How to Videotape a “Talking Head”

WHAT IS A TALKING HEAD VIDEO?

“Talking Head” is the slang name in video for a person speaking on camera.  The shot is usually framed as a medium close-up (MCU) and sometimes the person is speaking directly to the camera, other times, they are glancing slightly off camera in what’s called a 3/4 profile.

They might be talking to another person, other times they are speaking only to the video viewer.

A Talking Head Video is probably the single most common shot in all of video production, so once you know how to do it, you’re halfway home.

Think about how often you see talking heads.  Any talk show, news show, game show, sales show, variety show, situation comedy, commercials, just about any excuse there is to make a video is full of talking heads.

I figure I have done about 11,000 talking heads in my career.  I came to think of them as video portraits.   A talking portrait like they have in Harry Potter!

On a practical level, if you want to make a simple video that communicates a basic message plainly, do a talking head video.

I often get asked, what is the easiest way to do a marketing video?

Hands down, this is it.  Read on for all you need to know.

HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN TALKING HEAD VIDEO

If you are trying to make a talking head video, you need to think about these things:

  • Camera position
  • Subject position
  • Lights, how many and from what direction?
  • Microphone, what kind and where to put it?

CAMERA AND SUBJECT POSITIONING

Any video camera can be used for a talking head, from the simplest flip camera to the most sophisticated.

Usually the camera is pretty close to the subject,  either literally or via zoom lens.  The camera will either be staring them directly in the face or, off to the side just a bit in what’s called a 3/4 profile.

There is a difference in how a viewer will react to someone staring right at them or one glancing off to the side.  Staring directly is more personal and intimate.  Looking off to the side makes the viewer feel more like an observer.  Which is appropriate for your video is up to you.

I LOVE 30 Rock and The Office, two examples where the characters “confide” in the viewer.  The director conveys that visually by shooting a standard talking head.

When you frame up your talking head shot, be aware of what is called head room and nose room.

TV terms are awfully plain spoken.  They mean:

  • How much room is there above the head?
  • If they are glancing off to the side, how much room is there from their nose to the screen edge?

Deep stuff.   :)

The vast majority of talking heads are medium-close-ups, the exact same as you would see in a still picture portrait.  The bottom of the shot cuts off in mid chest, maybe mid-stomach, and there is just a touch of head room.  Sometimes you want to later add other images iin editing, perhaps graphics like a name, location, or logo.

If you will be adding to the talking head later in editing, you need to leave room somewhere on the shot to put whatever you will add.  Typically, names and location graphics are placed on the bottom third of a talking head and called a lower third super.   Of course you have the option of placing these elements anywhere you want in video editing.

Some head shots go in extremely close, with the eyebrows at the top of the video frame and the mouth at the bottom.   The closer you get with your camera shot, the more intimate for the viewer and the more invasive for the subject.  Where you draw the boundaries is known as creative license.

Trust me, most people do NOT like seeing themselves in an extreme close shot, their nostrils resembling moon craters.   Come to think of it, most viewers would not go for that either.  As in real life, good video making needs boundaries.

TRIANGLE LIGHTING

The best form of lighting to use for a talking head video would be similar to what’s best for still picture portrait lighting.  Generally speaking, what flatters the face is soft, diffused lighting set up around the subject in a triangular pattern known as triangle lighting or 3-point lighting.

Not all talking head videos rise to triangle lighting, sometimes reality is you only have one light.  Please don’t think you have to use fancy light fixtures, not at all.  You can make whatever you have work.  There is a video for you to watch below that demonstrates how to do it easily.

In proper triangle lighting, there are three lights:

  1. Key Light
  2. Fill Light
  3. Back Light

If you only have one light, go with the key light as it is most important.  Which light is of second importance is debatable and really depends on what look you prefer.

Here is a video that demonstrates how I set up really nice triangle lighting for my own talking head shot in an easy, inexpensive way.  I used windows and common household fixtures.

GETTING GOOD SOUND
Decent audio is critical for a talking head. If a viewer can not hear what is being said, they will shut you off no matter how good everything else is.

The best way to get great sound is to use a small lavalier microphone clipped close to the person’s mouth.  6 inches away or so.  A lav mic will disappear in your shot ad they are designed for just this purpose.   Make sure no clothes are rubbing on the sensitive mic portion.   I always hide the cord under the clothes if possible.

No matter what kind of mic you use, using a separate mic means you have to have a camera that allows you to plug one in.  Small video cameras rarely have that option.

If you do have a place to plug a mic in, even if all you get is a cheap wired mic for $25 bucks from a store like Radio Shack, your audio will be much better.  If you go that route, buy an audio extension cord for greater flexibility in positioning.

A second option is to use a boom mic, (AKA: telephoto mic, shot gun mic) that would be held about 3-8 feet away, out of the camera range.

A third option is a hand held microphone, but be aware that lots of people think holding a big mic looks a bit tacky.   Their good points are rugged durability and good quality pick up.

If all you have is a small video camera with a built-in microphone, then it will work best if you have the camera and mic about 2-3 feet from you.  Speak fairly loudly.

No matter what kind of microphone you use, make sure all background noise is turned off.  Record in as quiet an environment as possible.

Speak clearly and articulate well.  Pay attention to your pacing.

There you have it, my friend!  Combine all these concepts and you have a professionally done talking head shot, the most common shot in all of video production.

WRITING A TALKING HEAD VIDEO SCRIPT

Writing a script for a talking head video is easy.  I have included three examples here you are welcome to adapt to your own situation.  By following the examples below, writing a script is largely a fill-in-the-blank exercise.

A script for a simple talking head marketing video should be a brief introduction of you and your service to the potential customers.  Just say hello and tell them the essential key elements.  The script should be brief and focused.  Final length should be no more than two minutes.  One minute, or even 30-45 seconds, might be best in most circumstances.

In your script, make sure you give some kind of reason why your service is the one they should select.  This could be based on experience, superior skills, or because you are giving a great bargain.

Then, add a distinct call to action.  Whether the call to action is “email me” through the interactive button or “buy my book,” (again through an interactive button), be specific and ask potential customers to take the next step in doing business with you.

After reading the examples below, think about your own business then write out your own script.  Practice reading it aloud.  Listen for flow and how easily the words come out of your mouth.  A good video script needs to use words that are easy to pronounce.  Even professional narrators do poorly with tongue twisters.  Modify your script as you hear it aloud to make to flow better.   Then, set up your camera and lights and you are ready to record.  Scotch taping a copy of the script to the bottom of your camera lens can function as a low-budget teleprompter.  Print it out in a large font, double spaced, to make it more legible at a distance.  You could also use a laptop as a substitute teleprompter.

SCRIPT EXAMPLE #1

Hello everyone.  I’m Mark Campbell, an attorney in Worchester County. If you’re looking for legal help in the areas of family law, estate planning, wills and trusts, personal injury or bankruptcy, then why don’t you call me for a free consultation?   My law firm has worked with the residents of Worchester County for over fifteen years now, and at least one of them has been you, a friend, or a neighbor.  For personal, confidential service at a time in your life when you’re feeling vulnerable, let my law firm’s experienced team guide the way.  Click the interactive button to send me an email and let’s get your problem taken care of as soon as possible.  Talk to you soon.

SCRIPT EXAMPLE #2

Hi.  I’m Charles Mitchell, with Bug B Gone Exterminators.  Are you troubled by household pests like mice, squirrels or cockroaches?   I can help.  My experienced team of professionally trained exterminators uses safe, reliable, effective methods of getting rid of unwanted pests.  You won’t have to worry about a thing.  We’ll come out to your house, assess the situation for free, then draw up a plan to safely treat your home with the most effective methods available.  When we’re done, your home will be pest free or we’ll come back until it is.  Don’t let filthy insects and rodents spoil your home environment.  Call me, Charles Mitchell at Bug B Gone.  Click the interactive button for a free 10% off coupon for your first treatment.  That’s my gift to you for watching this video.  Talk to you soon.

SCRIPT EXAMPLE #3

Are you trying to navigate the housing market, either buying or selling?  That’s always a tough thing to do by yourself.  Hi.  I’m Gretchen Carlson, Murray County Realtor.  I’ve been helping people like you buy and sell their homes for over ten years now.   My experience can help you get the best deal possible in the shortest amount of time.   Not only do I know this area like the back of my hand, but I market using the most up-to-date practices, like online video.  If you’d like a complementary copy of recent listings for your neighborhood, click on the interactive button to download a PDF file.  Your home is your biggest investment, so it’s vital to get the best deal possible.  I can help.  The contact me button will get you my email address and phone numbers.  Have a great day.

At its very most basic structure, the three example videos are all very similar.  They follow this skeleton structure.

Hello, I’m _______________.

My product or service is ____________________.

If you have _______________ problem, my service can benefit you in these ways _______________________.

I am better than my competition for this reason  ________________________.

So take this action __________________________  in order to reach me so I can make your life easier.  You will be rewarded with this _______________.  Thanks, goodbye.

LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!

Once the script is done, you are ready to shoot.  Follow the lighting and audio advice above for best results.  Now you know how make your own talking head video.  Thanks for reading!  Let me know how it goes for you.

Lorraine Grula

Internet Video Gal

Comments

  1. Thanks so much Lorraine! Fantastic tutorial. Your site is exactly what I’ve been looking for to help me find the best, easiest techniques for creating a series of talking head videos for my market. Keep up the great work!!

  2. Hi Kelli
    Glad you liked the tutorial! Talking heads are so useful! Thanks for leaving a comment and good luck making video.
    Lorraine

  3. What a wonderful video! I have been struggling with trying to make a simple talking head video for months and your video here was great. I am looking forward to your free course.

  4. Hi Gloria.
    So glad to hear that the video tutorial helped you. Thanks for leaving a comment. It’s nice that I can help you learn how to make a simple talking head video without having to buy some dang expensive course! Good luck. Let me know if you have questions.
    Lorraine

  5. doctor says:

    my video life is not going to be the same any more

  6. Thanks for leaving a comment, and that’s a good thing, huh Doc.? You can take all this info and go make yourself some great talking head videos! I have seen some online video “gurus” charge nearly $200 for info on making a simple talking head! And here it all is, in this one simple post. I also cover it in my free product.
    Lorraine

  7. Great post really interesting and detailed info. Thanks Lorraine.

  8. Hi John.
    Glad you liked it! You are more than welcome. I greatly enjoy helping other people learn to make video.
    Lorraine

  9. Dear Lorraine Grueler,
    I don’t think I have enough space to say thank you for all of the FREE information you have offered. I have worked as an A/V tech for 10 years and learned a lot. I have started my own business and needed to learn more about camera, lighting, and editing. You have taught me more in such a short time and I am excited everytime I get e-mail from you. I have made purchases on some of the sites that you have recommended and still have information from you to read. It is the best way I can think of to learn the business. You are so generous and kind to share this with us. I am also a pastor and I can use this in church, especially the head shots. I can’t thank you enough for making such a wonderful ministry of your gifts.
    Rev. Dr. Lawrence C. Brown, Sr.
    Eclipse Audio/Visual Services

  10. Hi Dr. Lawrence.
    Well bless your heart sir! You made my day. I am THRILLED to know that my blog has helped you! I love teaching people videos and love it even more when they get so much out of it like you have. Thank you so much for taking the time to leave such a kind and wonderful comment. Good luck to you and let me know if you ever need anything!
    Lorraine Grula

  11. Sorry about not spelling your name correctly Lorraine Grula. I got a little excited. Thanks again for all your hard work.
    Rev. Dr. Brown

  12. No worries! My name is not exactly common so it happens all the time! Besides, I have been called worse. LOL!! Just call me the Video Gal, that’s easier!
    Lorraine

  13. yonatan says:

    thank you .

  14. Hi Loraine, You’re a Gem.Regards
    Ali-H

Trackbacks

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  4. […] is a post that covers a lot of basic video production techniques. Discover easy tips for getting good lighting and sound while you learn to produce a talking head […]

  5. […] set up very basic lighting using household fixtures.  You can read this post for detailed instructions on how to produce a professional-quality talking head video.  To sum it […]

  6. […] with people affected by the topic or expert at the topic.  These interviews are known as talking head videos.  Short, individual portions of the interview are called sound […]

  7. […] and easiest way to take advantage of video online is to learn to create what’s known as a simple talking head video.  Here is a link to a long and detailed post about how to do just that.  Write to me if you have any […]

  8. […] most effective thing, is to do a really simple show has just one person, and then it is called a talking head video. (Get full instructions at that […]

  9. […] and easiest way to take advantage of video online is to learn to create what’s known as a simple talking head video.  Here is a link to a long and detailed post about how to do just that.  Write to me if you have any […]

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  11. […] than take a standard “talking head” approach, we decided to latch onto the part of the instructions that read, “…the answer can […]

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