Video and Stills #3 - The run and gun approach to audio that will make sound engineers cry

As photographers we generally don’t care too much about audio but with video it is a totally different story Good sound will make or break your video but more annoyingly there is no simple fix all solution. I remember seeing TV news companies with their camera man and also a guy running around with a bag holding his recorder a pair of headphones and a boom mic. The reason for this is audio is a specialism, a discipline all of its own. It needs to be lovingly monitored and tweaked which is why they employed the sound guy. Move on a few years and I now see local news teams where the cameraman now has to do the sound as well. And then there are us … who take pictures, record video and sound.

So what is the answer? The simple answer is there is no simple answer.  It is going to have to be a compromise.

I have started using an on camera shotgun microphone. There are various options out there, I have a Takstar SGC-598 - it is great and brilliant value for money. I also have a Rode Videomic pro which gets lots of good reviews. They are both good pieces of kit but as always it is not what you have but how you use it that makes the difference.

Shot gun mics are directional and work really well if you are within a few feet of your subject. The first issue you will have do deal with is setting the level, ideally you should have a set of headphones and manually set the record level. This is easier said than done if you are run and gunning and you might have to resort to using the auto gain setting on your camera. This is probably the audio equivalent of putting your camera on P for Program. It is not ideal and will not always work or give you good results but trying to set audio levels with camera one on your monopod and camera two round your neck is not an easy option.

If you are recording someone talking then it is best to get your microphone within a few feet of your subject or better still to use a lavalier mic attached to your victim. I have an extension lead so that I can get the mic off the camera and closer to the subject but this presents another set of issues - once off the camera what do you do with it. It would be nice to have a boom stand or something convenient but that is unlikely and the best advise I can give is improvise. Perhaps there is a convenient table or wall, or a willing volunteer lightstand or last resort give it to the person talking.

Trust me getting the microphone close to the subject is very, very important. Do not think you can just leave the mic on top of the camera and ‘get away’ with it. If you don’t believe me take a look at the following video. I was at this event taking pictures for the charity - one that I have supported for a number of years. As always my main objective was good stills to be used in press releases etc. I also offered to make a little video. The event was fairly fast moving and very, very noisy. I was quite happy with what I had filmed until I got home and started editing. The sound was awful and most of the problems could have been avoided by getting the mic off the camera and closer to the subjects. I thought it was too inconvenient or that I didn’t have time. This demonstrates why you have to make time! The video is still quite nice but could have been so much better with decent audio.

Learn from my mistakes.

And this is some of the pictures in the press release.

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