Our Knight training includes a lot of stuff about capturing images - both still and moving - that is a little foreign to guys who have made their careers capturing sound. So we were paying careful attention when we attended a morning tutorial by NPR videographer David Gilkey on the art of lighting.
Just the fact that NPR now has lighting kits must say something. And our membership in the Knight Foundation Training exercise allows us to request one. That means we are given a bag with one diffuse, wide lightbox and another small spotlight to put behind people. This second light, we learned, adds a the sense of depth to what's shown.
Immediately we decided that we'd use our newly formed illumination knowledge. We booked some time in NPR's famed performance studio, which comes complete with a Yamaha grand piano. Our big idea - have some people play the piano and talk about what the instrument means to them, and how playing it makes them feel.
We invited a handful of NPR employees (Anya Grundman, Barbara Van Woerkom, Jeffrey Freymann-Weyr and Patrick Jarenwattananon) who thankfully were kind enough give us a half hour each of their time. We took some shots of Steve at the keyboard, too.
One thing we learned was that not all heads are created equally. While the backlighting on the full head of hair on our female subjects looked great, hair-impaired subjects (such as Steve) were a problem. The backlight bounces off the top of a bald head. Steve looked like he was wearing a white yarmulka. This greatly distressed the Catholic in him. Later, David Gilkey explained those situations call for a lower position for the spot.
Live and Learn
In the end we had just enough decent shots to complete the task, but no story. Steve took care of that by writing a first-person commentary about the piano. We fit the video to the words and left a lot of blank frames to set the pace.
Over the years we've both worked at NPR we've often found the most success with radio projects that grow out of a simple conceit. Steve created a whole piece about dust, for example. This video project borrows from that sort of idea - keep it simple, stupid.