Storytelling best in the voice of the subject

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 1/125

My first location to go after arriving in the Agalta Valley in Honduras was to this community chicken coop.

The community with some guidance formed their community development committee. They assessed all their resources and the needs of the community. They came up with the idea of a chicken coop.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 3200, ƒ/5.6, 1/250

I interviewed the president of the community development. He is also one of the four families running the chicken coop.

Please pardon the voice over by me.

I believe that the voice of the subject is one of the most powerful tools available to the storyteller. Are you letting your subject speak for themselves? Do you think the audio captures more of the story than the text alone?

The power of the still image in video

There are some differences of shooting still images and video. Here are some things that I have discovered in my journey.

First when you shoot stills you move around the subject looking for different angles, however with video you find a spot and let the action move and capture it.

The reason for the differences is with the still image you only need to capture a brief second whereas with the video you are capturing a timeline. You may start wide and zoom in during this time or just stay still and let the action move through the frame.

In the same amount of time given to a still shooter and a video shooter the still shooter will end up with more variety of shots.

Second difference is that with video you are capturing sound as well as the visuals. In general you are not capturing sound with stills. Many still photographers may choose to gather audio as a separate piece to later combine with the still images for a slide show, but you are not capturing this simultaneously as you are doing with video.

Due to the necessity of good sound for video you will spend a lot of time being sure you have the right microphones and levels set so you are capturing the best quality sound.

While I can go on about more differences, these are the ones that really have me thinking about how I work the most often.

The Package

What drives all my decisions on what I am doing and using is telling a story. In corporate work I do a good number of what I call best practices packages. This is where we are showing someone in the company that is doing an outstanding job that we would like others copy.

There are typically three things I am getting for content to help tell the story.

  1. Why are you doing this? I usually ask the person who started the new thing to explain why they are doing this. 
  2. What are you doing? While the person who started it can talk about it I try and get someone else to address what they are doing if possible. This helps mix up the packages and keep it moving.
  3. What is the response? This often is a customer who talks about how grateful they are for the product or service.

 What I have learned from the audience that watches these packages.

  • They often stop the video to study something. They may see a flyer and want to copy everything down so they can use something similar. 
  • They want to know what they need to make it work for them. 
  • They want to know if the people doing it would do it again and if they would make any changes.

The unspoken thing I have discovered is that the emotional excitement is what can trigger the best response. I get better emotional response when I use emotional moments as still images and not video. Video unlike text doesn’t have the ability for the viewer to pause.

Many wonderful moments that are captured in video go by so fast it is like having a sentence with no punctuation. You have no time to absorb what you are watching.

Still images capture emotion

A still image of an emotional moment allows the audience to have a comma, semicolon, colon or even a period to the package. These punctuations are used in writing to let the reader know when to pause or even stop. These pauses help you with comprehension and most importantly absorb the thought.

Video goes so fast that unless you pause or use slow motion you miss some of the most powerful emotional moments.

Still images typically are remembered better than any video. The famous photo from the Vietnam war was also shot on movie film, but it is the still image that is remembered even more.

Joe Rosenthal shot the famous flag raising at Iwo Jima, Japan in WWII and again there was movie shot, but it is the still image that is best known.
When it comes to emotion the still image captures moments due to their symbolic metaphors.
Entertainment verses News video interviews
When it comes to the evening news you will almost never see the camera doing moves during an interview or while the newscaster is on camera. However, in music videos and other forms of entertainment you will commonly see the camera moving around the person talking.
Why is this always taking place? I believe it is because movement can be very distracting to you comprehending audio.  While the still image is able to capture iconic emotional moments better than video, keeping the video camera still will help improve audio comprehension for the audience.
My takeaway
Whenever you use movement be sure it has a purpose. Use movement with the video to help move the audience through a scene. Use movement to help move the audience from one part of the room to the next. Use movement to help with transitions.
If nothing is really moving in a scene don’t introduce movement without purpose or it can distract.
If you want to entertain and create a mood and not necessarily is there a heavy message then movement of the camera can be quite helpful. A good example of this is the music video. They often use a story line even in the video, but since this will most likely be watched a few times by the audience you are creating an entertainment piece rather than an informative piece.
Whenever I want you to feel something I need to slow down and even use a still image. When I want you to listen and hear what is being said, I need to keep the camera still and not move. 
If my purpose is to entertain then using movement is less distracting and even welcomed.

Tips for making video/audio interviews

Over the past six years I have been doing multimedia packages for my clients. Some of these are still images with audio and others are video with some still images.  The one thing that is constant in everyone is the interview.

I have taken many classes from other pros and read many books, but most of my tips here are from what I use now for most of my packages.

I want to break down the tips into two lists: technical and content.

This is a Nikon D4 with the Nikon stereo microphone

Technical tips

Rode VMPR VideoMic Pro R with Rycote Lyre Shockmount

  1. Use a good microphone and recording device. With today’s iPhones and other smart phones you can use this as your recording device, but get a good microphone if you choose to use this. I prefer using a shotgun microphone on my camera/video and/or a lavalier microphone clipped onto the shirt of the subject.
  2. Use headphones. You need to hear what is being recorded and the only way to do that is to put on headphones and hear what your microphone is picking up. This will also help you set the recording levels. This is when you will hear hums from electronics and air conditioning units to water falls. When you hear these things you can then see about moving or turning off electronics for the interview. This also will alert you to any short in the line of the microphone.
  3. Pick a quite space. With your headphones on and testing your sound you need to listen and try and pick the quietest place unless you want the ambient sound of the background.
  4. With video watch backgrounds. Look for a background that is simple or compliments the subject. Be sure it isn’t distracting and taking away from the audio.
  5. Back light with fill. I prefer when outside to back light the subject. This helps give them a rim light and then I use a fill light. The rim lighting separates them from the background and keeps their eyes from squinting. I use a fill light off to the side to help shape the face and fill in the shadows.
  6. Set camera and have subject talk to you. I don’t always do this, but it does relax the subject.

Aputure Amaran AL-528S Daylight LED Spot Light

Aputure Amaran AL-528W Daylight LED Flood Light

This is an example of a package I did for our church. I drove up to Chattanooga, TN in between other work jobs and shot this in couple hours and drove home.  Posted it a little later that night.

Interview Techniques

  1. Get to know your subject before interviewing them. This will not just help them be more relaxed but help you know how to interview them and perhaps help them relax.
  2. Do the interview at the end of the coverage and not the beginning. I find it is easier to have someone sum up what we saw today than have them talk about a lot of stuff that by the end of the day I never caught on camera. This helps you from lacking in b-roll or images.
  3. Ask the subject to summarize what you have seen that day. While you may not use all of this, it will help you with a starting place for the narrative.
  4. Mirror them. Keep them going by nodding and smiling.
  5. Ask your questions then be quiet. No noises to affirm them. Affirm with gestures. Your noises will distract from the sound quality.
  6. Remind them what you have that they need not talk about. Often people will want to tell you everything not understanding you have visuals that will help the audience. You need them to tell the things that the visuals don’t convey. While you have a visual that shows something happening, it often doesn’t help the audience know why.
  7. Keep them on topic. If you have two or more interviews in your package planned, then each person needs to know what they are covering. Sometimes I break it down as to let one person tell me why something happened and the other to explain what they did to make it happen.
  8. Help them revise their comments. Often i need about 30 to 45 seconds of comments and a person may talk for more than 5 minutes. If I were to edit it later their will not be a good flow. I try and help them summarize what they just said or even edit. When I say edit–I mean cutting content.
  9. Get variety. I like to often record a longer comment and then follow up with them making it really short. Sometimes I use the longer comment. Get another direction just in case. After doing this for a few minutes often this gets their minds engaged and they find a new way to articulate themselves. Allow for this to happen.

These are just a few tips of things I am doing today with my multimedia packages. I am now adding a second camera to add a variety of angles to interviews.

Before I get on a plane and travel to do a story, I have a good idea of what the story is before I take off. After I get there I listen and watch. Often the story changes and is modified. I go where the story takes me, but I am ever mindful of two things: the audience and the subject. I am trying to connect them to each other. What can the audience learn from the subject? Why should they care?

I am constantly looking and listening for ways to tell the story in the shortest and most effective way possible. I hope these tips may help you.