For years we have been refining and perfecting our technique for shooting great looking video interviews. Here we will be breaking down those different elements that a camera operator needs to consider when shooting an interview that represents your subject and their story.
Use Your Environment to Tell the Story
The background of your interview is an important element in telling your story. It subtly tells the viewer something about the subject. With this in mind, you want to find a background that suits your subject. In the image below for example, you can begin to make some assumptions about the subject. When we arrived for this shoot we were offered a dull, white room to film the interview in, but with some persistence, we found this library, a much better way to represent the subject. Sometimes it is worth asking around on location to find a better space, it can save you a lot of hassles later on. It is also important to take note of your environment in terms of sound. Can you hear the restaurant next door? Traffic from the highway seeping in? Make sure to select a quiet location where you aren’t likely to be interrupted. This will save you time on the day, as well as in the editing process.
During one of our recent video interviews filmed in Melbourne for the BBC, we chose to film the subject in her own home, so that visually you could learn a lot about her style and her personality by the room she was interviewed in. Each interviewee will have their own distinctive traits that you should be looking to bring out with your choice of location.
Lighting is Key
Many camera operators are overly fixated on their choice of camera. But there’s much more to creating great looking interviews than the camera. Lighting is the single most important thing when it comes to shooting video interviews. After many years of shooting interviews with many different lighting setups, we’ve found that our most commonly used lights are KINO Divas. They emit a beautiful diffused light that’s really flattering on faces. Unlike many tungsten based lights they also run at a much lower temperature so there’s no discomfort to your interviewees. The other lights we use the most are the industry stalwart Dedolights, but these serve a different purpose. Because they offer so much control, we use them to highlight elements in the background to add depth to the image. You can see where we’ve done this in the above image, the table and chair in the background are highlighted just enough to make out what they are and provide depth.
We also use an attachment for the Dedolight called a Gobo (occasionally referred to as a “cookie”) and this creates interesting patterns to add texture to bland backdrops. You can see below an example of a Gobo in use on a shoot we did for the Melbourne Synchrotron. The room was fairy dull and sterile to begin with but by using textured shadows we managed to give it a futuristic look.
A Selection of Lenses
Just like the lighting, the lens you decide to use will affect the look and feel of your interview. The current trend in many interviews is to use an extremely shallow depth of field (the area in focus) to separate the subject from the background. To achieve this look we use a prime lens with an aperture of 0.95. This gives us a razor thin area that’s actually in focus, often just a few centimetres to work with, so checking focus regularly is important. Sometimes this isn’t the best way to go, if your background is going to add a lot to the story then you want to be able to see more of it. If your interview subject is quite animated they may drift in and out of focus if your depth of field is too shallow, which is something you should avoid. As you can see in the example below, the background is completely out of focus. Because we were shooting an interview with an IT professional in a gallery, the location didn’t serve to add any additional information to the interview, so with shallow depth of field we blurred it out into a splash of colour. It gives a clean, uncluttered look without being distracting.
We used a similar approach when we shot a series of video interviews for the City of Port Phillip’s Smart Travel Campaign. We filmed interviews with their employees inside an empty theatre space in St Kilda, and because the location wasn’t an important part of the interviews, our camera operator used a wide aperture to blur the backgrounds into abstract shapes and colours. You should be looking to give yourself as much distance between the camera and interviewee as possible. This will allow you more freedom with manipulating the depth of field with different lenses. You should also keep your interviewee away from walls or corners as this makes the image look flat and uninteresting.
Professionalism and Building Strong Rapport
We make an effort to be respectful and professional by always being on time, dressed appropriately for the environment and by being polite and friendly at all times. It’s also helpful to build a rapport with the people around you so that if you need them for anything (finding power outlets, letting you film them at work for B-roll) they will be more accommodating. Building a strong rapport with the subject is also important to ensure they are relaxed and natural for their performance on camera. Finally, its also good manners to ensure that you have returned everything to its rightful place before you depart. It’s also advisable to have a quick chat with your interviewee if you haven’t had the chance to prior to the interview. This will help the process become less intimidating, as being interviewed on camera can be quite daunting for some people.
Creating your Interview Look
There is no formula to lighting, framing and shooting an interview. There are a host of things to take into consideration like location, purpose and tone of the interview. All of these things have a huge impact on the final video. Before shooting we always consult the director, producers and editors before a shoot to have a discussion around what they want to achieve. This might mean spending more time setting up lights to achieve a look in camera or alternatively shooting flat (shooting at lower contrast, less vibrant colour profiles) to allow more flexibility in post production. It’s all about what suits the story you’re trying to tell. Let your interviewee guide your decision making when it comes to selecting a look for your interview. A corporate shoot might need to look professional and slick with low contrast but an interview with a musician or artist might give you license to add some bold colours or shadows to your lighting setup.
Do you need an experienced, Melbourne-based camera operator to shoot professional video interviews? Contact us today.
Ryan Spanger is one of Melbourne’s most respected and sought-after video production professionals. Ryan founded Dream Engine in 2002, and specialises in helping medium to large corporates, government departments, and the non-proﬁt sector to connect with their audience more effectively by using video.