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.

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Listen Up – Audio is Everything

Audio is everything in video. I can’t stress this enough. Most times “capturing audio” is a skill that still photographers don’t have. If your job is on the line – my suggestion is hire a good sound guy. If you’re doing a personal project and want to learn more about getting good sound, here are some tips.

• Don’t use the camera’s internal microphones, except for reference.
• Never use “auto” when recording audio. Turn off the AGC (automatic gain control) on the DSLR cameras.
• Get your microphones in close. For b-roll situations, you can get away with a shotgun mic mounted on the camera. But microphones mounted on cameras can pick up camera noises.
• Use a good wind screen or dead cat when outside. Even if you’re inside, on a windy day, with windows open, you can pick up wind noise.
• Use a good set of headphones. Over the ear is best but earbuds can be used in a pinch. Your audio meters tell you that you’re getting sound, but not if the sound is any good.
• Use shotgun microphones for your interviews. Get them in close to your subject – no more than 1-3 feet away.
• Lav microphones, attached to lapels can be used wired or wirelessly. Be careful with your positioning to avoid unnecessary noise from hair or jewelry.
• Go wired whenever you can. Resort to wireless solution if wired isn’t possible.
• Use an omni-directional or cardiod microphone when you are in more acontrolled situation and you want your sound coming from more directions.
• Don’t cross your audio cords with your electrical cords. This causes a hum that you will detect if you are wearing headphones.

Pay attention to audio. Start letting your ears do more of the work. Every room and situation has its own sound. Listen up.

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My DSLR Kit for a Three-Month Road Trip

For those who have been following this blog you know that I’m getting ready to depart for a 3-month trip around the world creating a documentary with my daughter – Opening Our Eyes.  Here is what I’ve managed to fit into two backpacks – it just fits.  Thank goodness there’s two of us.
Please follow our journey http://www.openingoureyes.wordpress.com

Canon 5D Mark II
Canon 7D
Canon 16-35mm 2.8
Canon 24-70mm 2.8
Canon 70-200mm 2.8
Canon 70-300mm 4.5
Canon 1.4X tele extender
Canon 2X tele extender
Nikon/Canon lens adaptor
Nikkor 14mm rectilinear lens f2.8
Nikkor 50mm 1.4
Nikkor 85mm f2
6 Batteries for Canon
1 Battery grip for 5D
3 Battery chargers
Remote control for Canon
AC adaptor for Canon
Rycote Hot shoe extension
4 – 16 GB flash cards – all cards – Sandisk UGMA
4 – 8 GB flash cards
2 – 8 GB SDHC cards
2  – 4 GB SDHD cards
Neutral density filter kit
Polarizer
Epson P6000 digital wallet
Zoom H4n digital audio recorder
JuicedLink DT454  audio preamp
Rode shotgun mic
Tram lav mic
Sennheiser Transmitter/Wireless kit
“Dead Cats” (windscreens)
XLR cords
Headphones
HD Hero helmet camera with attachments
Flip HD
ManfrottoTripod and fluid head
Small Matthews boom stand for mic
Reflector
Zacuto Z-Finder

Zacuto Striker Rig
Flex DSLR remote
Lacie Rugged Hard drives – 4000 GB memory!
Firewire and USB cords
3 – card readers
2 MacBookPro Laptops
1 extra laptop battery
1 extra AC adaptor for laptop
Kindle
iPod
Blackberry Tour
2 Scotte Vests – with 22 pockets in each

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