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Old December 30th, 2009, 04:00 PM   #1
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How close should the camera be?

We're working through plans for an upcoming project... and need your advice regarding camera proximity in relation to the subject - who will be sharing from their heart. The interviewer will be sitting very close to the camera - and perhaps behind it s bit also. We want as much as possible to create a personal feel for the viewer... without having the subject looking into the camera.

We will be using a lav mic on the subject and an ME-66 shotgun mic mounted on the camera. For audio purposes, we're initially thinking we want to get the camera as close to the subjects as possible while still allowing some framing flexibility... within 5 or 6 feet.

What issues does this raise in your minds?
How close do you/or would you set up the camera to your subject?
Any advice would be helpful.

Thanks
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Old December 30th, 2009, 04:24 PM   #2
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If you are using a lav mic and setting it up properly, and the interviewee is sitting and not moving, and you don't have some sort of bizarre technical failure, why would you be worried about distance to the shotgun mic?

Distance to camera should be determined by framing, lenses, director, DOP, physical space and comfort/reaction of the interviewees to the camera in this situation.

If you are worried about distance to interviewee in terms of the shotgun because it's your only back up and it's a one shot only interview situation, get a longer cable between camera and shotgun, and something to mount it on, and put it closer but out of shot (e.g ideally a boom op, but if you don't have the man power for that just mount it on a stand).

This is a situation where sound and camera should be able to work together as seamlessly as you want them to, because you have full control over the situation (except maybe environment, don't know where you are filming) but given the amount of control you have over the situation, and that generally you need to cheat distances more to get the best framing (unless you have a very good choice of lenses), I would get sound to work around camera in this situation.
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Old December 30th, 2009, 05:49 PM   #3
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I don't really understand keeping the ME-66 on the camera either (unless it's one heck of a tight budget!).

Get creative if you don't have a boom pole or mic stand. Heck, a few weeks ago, I shot a little test segment of myself (very similar type shot) and just sat the mic on a piece of foam, on top of a few boxes, just barely out of the frame, at head level aimed pretty well right at my mouth (worked fine).
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Old December 30th, 2009, 09:08 PM   #4
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distance between subject and camera

I don't believe you were asking how close the mic should be. Most Great photographers (still), Dorothea Lang for instance, get in pretty tight unless the background adds to the impact. If you have a plain colored background, does it add to what the person is saying. I say get in pretty close. You might want to experiment with shooting angles. Having the camera below the person's face gives the effect of a positive spin on the person.
Also, when you are in close, the person can scratch a little without that getting seen.
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Old December 30th, 2009, 11:14 PM   #5
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Thanks for the input. We can put the shotgun on a stand. Any issues with having the camera close to the subject?
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Old December 30th, 2009, 11:31 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Kent Fraser View Post
Any issues with having the camera close to the subject?
That's going to depend on the subject, more than anything.
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Old December 31st, 2009, 02:51 AM   #7
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Are you shooting indoors? If so, the me66 is notoriously crummy. Outdoors, it'll sound better than any Lav.

Creating intimacy for the viewer will depend mainly on how comfortable you're able to make the interviewee. It's more performance driven than anything else. There are any number of ways to do that, you can start by putting gaffer tape on the record light so that interviewee isn't aware of the camera, which in my opinion is paramount.

I'd advise against extreme close ups, they can be jarring and invasive to the viewer. Avoid channeling your inner Sergio Leone.

Don't forget some shots of hands or different angles to cut on and your room tones.
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Old December 31st, 2009, 07:12 PM   #8
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What matters most is what the environment around your subject is, and what you are trying to achieve stylistically - that matters the most when it comes to camera placement.

I mean, what's behind your subject, will it look good in the frame, will the composition create a compelling eye line for both the viewer and the subject, will the background behind the subject look good. Also, depending on application, will it compress well (large amounts of blank white space behind a subject is probably going to look terrible if it needs to be heavily compressed for the web because of macro blocking or digital noise etc.)

These are questions of artistic intention first and foremost. The practical considerations are - can you hear the camera sound on the audio (e.g fan noise, tape transport sound etc.), if you get too close is your lens not wide enough to have an interesting frame, etc.

Artistic that influence the practical. In this example practical limitations are pretty easy to work around (unlike say, interviewing a subject in a moving car - where the practical limitations much more heavily dictate aesthetic choice.)
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Old December 31st, 2009, 07:56 PM   #9
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I'd set the camera further back (at least ten feet if your location allows it) which will help to throw the background out of focus if you want to concentrate more on your interviewee.
It might also help the one-to-one feel, without the camera making it a two-to-one...
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Old December 31st, 2009, 09:47 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by Kent Fraser View Post
The interviewer will be sitting very close to the camera - and perhaps behind it s bit also. We want as much as possible to create a personal feel for the viewer... without having the subject looking into the camera.
Is there a reason for the interviewer to be sitting close to the camera? Perhaps the interviewer is the camera op, but the way you worded that, it doesn't really sound like it, but if the interviewer is not the camera op, then I can't think of a reason for proximity to the camera being a burning issue.

I'm also unsure as to why you don't want the interviewee looking into the camera. To create a personal feel, there's really only two good ways of accomplishing that reliably, that I am aware of. First is to have both the interviewer and interviewee framed in the shot (looking at each other), but since you've said you are considering having the interviewee behind the camera, that could be a wee bit difficult. The second is to have the interviewee looking into the camera (or appearing to be*), giving the impression of speaking directly to (with) the viewer. If the interviewee is framed alone in the picture, yet looking away from the camera, the impression given will be much less personal.

*Backing the camera off considerably can help here. Unless the interviewee is experienced at looking into a camera while speaking, chances are it's not a good idea to ask them to do that (as it would almost assuredly divide their attention, rather than allowing them to simply speak about whatever it is that is "from the heart" without appearing distracted, nervous, disoriented, etc., as much as possible under the circumstances). Placing the camera behind the interviewer, as far back as reasonably possible and as close to directly behind the interviewer as possible, without the interviewer blocking the shot of course (over the shoulder shot), will allow it to look, as much as possible, as if the interviewee is indeed speaking intimately with the viewer, and also help the interviewee not to be distracted by a camera looming right in front of their face. Unless poor lighting is an issue or the interview is to be shot with the camera being hand-held, which I would hope not, you can simply zoom in to whatever distance you find appropriate for framing the shot. Also, being backed off a bit would allow the freedom to use zooming in-and-out for dramatic effect (thoughtfully, and really dang slowly, or your dramatic effect will almost assuredly simply wind up being to make the footage look like it was shot during amateur hour for wanna-be camera ops).
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Old December 31st, 2009, 11:02 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Robert M Wright View Post
Is there a reason for the interviewer to be sitting close to the camera? Perhaps the interviewer is the camera op, but the way you worded that, it doesn't really sound like it, but if the interviewer is not the camera op, then I can't think of a reason for proximity to the camera being a burning issue.
Personally I never let subjects look directly into the camera. It gives a "Live at 5" feeling I don't like. I like the subject to look slightly off camera. For me, that allows the viewer the fly on the wall feeling, as if you're eavesdropping on something you'd not otherwise be privy too. I always sit very close to the cam. Speaking directly to cam is also offputting for anyone other than professional talent and creates a flashlight in the dark phenomena of influencing the subject's behavior. For narrative or documentary I always tell the talent, "Pretend the camera does not exist". Professional actors obviously don't need to hear that. Amateurs can't hear it enough. I feel the same rule applies to interviews.

Second, I think the key to a good interview is the rapport between the interviewer and the interviewee, getting the person to open up, I don't see how you do that if the subject isn't making or attempting to make eye contact with the interviewer.

This is all my personal style, I know of at least one award winning documentarian that always has subjects stare directly to camera. YMMV.
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Old January 1st, 2010, 12:36 AM   #12
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Regarding perspective ...

Kent,

If you were asking for aesthetic considerations:

The "old school" rule of thumb for a formal portrait is to have the subject 8 to 10 feet away from the camera. I think modern video styles allow getting a bit closer ... maybe 5 or 6 feet away. Any closer and you might get unwanted perspective effects on the face. (A prominent nose would be exagerated, a thin face would seem too thin. Eyes would seem too far apart.)

As a general rule, pulling the camera away from the subject makes the face seem fatter (you'e seeing more of the sides of the face) and de-emphasizes the nose.

I think you can make the shot "personal" by just zooming in tight. Keep the camera at a physical distance which gives a pleasing perspective.

Ken
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Old January 1st, 2010, 12:41 AM   #13
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For narrative or documentary I always tell the talent, "Pretend the camera does not exist". Professional actors obviously don't need to hear that. Amateurs can't hear it enough.
Rather than say "pretend the camera does not exist", try saying "do your best not to forget the camera is there". Sounds counter-intuitive (and a bit goofy!), but will indeed work better most the time (has to do with how the brain typically "hears" a sentence with the word "not" in it - "not" gets ignored).
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Old January 1st, 2010, 01:35 AM   #14
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Rather than say "pretend the camera does not exist", try saying "do your best not to forget the camera is there". Sounds counter-intuitive (and a bit goofy!), but will indeed work better most the time (has to do with how the brain typically "hears" a sentence with the word "not" in it - "not" gets ignored).
Thanks, I like it, I have no idea why because it's completely confusing, but I like it.
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Old January 1st, 2010, 04:39 AM   #15
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Professional interviewers normally give huge amounts of eye contact and often positive feed back (nodding), so interviewees tend to look at them rather than the camera. The camera distance can be a practical issue, but something like the 5ft to 6 ft is common, although for tight locations 3ft to 4ft can happen. That's not to say longer distances can't be used, they're often used in TV studios where you need clear space for the wide shots.

Getting the camera close to the eye line does help to involve the audience. Having the interviewee look into the camera is a creative decision, but it's not usual. If you want to get something giving a really close feel, put a tape X onto the edge of your matte box and let them use that as an eye line. However, they do need to be comfortable doing this, it's more something you'd get film actors to do rather than your average interviewee.

I wouldn't use an on camera mic for sit down interviews, that's more a hard news grab what you can get set up.
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