10 Tips For Getting GOOD Audio When Using a DSLR

If you’re like most of the professional still photographers I know, you have either expanded your business and offer videomicrophones (in addition to your still photography) to your clients, or have plans to.  If you do have future plans to offer video to your clients, then you are either learning the particulars of that skill set, or you are collaborating with others who are in the know, or both.

Perhaps, one of the most daunting components of video, for still photographers is audio. Capturing audio is totally foreign to a still photographer, yet it is the most important component of all, in video production.

Here are a few tips for getting good audio:

  • You’ll never get good audio using the camera’s built in microphone, – at least not for interviews. Don’t turn the camera’s audio off however.  You can use it later for reference audio 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 like the Samson Zoom H6 or the Tascam DR-60D with XLR connections.  I usually place a “lav” microphone on my subjects. I will also use a shotgun microphone, mounted (with shock mount) on a boom pole that’s on a fixed stand.  I rely on the microphone on the fixed stand, as opposed to hiring a boom operator, especially if I don’t have the budget for a big crew. 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. You can sync the sound with the video, later in post- production, using the software Plural Eyes.
  • Don’t cross your audio cords with your electrical cords. This causes a hum that you will detect if you are wearing headphones.
  • 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 and you want your sound coming from more directions – like on a sound stage.  “Lav” microphones can be used for interviews, either hard wired or with a wireless kit. Be careful when you attach it to your subject and position it 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). For interviews I use my cardiod Sennheiser ME66 with K6 powering module.
  • 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 And if you find yourself needing a wireless system, spend the money to get a system that has a good range.
  • Use a good windscreen or “dead cat” when outside. Even if you’re inside, on a windy day, with windows open, you can pick up wind noise.
  • Use headphones. Don’t just look at your meters.  Your meter may indicate that you are recording sound, but it may not be good sound – it could be you are picking up interference or getting distorted and clipped audio. Wear headphones and make sure that you are getting 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.

You can read more about what I brought with me in the way of gear, when I literally circled the globe, creating my first feature length film.  The film is now available on DVD.

If you’d like to know more about “moving into motion”, check out my book, The Craft and Commerce of Motion and Video.

Advertisements

What’s Next for Still Photography? Things We Could Never Begin to Imagine.

One of the only good things about getting older is that I have gained a lot of perspective. Fortune teller through window, Atlantic City, NJ I never speculate what the future will hold by limiting it to what’s possible now because…..

When I began studying photography at Brooks Institute in the early 1970’s

I never would have imagined:

  • That I would own a personal computer that would change the way I communicated with people and ran my business.
  • There would be the Internet, email and mobile phones.
  • There would be auto-focus cameras and lenses.
  • Cameras would be fully automated – if you so choose to use them that way. When I began my career as a photographer, I needed to be a technician, and that meant understanding aperture and shutter speed and a lot of other things that went into making a still image.
  • I would be shooting still images without film.
  • I wouldn’t be limited to 36 frames on a roll of film.
  • I could change the ISO on my camera, as need be.
  • I could change the white balance on my camera, as need be. (No need for different types of film)
  • I wouldn’t need to “get it right” in the camera because I could “fix it later in post” with Photoshop or hundreds of other apps.
  • I could see what I shot – right after I shot it.  Without waiting for the film to come back from the lab or taking Polaroids.
  • There would be data cards and hard drives able to store thousands of images at affordable prices.
  • I could transmit my images digitally and globally with ease and speed.
  • I could share my portfolio electronically with virtually anyone, anywhere in the world.
  • That still cameras would be able to shoot video.
  • That video cameras would be able to shoot at high resolution with fast shutter speeds – good enough to take still images from the frame grabs.
  • My mobile phone would be able to shoot high res still images and video.
  • Magazines and newspapers would publish electronically,  running stories online with static and moving imagery  – and sound.
  • I would be able to watch a movie in my own home.  (without being wealthy enough to build a home theater with analog projector and sound system).  This was before the VCR and DVR were invented.
  • That feature movies and TV shows (other than soap operas) would be shot in video.
  • I would be able to make a feature length film without a Hollywood budget and big crew.
  • I could self-publish and distribute a book or a movie without a publisher or movie studio.
  • My TV would have access to the Internet (I couldn’t even imagine the Internet)
  • The Internet would give birth to  “new networks” producing original content.
  • I would be competing and doing business on a global scale  – as a small business owner.

A lot of the things I listed seem commonplace or even old technology nowadays.  But, I when I first began my career as a photographer, I never would have imagined any of them – not in my wildest dreams.

What do you imagine the future will bring?  There’s one thing for certain, if you limit your imagination to what’s possible now – you probably won’t even come close to what’s in store in the future.

Polishing a Trailer

A trailer can attract someone to see your film or not.  It can determine if a film lives or dies. I just got back from Hawaii.  I had been visiting and working with my friend PF Bentley in Molokai and PF was color grading my trailer, balancing the audio and creating new title graphics.  I had been wanting to do that ever since I made the trailer over 2 years ago, but I didn’t have the know how, nor the proper software to do it.

Here are the BEFORE and AFTER versions of the trailer. Before and After These clips only illustrate the before and after in terms of color grading. PF also changed the title slates as well as greatly improved the audio, but these clips only show the “after” results as far as those changes.

Generally, a good trailer will peak your interest and make you want to see the film. But sometimes a trailer makes you feel like you’ve already seen the best parts of the movie, and that’s not good.  Trailers set the tone of the film.  They tease and introduce us to the characters and a bit of the story.  Thrillers evoke suspense with fast cuts while romantic love story trailers let shots linger on the screen.  Choice of music is integral to setting the tone, pace and rhythm of the trailer.  All these things combined is what makes a great trailer.

There are editors who specialize and only edit trailers.  Editing a trailer is different than editing the full film.  You don’t need to be concerned with explaining the whole story of the film. You need to tease the audience and make people want to see more. I have gone through a few variations of this trailer since the initial cut, each time shaving off a bit of time on it’s length. This latest revision was just to give the trailer more polish, smooth out the color and sound and create better graphics.  Overall it has made the trailer look more “movie” like and less like a video.

The best way to learn about making trailers is to watch a lot of them.  It’s pretty easy to find trailers online.  You can watch them on a film’s website or on a site like moviefone.com.  Check them out – It’s a great way to see first hand what makes a great trailer.

Mistakes Professional Still Photographers Make When “Moving” to Video

1.  They forget about the story – it’s not your camera that tells the story – it’s the person using the camera. Pretty visuals, slapped into a motion timeline with music, doesn’t necessarily tell a story.  Video is a story telling medium – don’t forget that.

2.  They think they already know how to shoot – if you think because you are a professional photographer and all you need to do is get a camera with a “video mode” on it, you are mistaken. Shooting in motion is far different than shooting still images. An experienced motion shooter can spot a video shot by a still photographer with little know how, right away.

3.  Thinking audio isn’t important – audio is more important than the visual when producing video.  Hire a sound person to do it right, but don’t discount it.

4.  Thinking the DSLR camera is all you need for video productions – this is a biggie.  How are you going to go after professional video jobs if this is the only tool in your kit?  Sure you can rent a RED – but make sure you are as proficient with this tool as your competition is before hanging out your “motion” shingle.

5.  Positioning themselves just as DP’s or Directors and thinking you’ll maintain ownership of your work. If you assume the role of a camera operator, DP or even a director – you will be in a work for hire position in most markets.  Position yourself as a producer – shoot if you want to – and direct – but realize that you’ll be just one rung on the “content ladder”.

6.  They don’t learn interview skills – this is what separates the pros from the still shooters who have DSLR cameras and think that’s all they need.  I’d say about  70% of my work includes on camera interviews.  Even though I ask the questions- I’m not on camera, my subject is.   I not only need to know how to ask the right questions and get great audio, but I need to produce a usable interview clip for an editor. That means knowing how to get great soundbites. This is one area I excel in – it’s all about rapport with your subject.

7.  They try to compete in “old business model” markets – Everyone wants to shoot broadcast spots and feature films (or short films) so they think that after shooting motion for only a few months – or even a year – they will be able to compete in the high end business of video production.  First, this market, like the still photography market,  has changed drastically, mostly marginalized by still photographers who are just starting to shoot motion,  shooting jobs for next to nothing because they have no understanding of this “business”.

8.  Learning the “how to’s” in terms of gear – but nothing about the business – this is also a biggie.  There are so many “how to shoot motion” workshops and roadshows out there but no one seems to be teaching the business end of things.  Still photographers think they already know “the business” but quickly realize that they don’t, and they put themselves out of business in this medium – before they’ve barely started.

9.  Teaching “how to” workshops in video with little or no experience – I can’t tell you how many photographers have called me for technical advice about some pretty basic stuff in terms of video,  and four months later they are teaching workshops. Please don’t become part of the problem and send more shooters out into this field without teaching them something about business. And if you are considering taking a workshop – do your homework and take the workshop from someone who is accomplished in this field and has done something.

10. They forget about the story – I know that’s #1 but it needs reinforcing.

Teaching and Learning – Four Weeks in China

It’s the start to a beautiful day in Brookside, NJ and I’m home at last after a long and arduous 4-week trip to China.  I had been teaching Chinese journalists, video journalism or new media as they refer to it in China.

I hadn’t fully realized how hard “teaching” really is until after these past four weeks.  To begin with, I was teaching a difficult subject – “how to produce and shoot short video stories”, to journalists at the “state’s” largest news and photo agency.  I had 4 days to teach 4 weeks worth of material –how to think and shoot in motion, edit video stories and upload them online. To make things even more difficult, everything I said had to be translated by my interpreter to my students, making the instruction take three times longer.

Each week my students amazed me by their eagerness to learn, despite coming to the class with the bare minimum in the way of  “tools”.  Some students didn’t even have cameras that could shoot video. Some had dated low res video cameras and no one had any audio gear at all.  When it came to the editing part of the program, their computers were under equipped to handle Adobe Premiere CS 5.5, which they had recently downloaded and installed on their PC’s. And yet, each class managed to produce a short story after less than four days!

This entire adventure was a lesson in collaboration. My students learned to collaborate.  Like most photojournalists they were used to working solo, so collaborating was a foreign concept to them.  But, collaboration is a common way of working when it comes to video and it was a necessity in China, because the students were lacking in gear.

I was part of a team of four teachers on this trip, so I too was working in a collaborative way.  That was equally tough, as I am used to working as an independent producer and accustomed to making my own decisions.  The other three photographers/teachers were also independent photographers, used to doing things their own way.  Egos collided from time to time within the group, yet we ultimately knew we needed to maintain the “group” in order to deal with the angst that came with doing this job. On top of that, our Chinese hosts wanted to control us.

I think we all learned a lot about each other in the process as this adventure played out.  I know I did.  But, I also learned a lot about myself. Perhaps, this was the purpose of this trip – to learn more about myself and grow from the experience.  Time will tell.

I can also say that I learned from my students.  There is always one student who feels that they already know everything, and usually tries to “stump the teacher”.  When this happens, I handle it with humility and thank the student for teaching me something that I did not know. I do not hide the fact that I don’t know everything.  And then I take the opportunity to relay to the rest of the class, that I never want to stop learning, no matter how old I get.  I tell them that in living this way, it has brought many rewards in my life and I encourage them to do the same.

I’m home now.  It’s a beautiful Sunday morning in Brookside, NJ and I’m reflecting on my last weeks, which remained an adventure until the end.  Chinese activist, Chen Guangcheng was on my flight from Beijing to Newark, NJ, seeking asylum in the US and making a new life for himself and his family.  As Chen adjusts to a totally new life in America, I’m happy to be home again with my freedom and liberties in tact.

Week One – Teaching in China

I’ve just wrapped up week one, teaching Chinese photojournalists, in Beijing, to think and shoot in motion.  Like any new job or new experience – the first day or the first week – is always the hardest.  The week flowed like any good story, with “ups” and “downs” but by Friday afternoon – my students triumphed and amazed me.

It’s difficult to teach any “still” photographer “motion” because so many photographers are so gear oriented, they underestimate the most important part of the process – thinking and shooting in motion.  I find that many times, still photographers think that all they need to do is switch their DSLR’s to “video mode” and shoot.  There’s a certain attitude amongst some professional photographers – that all they really need to do is get a camera that’s capable of shooting video.  But they quickly realize that there is a lot more to learn.

Day one, we talked about thinking and shooting in sequencing.  It took longer to get this message across, simply because everything needed to be translated into Chinese.  I showed examples that helped and then gave them an assignment to shoot a sequence of video clips that told the story.  The next day we reviewed the work of the students and they quickly understood the successful attempts and the not so successful results.  They also realized how different shooting motion is from shooting stills.  I had told them in class that “stills are moments in time” and “video is time in motion” but until they actually tried to shoot that way – and then analyzed their results in the critique – did they begin to understand. Many made the common mistake of moving the camera, rather than letting the motion happen in front of the camera and many produced video clips that didn’t relate to one another.

Day two we started to talk about audio.  That’s a subject that all still photographers underestimate because they don’t realize the importance of capturing good audio.  They think that their camera mics are sufficient in this task. After all, they are capturing sound.  It’s not until they can hear the difference between good audio and bad audio that they really begin to understand that audio is more important than the visual.  I could see the light bulbs going off the next day in the critique that they were beginning to understand this important concept.

Day three we talked more about the importance of audio and that when shooting with a DSLR camera, it is essential that they capture audio with an external microphone and a separate digital audio recorder.  After a morning in the classroom, we all headed out for a field trip.  I set up a situation where I did an interview of a subject and they shot the b-roll.  That evening, we broke into 3 groups (video is a collaborative effort) and they set off to capture a story, using everything we had learned in the past 3 days

Day four, we put a small dent into learning the vast editing application, Adobe Premiere.  That was perhaps the most challenging day for all of us.  I’m somewhat new to Premiere, since I’ve been editing in Final Cut Pro for the last 10 years, but it was the most viable solution since most of the students were using PC’s and Premiere is cross plat formed.  We learned the basics in the morning and in the afternoon – the hard work began.  The next day, we would be joining the other 3 groups who had been learning things like lighting and Lightroom and the clock was ticking to get their assignments edited.  I cannot even begin to tell you how amazed I was at how far these students had come in just 4 days – it was remarkable.

The next morning we showed our completed projects to the entire student body and other faculty.  Based on the resounding applause – I believe we amazed them as well. That evening we were all beyond exhausted, but my students invited me out for a “banquet”.  I was lucky  – many in my group spoke some English – so the evening was spent sharing stories and cultural experiences and food and drink.  It created a bank of memories that I will cherish.

We had two days of rest and our first day; we headed to a remote area of the Great Wall.  I shot some still images and then I needed to just take pause.  As the other 3 teachers continued to shoot – I knew I needed to stop and just take a moment to put the camera down and really “see” where I was.  I needed that time to absorb not only the week I had spent but to relish the “now” and think about where I was in the context of the world.  It’s those moments, when I put the camera down, that always create the memories that linger in my mind forever more.

Monetization of Photography in Spite of a Lousy Economy

I talk to a lot of photographers. I don’t define the word “photographer” by the type of camera he or she shoots with. Whether someone is shooting with a still camera, a traditional video camera, a motion picture film camera or a hybrid camera that shoots both stills and motion – a “photographer” these days is apt to embrace more than one of these tools.

Regardless of the tools you may use, I’ve come up with a few tips on how photographers can stay afloat and make money in this continued stagnant economy.

  • Think outside the box – don’t think of yourself as one who just shoots still images. Even your “still” clients will have a need for motion imagery these days.  It may not warrant the need for them to hire a big video production crew to make a broadcast spot.  But it could be one of your corporate clients needs a “talking head” for their website. Even if you don’t shoot motion or don’t want to – collaborate with someone who has these skills to fill your client’s needs instead of sending your clients  elsewhere.
  • You don’t need someone else to commission your services in order for you to make a living. When photographers take on personal projects, not only are they creating a buzz and getting noticed by potential clients, they are also creating their own “content” to monetize. It is possible now to get our content to market without the need of a middleman. Portals are open and plentiful to all.
  • Take advantage of what is “free”, rather than be put out of business by it. There are so many ways to build your brand and get noticed without spending a fortune. The costs of building and maintaining a website have dropped significantly because of advances in technology. And utilizing social media to create a buzz and get the word out about your company is virtually free with Facebook, Twitter,LinkedIn and YouTube. But be prepared to do the work and discipline yourself because this territory is ripe with distractions.
  • Re-purpose your content. If you’ve been blogging or have something useful to share – consider packaging your “knowledge” into ePubs, podcasts or “how to” webinars. One thing I’ve learned about making an ePub is that you can either do it yourself or hire a formatter so that it gets to market quickly – via Amazon, Barnes and Noble or the iTunes platform. Price it right – and offer more than one ePub at a time. (I’m working on my 2nd ePub now) In this market, if someone has just spent $3 or $4 to buy your ePub and they see you have another one for sale – it’s not a big stretch for them to buy that other book you offer at the same time.
  • Collaborate with others. Partner with others to put on webinars, podcasts, call in phone seminars etc. Use this opportunity to build your own brand. Don’t always feel that you have to be the only “act” offered. In fact many times, if you join forces with other creatives, it will get you further than if you are the only speaker in a half filled room. Get out there and get noticed and learn from your colleagues at the same time.
  • Be authentic. I cringe when I write that word because it has become a bit trite. I guess in a way I have always been authentic. In fact I just can’t help myself. If you are true to yourself, you will be ready, eager and able to work hard on your dreams. And hard work is exactly what is necessary to make it in this profession.  You’ve got to want it bad enough in order to do the work. If you are a clone of other photographers, you’re career will be short lived. I guarantee the photographers that you are emulating will be “moving on” because their passion is driving them to new things. So, what happens to the cloned versions then?
  • Don’t focus solely on the money. Easy to say and really hard to embrace when you can’t pay your mortgage. But look at any successful person – I don’t care which business you choose to look toward in terms of finding successful people – but you’ll see that most people who have “made it big” were not driven by the money. I’m not saying that money is not important, but if you are solely focused on the money and not on the act of creating – it will show.   Being too focused on the  money part of the equation, can sometimes push it away. People sense it. It’s human nature to want to be around a “winner” – not someone who is begging for a job to keep them afloat financially.
  • Be patient. Everything turns around. While the old days and ways of doing things won’t come back, better opportunities will replace them. Don’t be paralyzed by your own fears. Do what you can that won’t cost you a lot of money and there is plenty you can do. Work social media, learn new skills – audio, editing, writing etc., network with people, create new content for ePubs, webinars, and podcasts. Use your imagination, pursue what you are passionate about and when the economy turns around – you’ll be ready.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine