The “Talking head” is one of the most widely used shots in video production. Anytime you interview someone or have someone speaking directly into the camera, that is considered a talking head.
Here are some tips to make it easier for you.
First, consider the location where you are going to tape. It is best to pick a spot that’s quiet and uncluttered. You also need a decent amount of room. Ideally, the on-camera person should NOT be squished up against the wall. It’s best to have several feet behind them. Otherwise, it tends to look like a mug shot. (Remember the song, “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother?”)
Ideally, the camera should be on a tripod about 7-10 feet in front of the person and they should wear a microphone that plugs into the camera. With this much distance, you will need to zoom in to get a nice medium-close-up. Being zoomed in helps in several ways. One, a zoomed-in shot best flatters the face. Plus, a zoomed-in shot will make the background go out of focus, which always looks best. However, if you have to rely on the on-camera mic for sound, you need to be closer, about 3-4 feet away or the mic won’t pick up well. In a case like this, you need to sacrifice the better visual effects in order to get decent audio.
The background should be relatively uncluttered and hopefully, relevant to the subject matter. In other words, if you are interviewing a doctor, have the background look distinctly medical. Interviewing a doctor out in the flower garden might look pretty, but might also leave your audience confused. Any visual clue you can add to your shot to communicate who is speaking is a plus.
One good thing about shooting a talking head is that not too much of the background will actually show. This means it is easy to fake it if you do not have a nice place to shoot. Remember, only a few square feet behind the person will actually show in the final shot. So that is all that has to look nice. You could have a pile of dirty socks on the floor and no one would ever know!
Most people think they need to have a nice-looking room to shoot in. Nope. Just a nice-looking corner of a room will do. No need to sweep the cobwebs down from the ceiling; they will never show.
Think about throwing a black cloth (or other dark color) behind someone and using that as a background. You can just tack it to the wall if necessary. Outside the camera range it might look terribly goofy to see this cloth thumb tacked to the wall, but the goofy looking part gets cropped out!
Another trick is to hang a background cloth on a portable clothes rack. That will save tack marks on the wall. I use a $20 clothes rack from Wal-Mart for this purpose.
The best lighting for a talking head is standard triangle lighting which I describe in detail here. If you can not get fancy with your lighting, do not worry about it. Just make sure that lots of diffused light is falling on their face. You do NOT want the light behind them to be bright because then you will get a silhouette. You can read more about basic lighting for video production and watch a free video tutorial on lighting here.
More than likely, for an interview situation you want your interviewee situated in such a way that they appear as a three-quarter profile. This means they are not looking directly into the camera, nor is it a profile, but rather half-way in between. That is the standard interview shot. Look for it next time you are watching any interview program. 98% of all interviews are shot with a three quarter profile.
An on-camera host, however should look directly into the camera. Again, this is tradition and viewers are accustomed to seeing it this way. Most viewers will realize subconsciously who the host is and who the interviewee is because one is a three quarter profile and one looks directly into the camera.
I hope this information helps you produce quality videos.
Thanks for reading video production tips
Internet Video Gal