ASMP — American Society of Media Photographers

How do You Sound? Tips for Better Audio When Using a DSLR

Perhaps, one of the most daunting components of video production for still photographers is capturing good audio. Audio is everything. If your audience can’t hear or understand the dialog in your video, they’ll walk away. If I have the budget, I will hire a sound person.

Check out these videos to hear what good audio sounds like:

Audio captured with internal microphone of Canon 5D Mark II (same card as video)

Audio captured with Samson Zoom H4N (digital recorder and separate card)

Here are a few tips for getting good audio:

  • You won’t get good audio by using the camera’s built in microphone – at least not for interviews. However, don’t turn off the camera’s audio. You can use it as a reference when syncing sound later in post-production.
  • Use external microphones for capturing audio interviews. Ideally, you should record your interview audio using a digital recorder with XLR connections like theSamson Zoom H6 or the Tascam DR-60DmkII. I generally place a “lav” microphone (lavalier) on my subjects. I will also use a shotgun microphone, mounted (with shock mount) on a boom pole that’s on a fixed stand. If I have the budget for a crew and I’m shooting on the fly, then I’ll hire a boom operator. If you should decide to use an amateur or assistant as a “boom operator”, rather than hire an experienced operator who knows how to capture “consistent” audio, you’ll most likely end up with poor audio captured at inconsistent levels. The shotgun microphone should be about 12-18 inches away from your subject.
  • For run and gun” situations, you can probably get away with using a microphone mounted on the camera, as long as you are close to your audio source. You can either run a microphone (with a mini plug) directly to the camera OR you can run a microphone with an XLR adaptor through a pre-amp like a JuicedLink or a Beachtek,which will yield a cleaner audio capture. This works well for capturing ambient sound for b-roll or live action, and your audio will be recorded to the same card as your video. If you do want to capture your interview audio using a microphone mounted on the camera, make sure that you get your camera in close to your subject (not more than 18 inches away), and that you us a mixer or a pre-amp.
  • Microphones – Use an omni-directional or cardiod microphone when you are in a more controlled situation, like a sound stage, and you want your sound coming from more directions. “Lav” microphones (lavaliers) can be used for interviews, either hard wired or with a wireless kit. Carefully attach and position the mic on your subject to avoid any unnecessary noise coming from hair or jewelry rubbing up against it. A good camera mounted microphone is the Sennheiser MKE 400 (compact shotgun) or the MKE 600. For interviews I use my cardiod Sennheiser ME66 with K6 powering module. The Rode NTG2 is also a nice, lightweight condenser shotgun mic.
  • Use a wireless system only when you NEED to. In cities like New York you can get a lot of interference on various frequencies. Always go wired when you can. A great and affordable hard-wired “lav”, is the SonyECM44B If you find yourself needing a wireless system, spend the money to get a system that has a good range. A popular wireless kit is the Sennheiser evolution G3.
  • Use a good windscreen or “dead cat” when outside. Even if you’re inside on a windy day with the windows open, you can pick up wind noise.
  • Use headphones. Don’t just look at your meters. Your meters may indicate that you are recording sound, but it may not be good sound. You could be picking up interference or getting distorted or clipped audio. Wear headphones and make sure that you are capturing quality sound.
  • Always consider that you will be using the audio – even for your b-roll. You will need clean usable audio for b-roll, even if it’s only intended as ambient, background sound.
  • Pay attention to audio. Start by letting your ears do more of the work. Every room and situation has its own sound. Listen up. Be quiet and tell your crew to be quiet as well. You never know when you’ll want to use the audio – even if you think you won’t need it.

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