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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a series of guest posts by my friend, Ron Dawson. Ron is an international award-winning video producer, speaker, and video business coach. For the second consecutive year he was named to the Event DV Top 25 event videographers in the industry, and he and his wife are authors of the Peachpit Press book, Refocus: Cutting-Edge Strategies to Evolve Your Video Business. Ron writes about visual arts, social media, and creative inspiration on his blog bladeronner.com.

The filmmaking bug is alive and well in the photography community. Video DSLRs such as Nikon’s D90, Panasonic’s Lumix GHI, and the Canon EOS 5D Mark II (and now the 7D and soon to be released 1D Mark IV), have made the quality of video production available to aspiring filmmakers astounding. One thing I’ve noticed though is the same thing that happens whenever any industry starts getting a flood of new blood. Bad video is hitting the proverbial airwaves. For those of you looking to add some kind of video production to your repertoire, I’m hoping I can give you some valuable information that will raise the quality level of the work you produce. And in turn set you apart from your competition.

In this four-part article, you’ll get a basic primer on conducting video interviews, e.g. family biographies, corporate work, documentaries, etc. But the basic information will be useful for a wide variety of video projects, not just those specifically related to interviews.

Framing Your Subject

Many photographers already have a good grasp of framing and composition. Nonetheless, keep the following in mind as they relate to video production.

• Use a TRIPOD—always, always, always use a tripod. Especially when dealing with video DSLSRs using CMOS chips (like the Canon cameras) because shaky camera work can introduce what’s called a “jello” effect. It’s when your footage looks kind of wobbly and it’s not aesthetically pleasing at all.

• Rule of Thirds—typically, you never want to frame a subject directly in the center of the viewfinder (once you’re a veritable pro and know what you’re doing, you may want to break this rule for creative purposes. But for now, stick to it). Position the subject so that the center of his/her face is towards the left or right at a slight angle to the camera. Use two imaginary vertical lines to split the frame in three equal columns, and two imaginary horizontal lines to split the frame into three equal rows. The eyes should be centered over one of the two top points where the lines cross at the top. (See sample image taken from one of our more recent video projects).

• Head Room—do not leave too much empty space between the top of the subject’s head and the top of the frame. Using the “rule of thirds” should help with that.

• Eye line—Do NOT have the subject look directly into the camera when answering questions. Have an “interviewer” sit or stand next to the camera, about a foot away, with his/her head at the level of the camera’s lens. Then have the interviewee talk to the interviewer. In the frame, it will look like the interviewee is talking to someone off camera. (Think about Barbara Walters interviews. The celebrities never look directly into the camera). The only time it is okay to have the interviewee look into the camera is if they are addressing the intended audience directly. So if a bride or groom, friend or family member, is giving a message to the person who will be watching the video, then he/she can look directly into the camera to give that message.

• Close ups—for the most part, if the subject is sitting, frame him/her from the torso up. If the subject is standing, frame him/her from the waist or torso up. Save close up shots for when the subject talks about topics that are more emotional or sentimental in nature. For your close up shot, frame the subject from the shoulder up. Always be mindful of headroom and the “rule of the thirds” as you zoom in. Don’t zoom or move the camera while the person is talking. If you need to adjust camera angle, have the subject stop first. Also, be mindful of your subject’s complexion. HD video DSLRs will make every blemish, wrinkle, and scar really stand out. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, avoid extreme close-ups of individuals with problem skin.

• Add Depth—add depth to your interview by setting the subject away from the background. If you’re in a home, position him/her so that the living room is in the background, or some other well decorated room. If you’re in an office or place of business, look for space big enough to set the subject 10 or more feet from a wall or other flat vertical surface. Never set the interviewee right up against a wall. That makes your shot flat and uninteresting. If you’re adept at creating a nice bokeh (e.g. blurry background), adding depth in conjunction with the bokeh will make for a very nice filmic look.

In my next installment, we’ll cover shooting tips like b-roll and focus.

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