[click here to see a video version of this blog]
The first order of business on ANY shoot, is to figure out what the shot is. For an interview, that usually means, “What is the background?” So with that in mind, figure out where the person will sit or stand. Don’t do anything else until you’ve found “The Spot” for “The Shot.” You’ll need to ask yourself whether you want the background to be in focus or out of focus. If its relevant to what the person is talking about, you may want to showcase the background. If you don’t want the viewer to be distracted by it, you’ll want the classic “shallow depth-of-field” look, so the background becomes a design element.
The depth of field is controlled in several different ways. If you want to learn more about that, google it or take my video production class.
If the subject is talking to the camera, you may want to frame them in the center of the screen, unless you’re leaving room on the side for a relevant piece of background or some kind of graphic or text information. Most documentary or news-style interviews are “off-camera” setups; the subject is talking to an interviewer, who is next to the camera. In that case, you want to frame the shot with “nose room” (aka: “look room” or “look space”) to the side the subject is facing.
The rule of thirds for interviews applies with framings from as tight as extreme close-ups, all the way out to a medium close-up. And that rule is: the eyes should lie on the top third line; there should be little or no “head room.” In fact, sometimes you need to let the very top of their head go out of frame. It’s the most aesthetically pleasing look, in my humble and experienced opinion.
Once your interview is framed wider than about the top of the rib cage, the rule for the eyes no longer applies. Because as your frame gets wider and wider, the head room would be WAY too much if you put their eyes on the upper third line.
Another rule I like to follow for aesthetics is a bit awkward to talk about, but it’s very valid: The older the person, the wider the framing should be. Young people’s beautiful skin can handle close-ups better than wrinkles.
In future parts of this series I discuss lighting, sound and interviewing techniques. See “Part 5: The Result” here.