Eye contact and video cameras

Eye contact and video camerasWhen filming a subject who is talking, should that person look directly at the camera or look off to the side? This is a common question which can have a number of answers.

The first consideration is what type of video are you making and who is the real audience? Most business videos are either interview or direct ‘to-camera’ and therefore have two different audiences.

An interview will usually feature the interviewer visibly in the shot or audibly (i.e you can hear the questions). In this case it is normal for the main subject to be looking at the person who has asked the questions, this can be in the form of a ‘two-shot’ (shot that shows both the subject and the interviewer), an ‘over the shoulder shot’ (shows the back of the interviewer/subject in the foreground and the subject/interviewer in the main frame – depending on who is talking) or an ‘off-camera’ shot (interviewer will not be visible but standing to one side of the camera lens).

In each of the above scenarios it is clear to the viewer that the answer is being directed at the interviewer and that they are an observer. Despite being obviously set-up for the purpose of the video, this is comfortable to watch and looks normal to the viewer. However if the questions are edited out of the final video, then the lack of eye contact with the camera normally looks wrong. Without a reason for this offset the viewer will likely feel disconnected and therefore your video may risk confusing the viewer with the overall result feeling unprofessional.

If your video is a single ‘piece-to-camera’ with no other persons present (either in the shot or known to be behind the camera) then your audience will clearly be the viewer. Eye contact with the camera lens will be essential to connect with your audience, anything else simply won’t work. If you are using a teleprompter or off-camera notes, then you need to get these as close to the lens as possible. Often moving the camera back and zooming in can help reduce any slight offset.

Although creativity and experimentation can add to the interest factor of a video (or make it less boring!), these observations are based on how we might observe a live situation. If you were observing an in-depth conversation of someone you didn’t know you wouldn’t expect them to make eye contact with you. Equally if someone was to talk to you with no one else present, you would be rather confused if they didn’t look you in the eye.

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