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Essentials for interviewing people on smartphone video

I’ve heard it said that the best camera to have is the one on you, and it’s true. While I love my Nikon D7100 DSLR, I rarely have it with me 24/7. My smartphone however, is attached to my hip.

The same holds true for videotaping. My go-to video camera for planned recordings, interviews, and work assignments is a Canon Vixia HF G30, but for light travel and those spontaneous opportunities, I am left with my smartphone, an iPhone 6sPlus, to do the job.

Smartphones shoot terrific video. Both my iPhone and Canon shoot 1080 HD. Where the pavement hits the road often is expressed in sound quality. One of the worst ingredients for video is wind shear.

Example. Recently, I was researching Hawaii agriculture and came across this video of a doctor talking about Hawaii’s local farmers market. The scenery is breathtaking. The video quality captured it all. The script and topic were interesting and informative.The videographer blocked the scene and subject well, using the rule of thirds.

But slide to the 1:00-minute mark and listen.

What you are hearing is a mild version of wind shear. I’ve heard a lot worse. This is a soundtrack you do not want on your video. Even without the wind shear, the narration is a bit tinny. With a small investment, you can produce terrific sound and eliminate the annoying wind shear.

Essential equipment for smartphone recording:

For support: Any lightweight tripod or monopod (or stabilizer grip if someone is else is recording the subject) plus…

Smartphone spring loaded tripod mount ($5 to $15)  needed to secure the cell phone to the tripod or monopod. I have several. Here is one option.


Option 1:


Image: Amazon

Ampridge Mighty Mic Bluetooth iPhone Microphone $79 (Yes, iPhone only) and works in conjunction with…

Movie Pro app $5.99. Works with Ampridge Blue Tooth. All video recording is done via Movie Pro and not iPhone’s native video recorder.

Ampridge’s Bluetooth microphone is small and slender and easily clips on a shirt or lapel. A full charge lasts 5 hours. Turn the mic on and select the Ampridge as your BT option. Open up the app and start recording. The app will tell you it is recording via BT.

The sound is crystal clear. Here you can hear our Extension agent Kathleen Splane wearing the microphone while being interviewed by the News Journal’s James Fisher (video follows immediately after a sponsored ad).

Option 2:


Image: Amazon

Rode video mic. $59. Comes with wind screen (aka dead cat).

This microphone plugs into the headphone jack of your smart phone. Sorry iPhone 7 users! It overrides Apple’s internal native (and wider range) microphone, which normally does a great job, and switches to this more directional microphone that points to the person talking. No worries with batteries or charging with this version, this mic is powered from the phone, however, Rode does provide even more advanced models which require a power supply. The microphone comes with the furry cover known in the industry as a “dead cat” and is superior to foam windscreens.  The Rode microphone is ideal for outside recording where the wind is an unavoidable ingredient.  Amazon will suggest an additional windscreen, but it is not necessary, as the $59 price includes everything you need. Can be kept in a glove compartment or purse or gear pack, snap it into your phone and record.

This microphone set up is ideal for live streaming with Facebook or Periscope!

Interviewing/Recording Techniques:

  1. Have your subject introduce themselves, their title, and spell out their name.  I typically don’t include introductions or self-introductions such as, “Hi, I am Jane Smith, Extension Agent …” but get that information and put it in a title caption, you or your editor will appreciate having that information. Everyone has different preferences – just be consistent with what you do.
  2. When I ask questions, I typically cut my voice out in post production. Therefore it’s important to ask your subject to work in the question with their answer so the context is clear and their response makes sense to the audience.
  3. Tell your subject to pause five seconds before answering so you have some buffer or fade-in time to lead into their appearance. Many people are nervous when being filmed and they may make nervous gestures or facial expressions when they are done, such as sighing with relief, asking if they were okay, grimacing or rolling their eyes. They don’t realize they are doing it. But it is a reality that will make your editing job much more difficult. Before you record, tell them upfront this is something most people do and ask them once they are finished speaking to continue to look into the camera with a passive expression or slight smile for at least 3 -4 seconds. This allows you to have a gentle fade-out in post editing.  A calm fade out prevents the sharp, clipped ending amateurs get because their subject was nervous and uttered something or made a funny face.
  4. Be prepared for several takes. Pauses in between paragraphs are natural editing spots and allow you to take the best sections of the script and splice them together. Ask your subject to pause slightly between paragraphs or subject changes. If pauses are too long, you can always trim.
  5. Avoid stripes, particularly pin-stripes or candy-striped in shirts and ties. Watch television interviews and see what happens to blue and white striped shirts! Solid colors work best.
  6. Pay attention to branding. Do you want it, does it matter? Avoid branded apparel unless it is part of the job. Extension professionals should wear their institution’s branded material.
  7. Stage, or be mindful of your background. What message are you trying to convey? We all remember the video of vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin being interviewed in Alaska, being filmed on a turkey farm while a turkey was being inserted into a grinder in the background. Tidy up where you can.
  8. Frame the subject by using the rule of thirds. My preference is to have the subject slightly to the left or right, but rarely dead center.
  9. Block the shot. Wide, meaning most of the body of the subject is filmed. Medium is waist or belt buckle and above, and tight is shoulders and head.  Give your subject a heads up how you will be filming them. They may wish to adjust their personal appearance accordingly.
  10. Avoid noon or overhead light. Pay attention to where the sun is. You don’t want your subject squinting.
  11. Work with an assistant if at all possible. This person can hold up cue cards, hold a white reflector off to the side to soften harsh shadows. A white poster board that children use for school products works well if you don’t have a reflector. Assistant stands right out of camera view.
  12. Bring a towel or roll of paper towels for hot days, to wipe brow, sweat on lips, shine, etc.
  13. Bring a bottle of water for each subject being interviewed.
  14. Ask subject to bring their script or talking points (bullet points) in large enough font to be readable 20 ft away. Hold script (cues) as close to the camera lens as possible. An easel or flip chart is helpful.

In the summer of 2015, my Extension Scholar (intern) provided a tutorial to share and encourage our Extension staff to create video content. There are great suggestions that you can incorporate into your video project. Note the placement of an easel and cue/flip charts to help the person being filmed to stay on track.