Making the Boss Look Good

No, not quite that way.

My video series about the Internet of Things features two people in speaking roles: myself, and the Vice-President of Micrium, Christian Légaré. One of the delicate parts of a production like this is making sure that the top man looks good on camera. He must be the voice of the company, an authority figure, and a source of insight. And something as trivial as bad lighting would completely undermine his credibility.

I wanted to shoot Christian’s segments in his office, which you can see below. Ideally, I wanted to place him in an open, airy space that was still recognizable as a workplace. But at first glance, his office doesn’t seem to be a likely candidate. But looks can be deceiving.

The Boss's Office
A quick snapshot of the office doesn’t make it seem like a particularly good location, at first.

These videos were shot entirely without studio lighting. Largely, this was a matter of cost. But there’s a quality to natural daylight that is difficult to mimic with studio lights. Natural light communicates honesty and a lack of pretense. The downside of natural light is that it’s unpredictable: the sun goes behind a cloud, and you’re screwed.

Jony Ive in Apple Product VideoThe example I wanted to follow for this shoot was the style of Apple’s product videos, particularly those that feature on-camera commentary from senior management, such as VP of Design Jony Ive. The white background and clean lighting (yes, studio light — they have money to spend that I did not) communicates in clear visual language that the intention is to speak honestly and openly to the audience.

So how to make the boss’s office feel like a location suitable for an Apple product video? Simple, really: you deliberately over-expose the room.

More on that in a moment. First have a look at the schematic below that shows the placement of the subject and the camera.

Shooting in the Office
Office Layout and Camera Placement

The windows in the room are narrow, but there’s a lot of them. During the day, the light in the room has a pleasant, diffused quality. I even partially closed the blinds on some of the windows to prevent a shaft of direct sunlight from entering the room. The diffuse quality of the light bouncing off the white walls provided a nearly-shadowless fill.

5-in-1 ReflectorTo provide some character and direction for the light, I placed a round silver reflector at camera left, very close to Christian’s face. A large sheet of glossy Bristol board might have done just as well. But without that reflector providing a horizontal quality for the light, the whole scene would have appeared a bit drab.

Now let’s get back to that bit about over-exposure. Looking at the schematic above, you may be asking yourself, “Why did he have the subject turn away from the windows? Shouldn’t you always have subject facing the window?”

That’s a good rule of thumb. But when shooting a portrait, you should be thinking about both the subject and the background. And in this situation, the background is vital to produce that open, airy look that I was after. If I had turned Christian to face the windows, he would certainly have been lit fairly well. But the background behind him would have been a dark, dull office wall. Yuck.

So with his back to the windows, and the reflector bouncing some of that window light onto his face, we see the result in the shot above: Christian is correctly exposed, while the window and cabinet behind him are dramatically over-exposed. And this produces the appearance of the open, airy location that I wanted all along, framing Christian with bright light.

The scene was shot with a Pentax K-3 and a Pentax 50mm f/1.7 lens. I can’t remember the exact exposure settings, but it was in the neighbourhood of 1/30th, f/2, and ISO 400.

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