December 14, 2011 \ Geoff Birmingham
Video Interviews and Windows

Executive Director Family Equality Council

A couple posts back I mentioned how a client, The Family Equality Council, was thinking about using a green screen for an interview and then inserting a background afterwards. Because we thought a green screen might not give the look they wanted, we advised against this approach.  The Council eventually found a space with a window view that matched the background they were seeking.  See adjacent picture (and hopefully you can tell where it is…).

Shooting interviews against windows is also not a recommended course of action, but in this case we decided it was better than using a green screen and faking the background.  There is one very big reason that shooting an interview with a window can cause headaches – no control of the sun.  Suppose the sun is going in and out of the clouds. This means the light is going up and down in the background during your interview, which can be bit of a distraction for the viewer.

And if it happens to be a sunny day, it’s basically a guarantee that you are going to have to do one of two things, or a combination of both:

1. Significantly boost the light inside to match the brightness of the sun’s light outside; or

2. Reduce the brightness of the sunlight coming in through your window.

If you pursue Option #1 and bring in more lights or more powerful ones to match the sun’s intensity, the biggest downside is your interviewee has a bright, hot light blasting on them. With our subject above, we chose Option #2, diminishing the light coming in.  The typical way to do this is to hang a neutral-colored, plastic sheet (also called a neutral density gel) over the window to knock down the sun’s brightness.

Hanging an ND gel is often very obvious in theory and not so easy in practice.  First we taped it outside the window (the windows are actually French doors that open to a balcony), but the sunlight was hitting the gel at an angle that caused reflections.  The wind outside was also blowing against the gel, shaking it, and exacerbating the reflections.

So we brought it inside and taped it to the front of the window…and then noticed reflections again, this time from our own lights.  Weighing all of our options, we realized that we had little choice but to wait a couple of hours for the sun to move a bit further along its path, and then the angle of its light hitting the gel would no longer cause problems.  At least that’s what we hoped would happen…

So the interview was delayed, we marched around D.C. getting some city shots, and then returned three hours later.  Fortunately, the sun and its fellow stars had aligned for us.  There no longer were annoying reflections on the ND gel – so it’s impossible to tell that a sheet of plastic is taped to the window behind the interviewee.  Additionally, the sunlight on the White House and Washington Monument was actually softer, and the protesters who had been down on the street making a lot of noise while we were setting up in the morning had left.

So we were lucky – without the flexibility in our schedule, we would have had to work even harder to get the shot right.