Shooting the Interview

The most common interview shots are either composed as medium close-ups or close-up shots. Extreme close-ups can be used when it becomes necessary to scrutinize a person's features.

Also, close-up shots will help you hide the microphone from view (if you're using a hand-held stick mic). Not that seeing the microphone is a bad thing, but a disembodied hand holding a microphone at the bottom of the frame can be disconcerting and may lead to "roaming eyes". Well-balanced composition directs viewers to the most important thing in the shot, which should be the person being interviewed. 

Tip #1: To assure good audio, compose all your interviews as medium close-ups or close-ups so that the microphone can be closer to the person without becoming visible in the shot. 

During the interview don't hesitate to change your shot for different questions. For example, you might start the first couple of interview questions on a medium shot. Then for the next question, zoom in for a close-up. A close-up shot adds emphasis or importance to words spoken. As you edit you might find it easier trimming soundbites when you have the option to cut from a medium to a close-up, rather than have to rely on b-roll to hide the edit.

Tip #2: Wider shots are good for mostly general information. Close-ups are good when the subject discusses an emotional event and is more intimate. Or when you want to place greater emphasis on what they say. Be judicious when alternating angles. 



Three-Quarter Profile
The interview subject should appear to be looking just off-camera. This composition is known as a Three-Quarter Profile. This type of composition is more personable, showing both eyes. 

Standard profiles show mostly the person's ear, which can happen when the interview moves farther away from the camera.
What you get is a shot that's been commonly referred to as 'The Great American Ear-Shot'. To avoid this, the reporter should be standing next to the camera (shoulder-to-shoulder). Note to photographers: if your reporter drifts more than 20 degrees from the camera, pull them back so they're right next to you!

 

Eye-Level
Keep the camera at eye-level so the person is on more equal footing with viewers. If the camera looks up at a person they appear larger than life and more important than they really are. If the camera looks down on the person, they appear small and insignificant. Looking up or down on a person in an interview adds bias to the shot and should be avoided. 

 


Tip #3: when interviewing a child (or a person who is seated), the reporter should crouch down to eye-level. The  photographer should also lower the camera to shoot at eye-level.

  

Backgrounds
Choose a background that is relevant to your subject. For example, if the person sells cars, get them out of the office and outside where the cars in the lot are visible. If the person is a geologist, have them stand in front of rocks - whether a display inside or on location outside. Avoid placing your subjects in front of uninteresting or empty backgrounds such as white walls, which appear sterile and cold. 

                                          Tip #4: avoid backgrounds that are blank.

Tip #5: move the person away from the background to add some separation.

Don't position the person directly in front of a wall; put some distance between the subject and wall, at least two or three feet so that the person doesn't appear to become part of the background. 


Shallow Depth of Field
Try to avoid particularly busy backgrounds that have loads of activity or patterns, which can seem to overwhelm the person in the foreground. One way to reduce the effects of a busy background is to zoom in and focus on the person, which results in blurring the background, achieving what is called a shallow depth of field. The background becomes a soft blur and is not as obtrusive. This shot can be achieved as long as the person is not standing immediately in front of the background; separate them from the background by several feet. It also helps to move the camera farther away so that you can zoom in and focus on the person, which will render the background a soft blur. 

There's a name for this type of shot - a Japanese expression called bokeh, which occurs when the background is a soft blur while foreground elements stand out in sharp focus. Bokeh is commonly used by news crews conducting interviews. The example below shows how to achieve bokeh. There's several feet between the subject and background and between the subject and camera. Zoom in on the person's face and focus. If the aperture is wide enough (allowing more light) the background will become a soft blur. 


Finally, make sure the background isn't brighter than the person in the foreground. A common mistake is conducting interviews in front of windows without using additional lights or even polarising filters. The person appears backlit or silhouetted, and to see more detail in their face it will become necessary to allow more light to enter the lens. But the light in the background is already bright and will just get brighter the more you open the lens. 

Tip #6: Avoid shooting the subject in front of bright backgrounds (such as windows or the sky), which could make them appear back-lit.