy fully extended it gave me a 4×8 flag. For the beam closest to the foreground I did nothing to it. It created this nice beam across the floor hitting the chairs and tables behind Chris to his right.

For the second half of the beam I took another 4X4 China silk flag and angled it towards the back part of the green room. This gave a nice wash of light simulating the light that would have come through the windows. But doing this allowed us to control the light instead of worrying about anomalies that could come from passing cars outside.

That was all we needed for the green room, one light and a couple of flags to control the beam. Always keep in mind, use fewer lights and as much power as you can get. Use shaping tools such as flags and scrims to control the beam spread. The greater number of lights you have the more shadows you have to contend with. So in this case, I was able to use just one light to create two different looks.

Creating Depth and Lighting for Direct Address Video

Now, for the brick room, which you mainly see behind Chris’s head, we used one of our Arri 1k tungsten par lamps. We added a full stop of CTO to make the brick look more orange instead of red. The lamp, focused as a flood, is right behind the green wall just to Chris’s left and pointed right at the brick.

So, if you counted correctly, you should have counted three lights for the entire setup. Yes, just three lights. Again, we had a small budget so the only rentals I had for lighting were the 1.2k and 4k HMI lights and one 6k watt generator, as well as a few flags, risers and necessary cabling. Even if I didn’t have the Arri, a 1k tungsten par is not very expensive. But this is a good example on how you can create depth and use lighting for a direct address video and produce a quality image without a large budget.

So what have you done to make your direct address style video more interesting? Would like to hear your comments and suggestions.

Other info:
Camera: Sony PMW-F3
Lenses: Sony primes, 35 and 85
Focal depth: f4 for the 35 and f5.6/8 split for the 85
Production Time: 1 day for Chris’s part (5 videos total)
For the b roll shoots we used a mix of Sony F3 cameras and RED Epic but used the Sony primes through the entire production.
You can check out the free video as well as see the other videos for purchase by clicking here.

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  • I appreciate your technical discussion, and am inspired by your thoroughness. Direct access interviews are sometimes a terrible challenge with non-professional talent: the subject is sometimes uncomfortable looking into the camera, unlike Dave. I’ve built a simple device which incorporates a teleprompter-like box turned sideways, to allow the interviewer and subject to maintain eye contact throughout while the camera is hidden from the uneasy talent who is effectively looking straight into the lens. It took me around 6 hours to build, plus 1 to paint the frames black.
    I don’t know how to paste in photos here, so I’ll gladly email photos of the device in use to anyone interested, and will draw up a set of plans for building it. Total cost in parts: under $200 for a small one.

    • Sorry for the late reply Brian, my notifications were getting spammed from WordPress. But I wanted to thank you for your comment. Stay tuned, I’m going to be releasing a lighting guide for cinematographers. It will based off the lighting series I did for PVC. Click here for Part 4 and links to the others if you’re interested. Thanks!

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