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In a perfect world, budgets would be unlimited and you could hire a top-notch sound person for every production. But for students, amateurs, or professionals on a shoe-string budget, you probably don’t have the funds available to do that. This doesn’t preclude you from stepping up the quality of your audio. Here are five steps you can take that can help your sound.
1. Pay more attention to sound while filming (just by opening your ears)
Yes, you have more than enough to pay attention to when you’re behind the camera, but a little attention to what is happening sonically can pay off. Just listen; is there traffic going by quietly in the distance? Some hum from a ventilation system? Take a few moments and listen to the place in which you are going to shoot—identifying and solving an audio problem before you roll is much easier than trying to solve it in post.
2. Don’t rely on your camera’s built-in microphone for your main audio
You hear this one a lot, but with good reason. Your camera’s microphone is less than ideal for recording quality audio. It is subject to your camera’s internal noise, and generally provides lackluster results, at best. There are countless affordable and camera-mountable alternatives available, such as the RØDE VideoMic or Shure’s LensHopper. Your built-in recorder, however, can be very handy indeed. We’ll get to that in just a moment.
3. Get the right tools for the job
If you are looking to buy, borrow, or rent your audio equipment, it is of paramount importance to pick the right tools for the job. With shotgun mics, you have the option to mount them on your camera or place them off-camera, closer to the action. However, if you’re filming an interview or a scene with quiet dialog, a shotgun mic might pick up too much room sound, resulting in boomy dialog that feels “far away.” In this case, you are most likely going to reach for a lavalier system or a handheld mic.
Another tool worth its weight in audio gold is a portable digital recorder. There is no shortage of options here, and they range from low-memory, flash-based recorders to SD-card recorders with an array of built-in microphones, so you can really cater to your needs. An important feature you should seek on a recorder is a line output jack. Check out suggestion Number 4 to find out why.
4. Create a reference track
Even though you’re not using your camera’s built-in mic, you can still make good use of its audio-recording capabilities. A few portable digital recorders feature a line-level output that you can connect to your camera’s mic input (using a line-to-mic attenuator cable), giving you the option to record audio simultaneously on both devices. This creates a reference track, which can make syncing the higher-quality audio from the recorder much easier in post.
5. Learn about the basic features of your gear
While you can easily record quality audio without learning all the intricacies of your microphones, wireless systems, or recorders, having a working knowledge of their basic functions will help you solve problems quickly on a shoot. Even some of the most popular systems have a reputation for being a bit confusing to use, so spending some time reading manuals, asking for advice, or consulting online resources can be time very well spent.