Are you doing a documentary and wondering how you should frame your interviews? Or are you looking for inspiration and new ideas for interview video framing?

In this article, we’ll walk you through the steps of framing a documentary-style interview. So let’s get to it!

If you want to learn more about making documentaries - fear not. We have written an article telling you all about the basics of documentary filmmaking.

How to frame your subject in a documentary interview

So what is framing in an interview?

Well, interviewing someone on camera can be a daunting task. The first step is to plan out your film first. What do you want to show and tell with the interview? Assuming that you know the purpose of your interview and you have the right location and interviewee. The next step is deciding on your camera setup.

Decide on your camera setup

When planning out the interview, you need to decide on a camera setup. This may vary depending on your budget and the number of available cameras. You must have a plan of action and have finished setting up the interview location before the subject arrives, as this reduces the stress and tension that can lead to interview mistakes.

As mentioned, depending on your budget, you might want more than one camera, as there are a lot of benefits and freedoms when using two or even three cameras. But for most video interview shoots, you can probably do it with just one camera.

Your primary A-camera should always be your main concern when doing an interview shoot. It's up to you to decide if you have the resources, time, and help to use a second and third angle properly.

Frame your shot

You want to frame your shot when you have a camera setup and location.

Ask yourself what you need from your interview.

Do you have certain feelings or emotions you're looking for in the viewer? Do you have a specific look? And how much information do you want to capture?

We will get into different angles and what you can use them for later in the article.

documentary interview outside

Make your background interesting

If you are shooting interviews in an actual location, your background is an essential part of what your viewers can see, and you want to make sure that your background is interesting.

You want to follow compositional best practices when choosing or setting up your background. Following the rule of thirds and having an organized and exciting background - at the same time, you don't want the background to draw too much attention away from your subject.

Choose a suitable angle

Most interview setups are often at an angle instead of straight on the subject. This is to create a feeling of balance and comfort for the viewer. It's also helpful for the interviewer and interviewee as the interviewer can sit next to the camera and maintain eye contact with the subject instead of sitting behind a camera that obscures the line of sight between them.

In the next part, we'll dive into this angle.

Short sides vs long sided interview framing

When interviewing a single person, they are typically placed off-center in the frame. Then identifying the spaces to the right and the left of their head - the larger space is the long side, while the smaller space is the short side.

Long sided

It's almost always correct to use this framing. Having the subject looking off to the long side creates a feeling of balance and comfort for the viewer. It gives the interviewee space to articulate ideas, explore thoughts and appear comfortable.

Short sided

The opposite is having your subject looking the short side. This is usually a bad idea because it makes the viewer feel tense and awkward. By looking out of the frame, subjects will appear closed and as if they are talking into a corner.

documentary interview

9 essential interview angles

1. Long sided interview

This is the basic interview angle, and if you are uncertain which angle to go with, this is the safest choice.

2. Through a foreground element

By propping up an element in the foreground of your shot, you can create depth and a sense of space for the viewer. By obstructing the clear shot, you can also create the sense of spying or listening in on an interview.

3. Looking directly into the camera (eye-level)

If you have your subject looking straight in the camera's lens, your subject talks directly to the viewer and can be used to make them focus on your message. It's an angle often used in news television.

4. From behind the subject

Shooting your subject from behind, you convey seriousness. You should keep in mind to obey the 180-degree rule, and you still want to capture some of their face in your shot.

5. Wide room

By using a wide room angle, you can capture both your subject and the setting they are in. It's an excellent angle if your subject is charismatic and you want to convey that to the audience or in an essential location to the story.

6. Underside (under eye-level)

Using an under-eye-level angle makes your subject bigger and more authoritative, which can be excellent if they speak on an important subject.

7. Overside (above eye-level)

Going above-eye-level you get a serious and emotional shot. It’s best used when you want to create an emotional or sentimental shot.

8. Fluent flowing close-ups

Used when you want to focus on something else than your subject's face. Usually, you follow the hands of the subject in an extreme close-up.

9. Profile

The profile shot is mostly used for the anonymous interview, where you hide the subject's identity.

Learn more about filmmaking

Hopefully, this article has given you some insights into framing your next interview.

If you want to learn more about filmmaking, you can check out our article on filmmaking 101.

Interview framing FAQ

What is framing in an interview?

Framing is where you position your subject in the shot.

How do you frame an interview?

You decide where you want to place the camera in relation to the subject.

What frame rate should I use for interviews?

25 fps.