Use a microphone – not the one on the camera
Audio is either good or bad, there’s no in-between. Some people think that they can get by with sub-par audio but if you consider yourself a professional then you need to settle for nothing less than perfect audio. In order to do this you need to start with the basics. Our first topic; microphones.
The mic on the camera should be your last resort mic
Proper placement of the microphone is essential to good sound, so do you really think that your getting good audio if you’re 10 feet away from the person talking? It’s not going to happen. In order to get really good audio the microphone needs to be as close to the person speaking as possible. This is usually achieved by putting on a lavaliere mic on the person or using a shotgun microphone on a boom pole. Those are the only two viable options. Really. If you think that the camera mic is going to do a bang-up job for you – please just put a lav on the talent and listen to the difference. I have said it before and I’ll say it again . . . you can always fix the video that you shoot but you can NEVER fix the audio. If it’s bad there is only one fix . . . ADR. That means re-record it again. That’s expensive and it’s difficult. Buy a mic. Rent a mic. Do what you have to do but please just record good audio the first time around. Ok, enough preaching. Let’s talk about how to do it.
Lavaliere microphones, or lav mics, are the easiest to use. You can use wireless lavs and give yourself some mobility or you can use hardwire lavs and keep your talent close by. Either way, you will get better audio than the mic that is on the camera. Hardwire lavs are a little cheaper to purchase but there are some wireless solutions that are inexpensive and would work well. Actually the best solution is to hire an audio operator with his own gear. If you don’t have the budget for that, start meeting people in your community that are interested in filmmaking and video production. You might find some audiophiles that would be happy to help for the experience.
If you can’t meet anyone that is willing to help you out then move on to the next best solution – a shotgun mic on a boom pole. This is a more economical solution than a wireless mic but it will give you more flexibility than a hardwire lav. Don’t get me wrong, these are still expensive. However, you can invest in a good shotgun with a boom pole for much less than a wireless lav and it will still give you enough mobility. Just remember to get that mic as close to the person talking as possible. You might be able to find a sensible solution on ebay or even Radio Shack but like anything else in this business, you get what you pay for . . . so pay attention to what you’re purchasing. Do a quick Google search on the model number of any piece of equipment that you are planning on purchasing to get reviews from people. Could save you a ton of trouble. Obviously, the cheaper you go the less impressive the sound quality. However, I still say that a cheap Radio Shack shotgun mic close to your talent is better than the on-camera mic that will be 10 feet away. Just keep that in mind when you’re making your audio decisions. Feel free to comment below if you feel differently.
There is a purpose for the on-camera mic
If you are shooting b-roll or you are just capturing some documentary style video, the on-camera mic is not a bad solution. It is easier to move around with the mic on the camera. It is also easier to grab some tricky shots without being tethered to an audio guy. However, make sure that you are comfortable with the audio that you are getting. (This is where I tell you to WEAR HEADPHONES to listen to your audio.) If it is ambient sound that you’re after – you’ll be just fine. I wanted to add one last thing about the on-camera mic. There are situations where it can be useful. For example, I used the on-camera mic this weekend to record primary audio for a shoot involving S.C.U.B.A. divers. The subjects were in the water and I didn’t want to have them wear lavs (for obvious reasons) but I also didn’t have an extra person to operate a boom. In this case, I made sure that I was a.) wearing headphones and b.) very close to the talent. I actually had no real issue with the on-camera mic but remember, I was very close to the person talking. That is the only way it will work. The on-camera mic is, after all, a shotgun mic. Just get it close to your subject and you should have no trouble at all – unfortunately, it’s hard to get creative when the camera is really close to the talent. So unless you’re planning on a day of wide shots, go get yourself a microphone.
If the audio is extremely important – think about your microphones. Seriously. Think about your microphones. You don’t get a second chance to capture good audio. Make sure that you get it right the first time. Proper sound is definitely the difference between amateur and professional. Keep that in mind on your next shoot.
Photo: Roadside Guitars