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The Art of the Interview

More and more photographers are spending more and more their time doing something many of us never imagined – interviewing our subjects, not just for our own interest or to help them relax, but as part of the motion or multi-media project we’re working on.  This week, our contributors offer advice, tips and resources to help you develop better interview questions, elicit great sound bites, build rapport with your subjects, and edit interviews more effectively.

 

By Editor | Posted: March 23rd, 2015 | No comments

The Chemistry of the Interview

[by Gail Mooney]

When I first started learning video storytelling, I took a class at the Maine Workshops. Our instructor, a crazy guy from LA who worked for the E-channel, broke us up into teams to go out and get man-on-the-street interviews for our class video project, The Cameras of Camden. The video was about surveillance cameras used to monitor people in public spaces. My task was to query random people on the street and ask them what they thought about “being watched”.

The “documentary gods” were definitely riding shotgun with me that day. I came back to the classroom with sound bite gems, which ended up driving 80 % of the video’s narrative. In the process, I found out that I was good at asking questions and more importantly, I was really good at eliciting great responses.

There’s more to getting a good interview than just asking questions. It has to do with your rapport with your subjects. Interviewers are not interchangeable. Give two interviewers the same set of questions to ask the same subject, you will most likely get very different answers. To be a good interviewer is to be a good listener. People sense when someone is interested in what they are saying – or not. If you are genuine and really care about someone’s story, it comes through in the way you engage them and ask the questions. That’s what makes every interview unique – it’s the chemistry of the moment.

Here are some helpful tips for doing interviews:

  • Choose a suitable location. Pick an environment that is quiet and that you have control over. You should also strive to pick a setting that will provide more information about your subject.
  • Ask leading questions – not ones with yes and no answers. Don’t ask the subject “Do you like school?” Ask them “What do you like about school?”
  • I don’t usually insert myself into my interviews so I ask my subjects to paraphrase my questions in their answers. For example: If I ask my subject: “How many children do you have?” they shouldn’t answer by saying “3”. They should answer by saying “I have 3 children”.
  • Don’t step on your subjects’ lines. After your subject stops speaking, pause before you ask your next question. Instruct your subject to do the same, pause before they start answering your question. This will allow your subject to collect his or her thoughts. It will also give your editor a clean place to cut the dialog without overlapping voices. Another benefit is that many times those pauses will provoke your subject to relay more interesting information.
  • Be quiet and use non-audible gestures to affirm your subject’s responses. Don’t utter things like, ok, hmmm, oh etc.
  • Be a good listener. Sometimes the best questions come out of listening to your subject. Many times it’s something a subject says that will lead me to ask a question that I may not have thought of.

Gail Mooney is a photographer and filmmaker. She is a partner at Kelly/Mooney Productions, creating still and motion imagery that tells the story.

 

By Gail Mooney | Posted: March 27th, 2015 | No comments
Get Connected

Brought to you by The Letter T

[by John Welsh]

If you were asked to use three words to describe a formula for conducting a successful interview, which ones would you pick? For me, it’s Truth, Trust and Time. They are all in play before, during and after an interview.

Everyone wants to be respected in a relationship. And that’s what we are doing every time we interview someone. We are building a relationship and the goal is to share what needs to be revealed.

Truth
It’s more than learning just the facts and it’s totally subjective. Truth is gained from having genuine curiosity about the subject or story you have chosen. It’s hidden in the details of what people really want to tell you. Learn to recognize it. Ask the hard question, but do it with respect. It’s what your audience really wants to know. A person’s truth, and they’re all unique, is what’s behind their actions and behavior.

Trust
It’s something that, of course, needs to be earned. If you’re lucky, you may have days or even weeks to get know your subject. But sometimes it’s less than an hour. So find something in common. Offer details of your own life when relevant. Even resort to small talk, do whatever is needed and break any ice that’s preventing you from connecting with subject.

Time
If you have the luxury, meet your subject for the first time without your camera. We are immune to the idea of cameras being a threat, but for some it’s an intrusion. And any kind of threat, and it could be as simple as being present and photographing a delicate moment (before trust is gained), is a guaranteed way to lose your interview. Spend time to engage your subject. Be honest, be open and you’ll find the time that’s needed is reduced.

In the end, this is not about the interview process or a method to make your subject comfortable on camera. It’s about remembering that your subject is just like you and deserves a certain kind of honesty that’s reserved for intimate occasions, which is really what interviews are.

John Welsh  just completed his run as president of the Philadelphia Chapter of ASMP , is a freelance photographer and part of a Philadelphia based collective of media artists that produce documentary work that’s cinematic in style.  

By John Welsh | Posted: March 26th, 2015 | No comments

Know What You Want, Stay Engaged, Tilt Your Head and Shut Up.

[by Todd Joyce]

Three tips to make your interviews stronger:

Know what you want your subject to say and ask the questions to get them to say it.
Sounds simple, but if you’re asking general questions and letting them talk, then your editing time is going to be a nightmare.  Allow for discovery, but know which key topics your subject needs to cover and make sure they say it.  As they answer, imagine editing each comment.  if you don’t have a clean in and out, then ask the question again.  Get a good comment that you can use, rather than something you have to make work.  Save “making it work” for when you really need it, rather than relying on it.


Stay engaged.
Don’t look at your questions.  Looking away says you aren’t interested.  It’s like talking to someone who keeps looking at their phone.  When a subject doesn’t have someone to look in the eye, they remember that they’re surrounded by lights and cameras and that will show it their face on camera.  You may need to check a list, but never when the person is talking.  Look them in the eye and nod with approval when your subject makes a great comment.  They want to know they’re doing well and it shows on camera when they’re confident with their comments.   It also teaches them what you are looking for.   It’s instant gratification that leads to making more good comments.


Shut up and listen.
After you’ve asked the question, don’t feel like you have to fill the silence.  Let them fill it.  Give them that head tilt and an inquisitive look to tell them you want more information.   We all have visual signs in conversation that communicates what we want.   Show them you approve, are excited by what they are saying and that you want more info – without using a single word.   


Interviewing has been fun for me.   I love talking with people and learning things.  That makes it easier too.   

Todd Joyce has the gift of gab, but gab isn’t as much of an asset as an interviewer.  He’s working on his listening skills.  Find Todd on FB and LinkedIn.

By Todd Joyce | Posted: March 25th, 2015 | No comments

5 Suggestions for More Effective Interviews

[by Charles Gupton]

The ability to ask good questions and draw people out of their anxiety over being photographed has always been an important skill set to have as a still photographer.

But over the past several years, I’ve gone from being behind the camera exclusively to taking a more active role in interviewing subjects for motion projects — and more recently, a podcast where I interview creative leaders.

As a result, there are a number of interviewing skills I’ve needed to refine and improve. Here are 5 suggestions for making a significant difference in the quality of your interviews:

  • Do your research.
    Start with defining “why” you’re doing the interview and “who” is going to benefit from it.
    Ask yourself, “What would the viewer or listener want to know?” Then, ask the questions that draw out those answers. Knowing why you’re asking questions will help you know which specific questions to ask.  Also, by investing a few hours to get to know your subject, you’ll gain an understanding of what that person has to offer that’s relevant to your audience.
  • Ask open-ended questions that require a more complete response than a close-ended “Yes” or “No.”
    An example of a close-ended question is, “I understand you and your spouse enjoy riding a tandem bike on weekends. Is that true?” An open-ended inquiry might be phrased, “I understand you and your spouse enjoy tandem bike rides on weekends. Tell me about one of your recent rides and what made it so special.” This will likely bring a more revealing response that will provide more depth and probably a better rapport.
  • If you want better answers, prepare better questions by writing them out in advance.
    Writing helps order your thinking when you’re not under pressure in the moment. Also, if your time is cut from one hour for an appointment to 15 minutes because of a schedule conflict, you’ll know the most important questions to cover and not be rattled by the last minute change. President Dwight Eisenhower once said: “In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” You may not use the questions you prepared exactly the way you prepared them, but your planning will be indispensable when you’re in the moment and the pressure is on.
  • Your mood and emotions set the tone for the interview.
    If you’re anxious, you’ll likely communicate anxiety. If you are calm, it’s likely your subject will be calm. Your subjects usually mirror the emotions that you display.
  • Be present and listen.
    Too often we have an agenda and a next question to ask, missing the opportunity to go deeper because we are not in the moment. Resist the temptation to jump ahead. By listening and more fully giving your subject your attention, they feel heard and willing to speak more intimately than if you’re just looking to check off your list and get the interview done.

If you have any responses based on your experience or tips that you want to add, please share them in the comments.

Based in Raleigh, N.C., Charles uncovers stories that resonate, then tells them in three-minute films to engage clients for business on the web. His newest venture, The Creator’s Journey podcast, will launch by April 2015.

cg@charlesguptonphoto.com | www.charlesguptonphoto.com | www.charlesgupton.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Charles Gupton | Posted: March 24th, 2015 | 2 comments

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