When setting up to shoot an interview, there's quite a bit of technical preparation that you need to account for. While you may be able to point a camera at your interviewee and start recording, in most cases, there's much more to account for. The environment, lighting, shot composure and the mics are all important considerations. Here are some tips on how to shoot a great interview.

#1 Your Interview Environment

The first thing you want to consider is your interview environment. Everything about the space you're shooting in will dramatically impact every other element of the interview. Does the environment have a lot of natural light? Do you have enough space? Are there enough power outlets to handle studio lights? You also need to be aware of any problems you may run into. Things like vehicle or pedestrian noise are immediate concerns, but a wide open space may have echo issues. Know everything about your space before you start the interview.

#2 Picking the Microphone

Knowing your space will help dictate what microphone you should be using for your interview. We've written a detailed guide on microphones which dives deeper into various features. But for interviews, there are three types of mic that fit the bill: Lavalier, Cardioid Handheld, and Shotgun.

  • Lavalier microphones, also known as lapel mics, are omnidirectional microphones that attach to the lapel. They are very small and unobtrusive, yet manage to capture the person's voice very effectively. You can find them both in wired and wireless variants.
  • Cardioid handheld microphones are most used when the interviewer is also in the frame. You see them in Man on the Street style interviews on entertainment-based shows. The microphones capture only the sound put directly in front of the mic.
  • Shotgun mics are perfect because they capture audio directly where you point them - your interviewee's mouth. Many people use shotgun mics in combination with a lavalier to ensure high-quality audio. In an interview setting, you may want to put it on a weighted boom mic stand rather than having someone physically holding it.

#3 Lighting

Your lighting will depend on the environment, but the best choice is a three-point lighting setup. In three-point lighting, you have your key light (the main source) pointed at your target at a 45 degree angle from the camera. Your fill light (a secondary source), is placed on the opposite side, to fill in any shadows on the face caused by the key. The backlight (third source), is usually set up behind and above the target to help them stand out from the background. This lighting style is ideal for interviews, because it properly illuminates and allows them to ‘pop’ on screen.

#4 Composure

The composure of your shot will have a significant impact on the feel of your interview. For most interviews, two types of camera positions are used. The first is where the camera and interviewee face each other directly, so they speak directly into the lens. The other options is to have the camera aimed to the left (where they speak to someone off camera). This gives a great perspective for interviews, as it doesn’t feel like the interviewee is looking at the viewer.

In most cases, you want to align the camera at eye level as it comes across as the most sincere/natural looking. You CAN locate the camera below the subject if the object is to make them look powerful. This also helps if you want to hide an interviewee’s bald spot. Or you can place the camera slightly above looking down, if you want to think out the persons face, avoid double chins or just make them look more timid.

You should also consider your background. Many interviews, especially for documentaries use black backgrounds. But, if you have a background with detail - such as a wall, cityscape, or shot out in nature, you need to consider depth of field. It helps by keeping the focus on the subject, while the background blurs out and hides details.

#5 Run Two Cameras

The best advice that all interviewers will tell you is to have at least TWO cameras running. Two cameras enable you to add some dynamic shot changes to the finished product. Your second camera can take a different angle, a different zoom, or a different perspective. It is important to make sure both cameras are set the same to ensure flawless usage when you go to edit.

Finally, while not a technical detail, one of the most important things is the interviewee's comfort. You should make sure that the person you are interviewing is relaxed. You can do this by having a casual conversation before to familiarize yourself with one another. A comfortable interviewee will deliver a much better interview!