A Look at How HBO’s ‘Insecure’ Lights Black Actors so Well

Here’s a 2-minute video that offers a look at how the HBO series ‘Insecure’ makes its black actors look so good on camera. What is it that makes everyone “pop” so much on screen?

“When I was in film school, no one ever talked about lighting nonwhite people,” Insecure’s Director of Photography, Ava Berkofsky, tells Mic. “There are all these general rules about lighting people of color, like throw green light or amber light at them. It’s weird.

“The way I approach dark skin tone technically is all about the skin [being] reflective. I make sure the make-up artist uses a reflective base on the skin.”

Berkofsky was brought on for the second season of the series, and she was told to give the show a “more movie-like look,” which included making their actors more “striking” on the screen.

Isaa Rae in ‘Insecure’. Still frame by Ava Berkofsky/Insecure

She says that it’s all about giving the skin something to reflect. The amount or intensity of light is not so important, but instead the surface area of the light.

Berkofsky also uses a polarizer on the front of the lens, which helps her to shape the light.

Still frame by Ava Berkofsky/Insecure

“The conventional way of doing things was that if you put the skin tones around 70 IRE, it’s going to look right,” Berkofsky said. IRE is a value used to measure composite video signals. “If you’ve got black skin, [dialing it] up to 50 or 70 is just going to make the rest of the image look weird.”

With such techniques, you’d get overly bright images as seen in sitcoms like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Thanks to Berkofsky’s drive to properly light black actors, she has created a truly cinematic look for Insecure which will no doubt cause future productions to follow in her footsteps. And these ideas can be utilized by still photographers as well.