How to shoot video interviews

This is a list of guidelines for experienced journalists who are interviewing someone with a video camera for the first time. This is not TV news style; the reporter will never appear on camera, and the reporter’s voice will be edited out of the final version.

See also The five-shot method for shooting video (not about interviews).

My students are required to use a tripod for interviews. They will turn off the image stabilization, and they will use manual focus.

  1. Start by knowing which specific story points you want the interview to address. The interview is not the time to discover what your story is about. You should already know that before you enter the room for the interview.
  2. Get comfortable talking with the person before you set up all the camera gear. Establish a human connection. Let the person see that you care about him or her. Are you nervous? The other person might be MORE nervous. Your interviewee is valuable to you. Show it.
  3. As you are setting up the equipment, don’t make the person sit or stand in place until you’re almost ready.
  4. After the person is in place, use the LCD viewfinder and make sure you like where the subject is looking. The person will want to look at you, and that is good. Do not stand directly behind the camera, but do stand close to it.
  5. If you walk around, the person will keep watching YOU. That will look weird. Stay in one place and maintain eye contact with the person.
  6. GET CLOSE. A big face is good in online video.
  7. Pay attention to the BACKGROUND. (Avoid poles or trees coming out of heads! Look out for distracting items or action behind the person.)
  8. Pay close attention to the light! If you’re in bright sun (I hope not), avoid having the person squinting, but also make sure the sun is not behind the person. In a home, you may need to move the lights. You might even ask for a desk lamp to be carried in from another room to counteract a strong light on one side of the room.
  9. WEAR your HEADPHONES! All kinds of noise might come along and ruin your audio, and in many cases, you will not notice if you are not monitoring it.

Image - Framing the interview subject

In our textbook (Documentary Storytelling, 2nd edition, by Sheila Curran Bernard), interviewing is covered well on pages 187–192. It includes a story about filmmaker Liane Brandon interviewing Betty, a woman who bought a dress and lost it, that is very helpful for visualizing and imagining what effect you want from an interview. Betty had one way of telling the story that was very amusing. But asked to tell it again from the point of view of how she felt at the time, Betty told the same story in a manner that changed it entirely, from funny to sad.

The video journalist needs to understand what he or she wants viewers to experience as they hear and/or see the final product. Is your story tragic or comic? Is this interview subject a neutral outsider, or does she have an emotional stake in the story?

Update (2:52 p.m.): I’ve been searching on and off all day for online tutorials or tip lists on this same topic (interviewing someone with your video camera), and so far, I have found very little. Please post a link if you know of any good resources for us.

26 Comments on “How to shoot video interviews

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  2. While monitoring your audio with headphones is essential, I would avoid doing it while performing your interview as it creates a disconnect with the subject. (Of course, I’m thinking about sit-down interviews with one person doing the shooting/interviewing.) Rather, it might be good to set your levels and check for extraneous sounds beforehand, then roll tape.

  3. Thanks for all these great video tips.

    I’m taking an online journalism class this semester and have to do videos once a week for my blog, which instead of the normal blogging assignments. Your tips will certainly be helpful for future videos.

    Keep the advice coming!


  4. If an interviewee is nervous in front of camera. Wrap up the interview, but keep rolling… The interviewee often loosens up and becomes much more natural if they think the interview is ‘over’. Obviously when you finish up properly you need to let them know the camera was still running and get consent to use that part of the interview. It can be really effective for getting more natural responses.

  5. Hi Mindy,
    A photographer and I at my paper have jumped the gun with online video in the last two weeks and done some (very) rough breaking news stories like fire/crime.
    These have almost exclusively been on night shift and we’ve just given a quick edit to get them up, since having them overnight has meant beating TV news to them in the morning.

    Where possible, we’ve tried to get an interview on these breaking news stories and just overlay that with some vision.

    The photographer and I go out. He shoots it (and some stills) while I do the interviews. When we get back he gives a quick edit on his laptop to pull out the interview/good shots while I go back to my desk and write up a text story for paper and online.

    Then he brings it to me and I do the final edit with overlay in Premiere, before putting it online and placing flash video in the story.

    As I said, we’ve jumped the gun and done this on our own because I’m passionate about online, including video, and the night photographer is just crazy, full stop.

    Our online video editor wants me to do standups and voiceover in videos, but we’ve avoided it so far – mainly due to time constraints in editing.

    In this post, you say the reporter should never appear on camera, because ‘this is not TV news style’. Do you then do pieces which are short enough for the subject to tell the whole story without the reporter needing to fill in the blanks?

    Too many links might trigger your spam filter, so I’ll just point to one of the stories.,23739,23136368-3102,00.html

    This one was probably the first we did – no interview.

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  7. Hi Mindy,

    I’m the consumer reporter at WGRZ TV, the NBC station in Buffalo ,N.Y. I thought your tips on how to shoot video interviews were right on the money.

    I’d add one that I’ve found particluarly useful in my 28 years (shrieks!) as a television reporter: Don’t be afaid to re-ask questions, especially the question that you consider most important to your story.

    I do a lot of “troubleshooting”stories-helping people with problems. So consequently most of the people I interview have never been on TV before.

    First time around they’re often nervous and tend to ramble or pause a lot. Second time around on the same question, they usually relax and speak more succinctly and even in “sound bites”.

    Your head phones tip is an especially good one. That’s because even though the audio levels look good there may be some extraneous cracklingy from a dying battery or some sort of RF intereference to ruin your interview.

    Good luck in your classes. I’ve just discovered your varoius web presences and I believe you’re definitely providing practical guidance to the next generation of journalists.

    Mike Igoe

  8. @Mike Igoe: You made my day! There’s nothing else as good as hearing from a veteran journalist that I’m teaching the right stuff.

    My students did a lot of audio interviews and editing last semester, so I hope they have learned the “ask again” lesson. Another variation of that is the messy story — the first time someone explains something, they might repeat a lot and make it all very confusing. Let them get through it. Ask some more questions. Then ask them to please tell you that thing again (the messy one). The second time, it will be sooo much smoother!

  9. @Dave from Australia: As for the reporter not appearing on camera: It is nice if the subjects in the story can tell the story themselves. Audiences seem to like that. But there’s nothing wrong with well-written narration to get the facts across succinctly!

    Narration should not sound fake or, as Angela Grant likes to call it, “plastic.” And it shouldn’t get all cute and clever. Leave the emotions to the people in the story, and use narration to fill in any information the viewers need to understand to appreciate the story.

  10. my time doing video for newspapers I found that I had to do stills also…so when listening to the reporter as questions.. I picked the best of those and re-asked those questions on camera… to go with the b-roll…not the best way but helped in the edit to keep the story on trac…

  11. Wonderful guiding to video shooting for beginners like most of us are. Thank you. Obviously a lot of people agree with me, since you’re receiving so many comments. Keep up the good work.

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  14. Jeremy Heads advice to tell the interviewee that you are wrapped but you continue to shoot is totally unethical. I’ve been a network cameraman for 23 years and I can tell you, that is never done nor should it be. there are things you cam attempt but that is not one.

  15. The first line of your post: ” The interview is not the time to discover what your story is about. You should already know that before you enter the room for the interview.”

    Unless the other person/people in the room have a comfort level with the agenda, it could ruin the entire interview. This is the primary reason people are nervous and have a hard time opening up to reporters and media in general. Truly trying to understand the persons thoughts, feelings etc – on camera- is the essence of a good interview, and it will enhance the session dramatically.

    If they’re scared of the way the media promotes them – no amount of positioning or conversation pre-interview will produce the results you want from the piece.

    While I agree with the other points, getting the first one right is the key.

    I would assume the reporter/interviewer has explained their agenda to the interviewee in detail, where it will go and for what purpose it will exist.

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  19. Hi Cindy, great advice. I like how you are aware what a difference it makes in what the interview looks like depending on the equipment one uses. And your “big head” advice is right on. Thanks, Ed Smith

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