How to Shoot a One-Camera Video

Creating and promoting great-looking online video doesn’t have to be difficult. Technology columnist Jefferson Graham has just created Video Nation: A DIY guide to planning, shooting, and sharing great video from USA Today’s Talking Tech host. We’re pleased to present this excerpt.

In this first scenario, in which you will interview a city manager, let’s assume you’re shooting with an iPhone or iPod Touch. For add-on gear, you’ve brought a tripod, a video light, and a cable to plug in a microphone.

You meet at City Hall, announce yourself, and wait to be greeted by the city manager, whom we’ll call Jerry Humboldt. After you are escorted to his office and exchange pleasantries, you tell Jerry to feel free to check his email or catch up on his phone calls while you set up. You want him to feel comfortable and natural during the interview rather than bombard him with a bunch of questions right off the bat.

Check Lighting

Jerry’s office has a big picture window behind his desk. You know from previous chapters that if you shoot with his back to the window, the backlight will ruin your shot. The iPhone will turn him into a silhouette.

The solution is to have Jerry sit on the edge of the desk, facing the window, with his back to the door. This way, you get the most even, softest light — window light — illuminating your shot. You can accentuate it with your video light.

With your back to the window, you set up your tripod at top level because he’s at least 5.5 to 6 feet from the floor when sitting on his desk.

When shooting an interview with an iPhone, set it up horizontally.

When shooting an interview with an iPhone, set it up horizontally.

Position the camera

Be sure the iPhone is in horizontal mode because, if you shoot verti­cally, two-thirds of the image will be replaced by big black lines on both sides.

The iPhone has two camera shooting modes — front-facing (you see what’s in front of you through the lens) and back-facing (the lens points back at you). The HD rendition belongs to the front-facing mode.

The advantage of back-facing mode is you can see and compose your image. Opt for this mode, so you can just sit on the desk and look back at the camera, making sure your subject is in the frame and looking as great as you hoped. Then, you can flip it back to front-facing mode when you’re ready to start record­ing in HD mode.

Checking sound first is crucial to your productions.

Checking sound first is crucial to your productions.

Check Sound

Now, plug the microphone into the iPhone, turn it on, and hit record for a sound check. Saying “1-2-3” into the mic is always good, but the best test is to tap the top of the microphone or blow into it. By doing this, you’ll be able to tell the difference between the on-board mic and your mic. You want to make sure the good mic is indeed plugged in, and that you’re not hearing sound from the internal mic. Here’s the last step: Put the lav mic on Jerry’s lapel.

Frame the Subject

Once you have the audio and lighting kinks ironed out — and you’re satisfied with what you believe the shot of Jerry will look like — invite Jerry to take his posi­tion for the interview. You frame the shot again, and notice he’s taller than you expected. So you need to adjust your tripod.

You’ve decided that this video will open with a voiceover: “Meet the man who decides whether trees can be removed in Surf City, Jerry Humboldt. The city manager met with us in his office to talk about the controversial tree ordinance in an exclusive interview.”

In addition to the interview, you’ll need certain B-roll for this section. If Jerry will give you the time, I suggest B-roll of him on the phone, typing an email, reading a report, and walking around City Hall. (You’ll also need a shot of the two of you to open your interview, but more on that in a minute.)

Start Shooting

Now you’re ready to shoot the interview. To make good eye contact with Jerry while stuck behind the iPhone, either stand right next to the iPhone or have your face above it so he’s looking into your eyes — and the camera.

After about five minutes, you’re satisfied with his answers. So, now, you want shots of yourself (the interviewer) in there with him. An obvious technique is to just stick yourself into the shot, on the desk with Jerry, but that would be a bore. You’d have the same shot, except with one person, then two.

What I suggest is having Jerry stand up, probably in the same corner (if his office is cramped), and readjust the tripod for the new shot. Leave room on the left or right for you. Flip the camera around and see if you fit. You do? Great.

With only one microphone, however, you will be at a disadvantage. What you need to do is project your voice like the great Broadway legend Ethel Merman, whose booming voice could be heard all the way in the last row. (For our young readers, ask your parents — or grandparents.) Speak loudly, almost to the point of screaming, when asking the one or two questions you want to shoot.

Take Shots for B-roll

Now it’s onto filming clips for B-roll. Put Jerry back behind the desk so you can get shots of him talking on the phone, using his computer, and reading over reports. Look for any fun stuff on the wall or desk that you can get a shot of —  city proclamations, framed photos with local dignitaries, framed headlines from the local paper.

Take the iPhone and tripod into the City Hall reception area, set it up, and get a shot of the two of you walking into the camera. It sounds hokey, but it works —  that’s why you see it on the news every night. If Jerry tells you he has no time for these B-roll shots, run around City Hall and capture whatever you can — city seals, signs, staffers working, flags.

VideoNationCoverFinal pointers

To get around the limits of the one-camera shoot, you can try several things. For example, rather than having an off-camera voice asking all the questions, you can shoot yourself asking a question or two afterward and insert those ques­tions in editing. If you’re bold, ask the city manager to get behind the camera and frame you so we can see your face.

You could also move the camera back to pick up a wide shot of the two of you talking — but try to just nod at each other. We don’t want to see your lips moving here. This shot will be inserted in editing, and it will look out of sync if the two you of are speaking.

Finally, production day is over. You thank Jerry for his time, and go home to start editing!

Excerpted from Video Nation: A DIY guide to planning, shooting, and sharing great video from USA Today’s Talking Tech host by Jefferson Graham. Copyright (c) 2013. Used with permission of Pearson Education, Inc. and Peachpit Press.


Comments are disallowed for this post.

  1. There are much better guides to basic video interview technique than this. And for God’s sake, don’t blow into your microphone! Especially if it’s a condenser mic. You may damage it.

    Posted by Mat | January 16, 2013, 11:15 am
  2. I’ve done this before but your description helped me do it better. Thanks!

    Posted by leo | May 1, 2013, 8:03 am
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