Lighting with glass-fronted cabinets
So, I've been contracted to do a series of simple interviews for a company.
The CEO wishes to have his done in his office - which is surrounded on all sides by glass-fronted cabinets containing memorabilia. After several attempts to convince him that it probably isn't the best idea - or to at least open the cabinets - I'm stuck with a conundrum of trying to light this guy with all of his glass fronted cabinets behind him.
Any ideas on how to not be seen/how to light in this situation?
A still photo of the room for us to see the setup would help.
Well the correct and "Hollywood" way to do this would be to go in and have the crew remove all the glass from the cabinets... but I'm betting that is not practical.
The most rudimentary advice would be to try your lighting instruments just a bit higher than you might normally choose... that would help eliminate some reflections and if you are judicious about it might not compromise the lighting on your talent too much.
Polarizers might help a little, but probably not enough to kill a full-blown reflection from a lighting instrument.
Another thing that could be helpful, when needed, is to open the cabinet doors... just a little. If you find one that is a problem area, sometimes just cracking it open a tiny bit will eliminate the reflection. It might even be a tiny amount, even an inch or less, that completely eliminates the problem and yet to the camera still gives the appearance that the doors are closed.
We run into a similar situation frequently with pictures on walls in locations, where we see an unwanted reflection in the glass. The easy solution usually is just to put something behind the picture near the bottom of the frame to stand the bottom out just a tiny bit from the wall... which changes the angle of reflection and completely eliminates the problem. Of course, we try to remember to remove these when striking... but I bet we don't always. There's probably been several instances of someone moving a picture in their home and being puzzled by a big hunk of balled-up gaffer tape behind it... left over from a shoot years ago. Ooops.
Of course, if this is a one-time deal and little or no chance for repeat business, the is always the passive-aggressive approach... explaining to this CEO why it won't work (or look good), and when he tells you to do it anyway... just say "Ok," and push the button and he gets what he asked for. But that's usually not the best way.
Oh... and if you frame tight with really shallow DoF, those reflections might not be an issue anyway.
Also, is the CEO wanting to do it there to show off all his stuff? If so, then you're stuck. But if it is just because he's too lazy or busy to walk down the hall to a more appropriate location, then you can always put up a drop or something to put him in a different environment yet keep his butt in his comfy Aeron executive chair.
We often run into CEOs or other corporate bigwigs who want talking head shots in their office... and as much as they'd like (or expect) I virtually never shoot them behind their desk... that's one of the worst places to plop someone. I'll either put them in front of the desk, or some side sitting area, etc. When forced to explain that to them (which is often), I'll tell them that the desk is a very cold, unfriendly, and distancing position. I tell them "Watch 60 Minutes, sometime." The pitiful embattled citizen is always placed out on a nice park bench somewhere, or a walk-n-talk in a neighborhood. But where is the heartless CEO of the Dioxin company photographed? Always behind his big evil James-Bond-villain desk. Without fail. And it's not by accident.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
The aircraft-carrier desk and big picture windows are status symbols.
[Mark Suszko] "The aircraft-carrier desk and big picture windows are status symbols."
Yes, yes they are.
They are status symbols of James Bond Villains.
And of Sidney J. Mussburger in "The Hudsucker Proxy" (a very very underrated movie).
If your goal is for the CEO to look cold and unapproachable, it's the easiest set there is. And make sure they briefly interrupt the interview to fire someone by speakerphone, and then quietly chuckle to themselves before "I'm sorry, where were we?"
For added fun, a good little extra is to have them also slowly stroking a cat. That's why we always pack one or two, just in case.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
Usually, we would cajole or reason with such a type to come out from behind the intimidating/distant desk and sit on a corner of it, or stand in front of it, off to one side... or to put it in a far background, in soft focus/narrow DOF. There's a trade-off to be made between humanizing the subject and letting the trappings of their environment help define their status/role. You know you're in for a rough ride on a project if the executive won't come out from behind that desk. Their thinking is more likely to be hidebound, unimaginative, over-traditional, hierarchical.
The big window shot is another oldie but goodie. Often the view is spectacular and can really make a statement about location or mood or other subtext, but civilians have no idea how hard it is to light that shot for a camera, because our eyes are so great at seeing this scene naturally, without considering white balance or relative brightness.
For your scene in the room with the glass cabinets, you might be able to do a variation of a trick sometimes used with the big window shot. And that is to lock-down the camera shot and light/shoot the room twice: once, for the background, and once, just for the foreground talent. Then you composite the two shots to get the best from both layers.
One other idea that may/may not help: shoot from behind a "blind" or black felt curtain hung from pipe/drape with a lens hole in it, and keep everything behind the camera, including the back wall, dark. Use bounce light off the ceiling and/or other high-angle lighting from extreme angles so the reflections don't reach the lens. What reflections you do get in the cabinets will be of black items and hard to resolve.
[Mark Suszko] "One other idea that may/may not help: shoot from behind a "blind" or black felt curtain hung from pipe/drape with a lens hole in it, and keep everything behind the camera, including the back wall, dark. Use bounce light off the ceiling and/or other high-angle lighting from extreme angles so the reflections don't reach the lens. What reflections you do get in the cabinets will be of black items and hard to resolve.
I had to shoot a long overnight program in a PetSmart store once in front of the grooming center - and the entire thing was a total wall of glass. Any shot toward the location reflected shelves filled with bright glossy dog food packaging. So I had my crew set up a 40' pipe and drape "wall of black" and the problem disappeared. Never underestimate the value of good location scouting!
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