A “talking head.” It’s a quick term to describe news broadcasters or perhaps your favorite ‘80s band. But where did it originate, and how has it become ubiquitous in our most commonly-consumed media? In this article, we’ll break down the definition of the term as well as provide some examples of how this simple camera setup can do a lot.


First, let’s define what is a talking head

Since its origins, this term has now morphed to mean multiple things, depending on the kind of media you’re consuming. Before we get too deep, let’s define it.


What is a talking head?

A “talking head” is a term that describes a camera set-up that only features the subject’s head and shoulders, giving the impression that they are a floating, “talking head.” This term’s etymology began in news broadcasting, where subjects would appear to offer information and opinions as “talking heads” floating next to the anchor.

Talking Head Examples:

  • Nightly news reports on networks like CNN and NBC
  • News-focused shows like The Rachel Maddow Show
  • Documentaries like Grizzly Man
  • Brand marketing videos shot by influencers


What is the purpose of a “talking head”?

“Talking heads” are often utilized in media as an authority on a topic, an academic with a specific opinion, or as a general truth-teller to their personal story in a documentary interview. Often when we find “talking heads” in TV, film, or social media, we tend to be more engaged with their message simply due to the intimate camera set-up.

Most prominently, we find “talking heads” within news media, where journalists and on-camera hosts are often inserted into a broadcast to comment or dispute an ongoing news story.

In these cases, they’re often reporting from the scene of the story or streaming in from another studio. Sometimes entire news shows can be constructed around gathering “talking heads” to debate a topic, often referred to as “news round tables.” 

What is a Talking Head Talking Head Example StudioBinder

Jake Tapper reports from the White House in this example of a talking head


Talking heads in documentaries

The “talking head” camera set-up for news media typically features a subject from the shoulders-up, speaking directly to the camera. However, this composition becomes a little less precise when used for documentary.

Due to the nature of documentary subjects often speaking on an intimate topic, their camera set-up tends to be not as severe. Often you’ll find these “talking heads” engaged with an off-camera producer, with the editing cutting back and forth between two or more camera set-ups.

These can still be considered talking heads due to the purpose of engaging the viewer head-on and usually to suggest they’re speaking with authority.

In this talking head video example, documentary subjects are the main focus


Talking heads in social media

What is a “talking head” when it comes to social media? As the “talking head” has become omnipresent, so too has its use in social media videos, more specifically for Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.

In these examples, the “talking head” shot composition may be employed similar to its news media and documentary counterparts, imbuing their video’s message with authority and the host the “go-to expert” for this particular topic.

Another example of the social media “talking head” can come from “the selfie video,” where the subject speaks directly to camera to either speak on a personal story or promote a product or brand.

As corporations continue to invade this space, they’re predominantly using the “talking head” by way of the influencers to get their brand message out and their products sold.

Social Media has modernized the talking head video


How to shoot a talking head

Whether you’re looking to start a YouTube channel or shoot a documentary, learning how to properly compose a “talking head” is an important tool to have in your filmmaker tool belt.

But what do you do when you don’t have a whole film crew at your disposal? No problem. In the video below, you’ll learn how to set-up your “talking head” shot on your own, find the right equipment to make it look professional as well as tips and tricks for polishing and tightening your script. 

Video Supply breaks down the best ways to film a talking head

Up Next

Ultimate Guide to Shot Sizes

Talking heads tend to have a similar shot size but there are many other options available. Next time you decide to shoot an interview, why not mix it up with a close-up or a full shot? In the next article, learn about all the various shot sizes and how to use them. 

Up Next: Every Shot Size Explained →
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  • Julia Mayfield is a writer/comedian from North Hollywood with a Bachelor's Degree in Film Studies from Chapman University. She's written for shows airing on Disney, Netflix, Nickelodeon, Amazon, and more.

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