Video Journalism

Web site of professor Chris Shumway, Grady College of Journalism, University of Georgia

Lighting and Exposure

Lighting Rule: When shooting indoors, ALWAYS use video lights! Don’t rely on the fixed lighting at the location. Most buildings have cheap flourescent light panels installed in the ceiling. These give off an ugly greenish/yellow color and shine directly on the top of your subject’s head. It looks like crap on video. So if you know you’ll be shooting in an indoor location, check out an LED light kit and a few small LED lights from the FESR.

Three-Point Lighting & Exposure Techniques
Watch this video closely. Notice the way the instructor positions his lights around the subject. He also carefully adjusts the iris (changing the f-stop) on the camera to get proper exposure. You might not always have the luxury of a big studio and expensive lighting gear. In fact, you might only have access to a couple of portable lights. But if you follow the basic principles of three-point lighting, your interviews will look much more professional. The main goal is to use your lights to properly illuminate the subject. Bad lighting will distract the audience and take the focus away from your subject, and that’s a real bummer.

Here’s a short lighting tutorial from Media College. It includes overhead diagrams of the light set up and an interactive lighting simulator.

Exposure in DSLRs
If you’re using a DSLR, you have three settings that control exposure. We refer to this as the “exposure triangle.”

Exposure Triangle.001

Here are my lecture notes on the exposure triangle in a keynote slideshow. Explore your DSLR so you know how to manually adjust all three parts of the triangle. Start with shutter speed, then adjust aperture, then deal with ISO last.

Exposure in Video Camcorders
In video cameras, you don’t deal with ISO. So that leaves you with shutter speed and aperture, which is often referred to as the iris in many video cameras. If you have a small consumer camcorder, these settings are usually buried in the menu. You might not even be able to adjust them manually. But if you do have the option to set shutter speed and aperture/iris manually, take advantage of it!

Evaluating Exposure in Post
When you begin editing, you can also check your exposure by using a feature called a waveform monitor. This depicts brightness levels on the IRE scale.  Notice the images below. On the left we see the video image, on the right we see the waveform monitor. The waveform shows values from 0% (black) to 100% (white, like your white balance card). Under good lighting, a human face should have values somewhere 60-80%. That’s exactly what we see in this waveform. Notice the spike in the waveform, just left of center. That’s the woman’s face. The brightest spot on her forehead is peaking somewhere between 70-80% IRE. In the video camera, you would see a few tiny zebra stripes right in this part of her face. When you light a person for an interview, you need to get proper exposure on the face, especially the eyes. Use the zebra lines in the camera to evaluate exposure. Then check it again using the waveform monitor in Adobe Premiere Pro (or whatever editing program you might be using).

Outdoor Lighting
When shooting outdoors, you can often use the sun as your key light. Position your subject so that the sun is shining on their face at a 45-degree angle. That’s what you see in the example below on the left. The subject is angled towards the late afternoon sun. The sun is lighting his whole face pretty well. On the right, the subject is in the shade with nice soft light on his face. In both cases the exposure is pretty good.

When shooting outdoors on sunny days, either put the subject in the shade or out in the sun. If you choose the shade, you can use LED lights (rated 5600K) to light the subject’s face if the daylight isn’t bright enough. Don’t let your subject stand or sit in a spot with a mix of bright sun and shade. That’ll make it difficult to get proper exposure on their eyes.

During the warmer seasons at midday, the sun is almost directly overhead. The sunlight hits the top of your subject’s head, casting dark shadows under their eyes and and chin. To even out the lighting, hold a reflector down near the ground. This will bounce sunlight back up to your subject’s face. Another solution is to use a portable light (5600K) as a fill light. That will help eliminate dark shadows around the subject’s eyes. Notice the examples below:

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