Thursday, May 28, 2015

Shooting Video Interviews: When The Interviewer Is Not On-Camera


At Wikipedia Academy 2006 – Elmar Mittler gives interview to ZDF Photo by User:Longbow4u – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

We’re almost to the end of our 13 guidelines to shooting video interviews. We’ll wrap up with the last few, starting with what you can do when you find yourself in this common scenario: you are the camera operator AND the interviewer. In that case, it’s obvious that you can’t be on camera at the same time as your interviewee.

Here is what you can do if you want to show yourself conducting the interview…

While conducting the interview, frame the interviewee fairly close, focusing on her head and shoulders. Here is where having a portable backdrop is ideal because you can use it for shooting you conducting the interview. Have them direct their focus and answers just off-camera, like we shared in the last post on framing your shot, and have her pretend she is talking to you.

Even though you are not on camera, record your audio so that you know exactly how you asked the questions. You’ll want to know this later because you are going to set up a shot that looks like you are in the same room during the interview. It can be a different day and different place, but should it should look reasonably similar. Using that same portable backdrop you used for shooting the interview will make this possible.

You will ask your questions on camera and edit them in with your interviewee’s responses. While shooting your interviewee, get some footage of her with thoughtful expressions of her listening to your questions. When you shoot yourself, be sure to film yourself reacting to her answers.

Make sure you keep the lighting on the same. This should edit together to make a believable interview situation.

Action Steps:

  •  Shoot the interview as if you were sitting there asking the questions, keeping in mind the best way to frame your shot.
  • Set the shot you will be doing of yourself asking the questions using the same backdrop and lighting so that it will look believable when you edit both footages together.

Shooting Video Interviews: Framing Your Shot

In this post, I am continuing in our series of 13 guidelines to shooting video interviews. Today I’m going to talk about framing your shots.

Framing Interview Shots

To make your video interviews interesting yet not distracting, you want to follow a couple of framing guidelines specific to interviews.

Staying on the same shot, like a medium shot, of even the most interesting person soon gets boring. If a person is using her hands to communicate, include them, they help tell the story. During more intense or intimate times, slowly zoom in for a dramatic effect.

We often use two cameras on the interviewee, one set to a medium tight head and shoulders frame. We have another right beside it that we can zoom in and out with to get varying tighter shots or a cutaways of hands. We set exposure and white balance carefully to match and this gives the editor much more variety to work with. A third camera off to the side gives your editor lots of choices to keep things interesting.

Background-GoodFrequently you see the shot framed so that the interviewee is looking not at the viewer but off axis, at the interviewer who may be just inside or entirely out of the frame. This makes it more comfortable for the viewer; she is still part of the conversation but not directly involved.

In this case there should be more space in the frame in front of the interviewee ‘s face than behind their head, otherwise they will look cramped and claustrophobic. In other words, they should be looking out of the frame with more room in front. You can do this type of shot even if there is no interviewer. This happens when you are both interviewer and camera operator. Tell the interviewee to look at a spot on the wall and act as if there is a person there.

If you include the interviewer, you need to make sure the interviewer and subject are always facing each other. Or if you are not including the interviewer, then shoot is from the angle AS IF they are talking to each other. If you don’t do that, it will seem like they both are talking to some unseen person out there.


Avoid profile shots

Unless you are doing this for some extreme effect, avoid severe profile shots. We’re used to seeing a person’s entire face when they are talking. Also profiles can be unflattering so you’ll want to watch for that.

For close ups, put the person’s nose in the center of the frame. If you zoom out, change your frame so that you are placing some room (not too much though) above their head and keeping more room in front of the person’s head than behind. I like to use about 1/8 to 1/10 of the frame for head room. Be sure you know if your viewfinder is revealing the whole shot.

If available, have a stand-in sit in the interview chair before you start so that everything, chair, background, lights, etc. is set up and positioned as you want before the interviewee shows up.

Action Steps:

  • Shoot the interviewee looking off axis, to the right or to the left of the interviewer.
  • Avoid shooting profile shots.
  • Leave enough head room.
  • Use more than one camera to shoot the interview.

Shooting Video Interviews: 3 Common Interview Shots

I’ve been going through our 13 guidelines to shooting video interviews. Here’s a quick recap of the first 9 guidelines.

1) Make The Interviewee Comfortable

2) Get Acquainted Before You Begin

3) Consider the Interviewee’s Chair

4) Develop Interview Questions

5) Pay Attention to Wardrobe

6) How to Set Up The Side-By-Side Interview

7) Audio Considerations

8) Lighting Considerations

9) Watch Your Background

The tenth guideline is on framing your shot. As I was writing that post, I realized that I should talk about and introduce you to the types of shots you want to have before we discuss framing. When shooting an interview, I recommend using a variety of shots. Not only will this allow you to create more visual interest in your interview, each of these shots is important to how information and emotion are conveyed.

3 Basic Interview Shot Types

The Wide Shot

Wide shots reveal a lot of information about a scene. When I say “wide” I don’t necessarily mean a wide angle but a shot that reveals the environment into which you are taking the viewer. More often than not it is shot from enough distance to indicate the setting.


The Medium Shot

Move your camera closer to the interviewee for a medium shot. This has the effect of the camera bringing the viewer into the scene. This will probably be framed from the waist up. Also when you’re framing the shot, watch the space above their heads; don’t have too much distance above their heads to the top of the frame but don’t cut the head off either (save that for the close up).


The Close-Up

As the name implies, this is a close shot of your subject. This shot functions to focus the viewer’s attention tightly on this person or item. If it is a person’s face then it is telling the viewer that this is an important shot, pay attention to what is being said!


Once you’ve established your scene you’ll mostly be cutting between medium and close shots until you either change the scene or come to the end.

When Should You Use Each Type

Each one of these types serves a different purpose so think about why you are choosing a particular shot before setting it up.

Wide and medium shots are best for when your interviewee is sharing factual information.Close up shots are good for when your interviewee is talking about something personal or emotional; this shot pulls the viewer into the same emotional space. At the same time, if you are also shooting the interviewer, it’s better to go no further than a medium close up on her, since what she is feeling is not the focus. The interviewer should be portrayed as slightly detached from the emotion of the topic.

The Sequence of These Shots

Most interviews where the interviewer will be on camera start with a fairly wide shot of the interviewer and/or interviewee. This type of shot is also commonly called an “establishing shot”. Make sure you leave enough room in the frame for a name/title key if necessary.

A common practice you see in many documentaries is to begin the interview with a medium shot as the person talks about the facts, then slowly zoom in to a close up when she begins talking about her feelings.

Action Steps:

  • Watch television news programs and documentaries to see how these types of interviews are set up.
  • As you plan your interview, think about the questions you are going to ask and think about what type of shots you’ll use when.
  • Use wider shots for information and casual conversation and tighter close-up shots for intensity.

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