How To Shoot a Documentary Scene

Shoot These Five Shots

Among video journalists and documentary producers one tried and true approach to covering a scene is the “five shot” method developed by

Michael Rosenblum. Most experienced shooters know the method

without thinking about it.

Five Shots For A Documentary Scene

Make these shots in order:

A closeup on the hands of a subject shows WHAT is happening

A closeup on the face shows WHO is doing it

A wide shot shows WHERE it’s happening

An over the shoulder shot links the previous three shots

An unusual, or side/low shot provides a context.

Rule of Thirds

The main focal point of a shot should lie on the intersections of a grid of thirds.

Don’t Cross the Line of Action

Always shoot from one side of the subject. Crossing this line will disorient and confuse the audience.

How to Shoot An Interview

• Keep the camera next to your shoulder. Tell the subject to look at you and not the lens.

Frame shot with talk-space. • Ask the subject to state their full name & spell it.

• Ask questions that lead to longer answers such as “Why is this important? Describe how you felt.” Don’t ask Yes/No questions like “Do you like it?”

• Nod and smile to encourage interviewee, but don’t say “uhuhs” and “hmms” since they will be recorded on the audio track.

• Monitor audio with headphones, use a lavaliere mic when possible, sets levels on your mic.

• Listen and make mental notes of interesting points in the interview you can shoot later for b-roll.


• Outside noises will mar the audio track. Listen for Lawn mowers, airplanes, Musak, air conditioning and much more. Always wear headphones when recording audio so you can stop the interview if outside noise is too loud.

• Bright backgrounds like windows and white walls will be overexposed or “blown out” if you properly expose for the person. Move the subject or move the camera so the background is not overexposed.

• Automatic focus can cause lots of focus errors. Keep it in manual mode and only hit spot focus for a quick moment so auto-focus doesn’t start “hunting.”

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5 thoughts on “How To Shoot a Documentary Scene

  1. Hal

    Sorry about that, Dan. We’ve been struggling with that same issue. For some reason the print function works on all of our other articles, but not this one.

    You can, however, use your browser to print it. In Firefox for instance, just go to File/Print. It’s not perfect but it does work.

  2. MIchael Rosenblum

    Thanks for the credit for the 5-shot method. Your readers can find more at, our online video school. By the way, I don’t agree with the ‘crossing the line’ stuff. If you stick to the 5-shots, you don’t need them. Also, on the Interview part, first, ‘keep the camera on your shoulder’ – 99% of people who make docs today don’t use cameras that huge. I have not had a camera on my shoulder since 1988! Also, I WANT the subject to look into the lens. The whole point of an interview is to have the subject make eye contact with the viewer. Looking at the interviewer means the audience is looking at the subject’s ear. Try this experiment. Go home and tell you husband or wife something important. Don’t make eye contact. Show them your ear. See what follows.


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