Simon, who has been shooting with NBC News since 1993, has traveled to 143 countries and has shot countless interviews of world leaders, celebrities and NBC News journalists. Watch the video above to learn his tips about photography, and learn more below. Comments have been edited for brevity.
“It’s important to learn how to shoot an interview because people have a lot of television that they can watch. And if it doesn’t look good, they’re going to go someplace else. People are not going to watch a badly lit interview,” Simon said.
Set up the location
Every location presents different challenges and opportunities. Be aware of overhead lights or windows that let in natural light. You can’t shoot into a window, but you can use the light from a window.
Think about finding backgrounds that create texture and depth, and if seated, arrange the chairs accordingly.
Typically, we shoot with a narrow depth of field behind the person that’s being interviewed. Try to roll it out of focus just a little bit so that the interviewee pops out. The background will be blurry, but try to get some light on the background to accentuate the background if possible.
Place the cameras
When I shoot an interview, one camera has a tight shot and one has a wide shot that includes the reporter. Sometimes the reporters want you to bring it around, so that they have an over-the-shoulder shot of them.
There’s a 180-degree rule, also known as “don’t cross the axis.” On camera, you want your interviewee and your interviewer looking like they’re looking at each other. If you cross the axis, they’ll be looking the same direction, and not at each other.
Imagine a line between your interviewer and your interviewee. Make sure all cameras are on one side of that line. This will make sure that in the edit, the two people are framed in such a way that they appear to be looking at each other.
Lighting is an art form, and making people look good doesn’t come naturally. To appreciate good light, you also have to have a certain amount of darkness in every shot. So if you can turn off fluorescent lights, kill the outside light that’s coming in and somehow create some sense of contrast in a picture, that will help your lighting a lot.
Sometimes it’s efficient and quick to use available light and only accentuate the existing. You don’t want fluorescent light that’s coming from over the top. Turn that light off if you can because it creates very bad shadows. Many people have deep-set eyes, which create shadows down their face. It’s better to have your own light on the person you’re interviewing.
Everybody always asks: How long is it going to take to light an interview? I always tell them it takes as long as the time that you’re going to give me. If we’re given 20 minutes, it’s going to take 20 minutes to light. If we’re given two hours, it’s going to take two hours. We’re waiting until the last second, and sometimes even beyond that.
Don’t forget to white balance!
Audio is super important. I’ve had bad audio sink me much quicker than blue video. When you have good audio, you’ll have good video. Make sure you’re listening to what’s coming into your camera.
Just as with lighting, audio offers different tools for different purposes. For an interview, always put a lavalier microphone on your interviewee. A shotgun microphone on your camera that is 4 feet away will sound hollow. Get the mic as close to the person that is speaking as you can.