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Shooting a video interview is one of the very first skills every budding videographer should learn. Video interviews are a great way to get started with videography and they’re a staple in most video pieces. Plus they’re easy to practice – all you need is some basic equipment and a willing interviewee.

The Setup

The first thing to think about when shooting a video interview is how to set up the shot, which requires some basic equipment most photographers already have – a DSLR camera, a tripod, a mic, two chairs and a light source.

You’ll want to place the person you’re interviewing on a chair, where they can sit comfortably for the duration of the interview – there’s nothing worse than your interviewee looking visibly uncomfortable while they’re answering questions. Set your camera on the tripod and adjust the height so that the camera is at the same level as your interviewee’s eyes. You’ll want to sit on a chair that’s at the same level as well. Keeping everything at the same height will help keep the interviewee’s eyes looking natural, rather than having them obviously looking above or below the camera, as if they’re staring off into space.

Place yourself next to the camera, with the light source on the other side of you. Think of the set up like a sandwich, where the light source and the camera are the bread and you’re the filling. Light sources can be anything from professional studio lights to household lamps to windows, but soft light is generally preferable because it will soften the contrast and keep the highlights and shadows from looking too intense.

Try placing your interviewee next to a window covered by a thin curtain in the late afternoon when the sun is low and the light outside already has a soft, deep quality. Another great option is a tall, standing lamp with adjustable arms. The light will be more diffused and less contrasty the farther away it is from the interviewee, so play around with positioning until both of your subject’s eyes are well light, with a nice highlight on the side of their face that’s opposite the camera.

The Composition

Composing a video interview can be a little tricky. If one small part of the shot is off, it can throw off the look of the entire interview. Place your subject at least a few feet off of the background. If they’re seated directly in front of a wall, the interview will look unclean and unprofessional. Pay close attention to the background – simpler backgrounds are generally better, and easier to compose around, but if there’s something in the background that’s visually appealing and applies to the interview – like art, books or plants – try to include them in a way that’s not distracting and doesn’t take away from the subject.

Shooting with a fixed lens at a low depth of field – like a 50mm at f/2.8 – will help isolate the subject from the background, which is especially helpful if there are a lot of distracting, visual elements behind the subject. Set the shot wide enough to include the subject from at least the chest up. Anything tighter than that might look unnatural – like your interviewee is just a talking, floating head. Wider shots can work too, but just stay aware of everything that’s going on in the background.

Finally, make sure there’s enough empty space above the subject’s head, called headspace. There’s nothing more unnatural than a video interview in which the person’s head is cut off at the top. Composing for the perfect amount of headspace will come with practice, so take a few test shots and watch some professional video interviews for guidance and inspiration.

The Technical

Once you’ve composed your shot and your subject is ready to go, you can set your camera and start shooting. Switch your camera to video mode, and set the shutter speed to between 1/30 and 1/60 of a second. Go into your video or movie settings and change the frames per second to 24. Make sure you hit record and regularly check your camera as the interview goes on – many camera models are set to automatically stop recording after 10 minutes, so make sure you keep your eye on that little red circle.

Set up your mic – whether it be on camera, like the Rode VideoMic Pro Compact Shotgun Microphone, or off camera, like Sennheiser ew 100 G3 Wireless System with ME4 Lavalier Mic. Clip on mics are preferable because they can be hidden under a shirt collar and pick up the most direct audio from the subject. On camera mics also pick up great audio, but make sure, if you’re using a shotgun mic, to do the interview in a quiet location with minimal background noise. Even if the shot looks perfect, bad audio or distracting noises can ruin the entire interview.

The Interview

When you start asking questions, it’s important that the subject looks at you, rather than directly into the camera – direct eye contact with the camera can be really uncomfortable for the viewer to watch. Start with easy questions, like asking the subject to introduce themselves with their name, age, job and where they’re from. Many people often feel uncomfortable being recorded on camera, so it’s best to start the interview with lighter content and to save the hard hitting questions for the end.

You also want to give your subject the opportunity to give full answers, so ask open-ended questions, like “What was that like?” or “How did you feel when that happened?” rather than questions that only require yes or no answers. Prompt your subject for anecdotal stories by asking, “Can you tell me about the time you…”

Have your subject wait a second or two after you finish asking the question before they start giving their answer. If you’re talking over each other at any point during the interview, it will be really difficult to edit your own voice out of the video during post processing. Don’t jump in as soon as they’re done talking, either. Awkward silences often prompt people to continue talking, which is great for interviews. The more a person is forced to talk about a subject, the more they’ll generally open up and provide better insight into their own thoughts and feelings on the matter.

It’s also important for the interviewee to restate the question within their answers. If you’re asking about the first time they saw the ocean, ask the subject to start their answer with “The first time I ever saw the ocean, I…” rather than having them launch into a description without context. Restating the question might feel unnatural for the interviewee, but it won’t sound unnatural to the viewer after the interview gets edited together.

The best thing about video interviews is that they require very little equipment compared to a lot of other types of videography. So grab a friend and your camera, and start asking questions – I bet you’ll hear some stories you’ve never heard before.

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