Shooting interviews with any camera is a challenge. Doing it well with a mobile can often make it even more difficult. But mobile also has some advantages. The cameras are pretty simple, upload immediately and share content significantly faster.

In August I had to shoot some interviews with a mobile during a residency I did at Ideo, a global design firm with a human-centered, design-based approach. I was lucky enough to spend two weeks with them this past August. I want to share some of what I learned about shooting interviews with a mobile.

Simple Backdrop

I used a large whiteboard that was in the office at Ideo to create a background which kept the frame free from distractions. You don’t have to use white. Any simple color will work, though it’s usually best to have it be a lighter color to help keep the image brighter. I was lucky to have such a large whiteboard accessible, but this look can also be achieved with a simple piece of posterboard.

Big Windows for Good Light

Besides the backdrop, I found a corner of the office that has large windows with plenty of light. This works especially well if you can shoot in a corner or a room that has light coming in from both sides. Light from both sides will help balance the light on the subject’s face and reduce shadows.

External Mic

There’s no way around it, sound is the biggest challenge you face when it comes to using a mobile for interviews. You really want to make sure the audio is as good as possible. While my experience showed the iRig Mic Cast did give me a better audio signal, I still had to boost the volume before I posted these interviews.

I don’t know when you’ll ever be able to reliably use a mobile without a mic of any kind. When outside you’re always going to have loud traffic going by. Inside there is often music playing on radios or the hum of fans. In the meantime, the best course of action is to make sure your subject is speaking at a good volume and clearly. Position the mic to minimize background noise. There's a good post about using mics with a mobile written by Brian if you want more details.

Lock it Down

Holding a camera steady is a special skill. There are lots of good tricks people use to get a steady image. If you know you’re going to be in one place, nothing beats a good tripod to make your image rock solid. I used a Joby GripTight Mount with their “ballhead SLR-Zoom for SLR Cameras” which was attached to a tripod that was in their office. The ballhead is a component that is easy to skip, but with this component it is substantially easier to make subtle adjustments to the mobile-this would be far harder to do using only the tripod. This not only gives a stable image, it frees me up to focus on the answers my subject is giving me.

Good technical skills are essential to good visual storytelling. When you’re looking to shoot one or more interviews quickly and can squeeze in the time and effort before you begin, these tips can add a lot of production value.