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Interviews & Talking Heads

Most videographers shoot more footage of people talking than any other kind of shot. This month we'll focus on ways to make those talking heads easy to shoot and interesting to look at.

There's nothing worse than not being able to make eye contact with someone, even if they're on video. That's why you should always position the camera so it can see both of a subject's eyes.

Quick interviews, grabbed on-the-run with a hand mic and a handheld camera, often show the speaker in profile. The remedy for this is to coach the person asking the questions to stand between the lens and the interviewee instead of next to her. This ensures that when the subject looks at the interviewer, her head is not turned to the side.

The interviewer should also be instructed to stand sideways – shoulders in line with the lens – so he will not block the shot and to hold the mic in the hand closest to the subject. Using the hand nearest the camera causes the interviewer's body to rotate and puts his shoulder in the frame.

Most talking heads – especially those shot for use in a news spot – only appear on-screen for 5-10 seconds, so when you have the opportunity to set up a tripod and shoot for several minutes in order to harvest the perfect bite, it's best to ditch the hand mic and go with a lav or a pole-mounted shotgun.

Keeping the mic out of the shot and interviewer at a distance from the subject (but close to the lens axis for good eye contact) allows the option to frame looser and compose a more interesting shot that shows the subject as part of his environment instead of the same old boring head and shoulders we are so used to seeing.

The best way to shoot a formal conversation between two people is with a pair of cameras. But ensuring that you have every word covered and plenty of editing options requires enough room to properly position the subjects, set lights where they’ll be out of both shots, and still see both eyes in the finder when the subjects look at each other.

While the networks might shoot conversations with the president with a crew of five and three cameras – including one mounted on a jib – there's nothing that says a solo shooter can't lock down a medium shot of the interviewer with a spare camera and let it roll while keeping an eye to the finder on the primary camera.

When the interview is over and you're picking up the customary cover shots, just remember to shoot the cutaways of the interviewer with the second camera so any difference in colorimetry between the cameras will be minimized.

Next month we'll tackle some of the issues that go with recording high quality sound.