Tips for Shooting “Talking Heads”

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My son told me that some of his friends had to do video interviews as part of a school project and asked me if I had any tips. As I started typing, it occurred to me that he had just given me the topic for my next blog post. So here are my top ten (because who doesn’t love a good “Top Ten List”?):

1. Use a tripod.

2. Use lots of light. Try to eliminate shadows on the face. Avoid overhead light. And try to cover any window that casts light on your subject; it can change the lighting as the sun moves or as clouds pass by.

3. Compose an interesting, but not too busy, background. Don’t have your subject in front of a window or she will just be a silhouette.

4. Use an external microphone, not the built-in mic on your camera. Ideally, you want to use a clip-on lavalier mic or a hand held on a mic stand near the subject, but even a shotgun mic mounted on the camera is better than the camera’s built-in microphone.

5. Do not have your subject talk directly to the camera. Sit next to the camera and have him speak to you. He should stand or sit facing you squarely. In other words, if he has to turn his head to face you, have him turn his whole body.

6. Do not put your subject in the center of the frame. Have her off to the side, looking “in” (toward the center of the frame). Remember the Rule of Thirds.

7. Be aware of background noises. Turn off fans and air conditioners, or turn the thermostat down to prevent the heat from kicking on half-way through the interview. If you can wear headphones, it will help you to hear what the camera is “hearing.”

You may be asking your subject questions, but ideally you don’t want your voice to be in the video. To make it easier to edit yourself out later, here are a few more tips:

8. If you ask the question, “Where we you born?” you don’t want the subject to answer, “Peterborough, New Hampshire.” He has to say, “I was born in Peterborough, New Hampshire.”

9. Make sure not to speak over your subject. Give her plenty of room to finish speaking before you ask another question. If she speaks over you, ask her to start again.

10. It’s natural, when someone is speaking to us, to give him verbal cues, such as “uh huh” and “yeah,” but try to avoid these or you’ll hear them on the tape. Try to react non-verbally (nod a lot!). Ask others in the room to do the same.

This list is, of course, just the starting point. If you have any questions, please feel free to call or email me.

Dave Waldman is a video storyteller and owner of Treasured Memories Video and B2B Video Solutions in Bedford, New Hampshire. He can be reached at (603) 566-3075, [email protected] or [email protected]. His website is