When you are making a video, what is in the background is just as important as what is in the forefront. A person talking in front of a well-dressed set is much more exciting and engaging than a person talking in front of a plain old wall. Choosing to dress a set can really transform your video.
WHAT IT MEANS TO ‘DRESS’ A SET
Dressing a set is referring to providing props and colors and walls and floors and maybe even ceilings to a location or studio to create a certain look. As BrightHub points out, “when you think of set dressings, think of curtains, rugs, pictures, furniture, lamps, knickknacks, etc.”
Doing something in studio means you will be dressing a set from its bare bones; working from a blank slate. Creating a set on location, say in an office or at a store, means you already have a few items to work with but you probably need to rearrange them and add a few things to help you achieve what you want.
For example, say you have a scene in a doctor’s office. You do not need to shoot at a doctor’s office. You can, but it could be expensive and if it is a place that is running, it could be hard to film around all the noise and extra people. Choosing a quiet location or studio where you can really make a set your own will make the shoots run a lot smoother and give you more creative freedom to achieve a certain look you may not get in a location that is already there.
IT ADDS DEPTH
A camera lens comes with something called Depth of Field. It is a certain distance of space seen through the lens that is in focus. As Cambridge in Colour says, to help you understand, you can even use a calculator to explain the difference between each camera setting.
A lot of things can affect Depth of Field: the length of the lens, how much light is entering the lens, the aperture, and more. That Depth of Field is important because it gives an image a certain feel. That is why when you have a person with just a wall behind them the image can feel flat. The Depth of Field is not utilized that way. Rather, it is better to add props behind the actor(s) to fill the space and give the camera some more to work with.
BUT DON’T OVERDO IT
Dressing a set does not mean to just throw as many props as you can think of in front of the camera. You want each prop you add to your set to have meaning and a purpose. Too many props will make it feel fake and too cluttered. You really do not need much to achieve your desired look. For example, if you want to create a waiting room feel, some plants, chairs, and magazines can suffice. Just remember to be honest with yourself and the set and stick to only what is necessary being in the shot.
Once your set is to your liking, the lighting then really comes into play. You want to light the props in a way that does not create too much shadow (unless you are going for that) and really highlights each piece you have.
Also, you want to make sure that some of your lighting is used as back lights to help separate your props from the background – this will help the Depth of Field and make everything really pop. The set can look exactly how you want it, but if your lighting is flat or bad, then the set becomes just as bad. The two go hand in hand. This is where hiring a Director of Photography or Gaffer is important because they can provide insight on how best to light everything in your video’s favor.
All in all, when you are working with a set, remember that there is more you can do with it than just place someone in front of a wall. By properly dressing a set, you can create depth, texture, and an overall more ‘full’ feeling.