Audio / Tips and Solutions

Basic Tips and Tricks for Electronic News Gathering (ENG)

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If you’re an audio person who likes the adrenaline rush of on-location recording, you’ve got options for work. On the music side, there are on-sight jazz records, classical concerts, and rock venues. But you also might want to take on-location gigs for other media—movies, TV web series, and our chosen topic of today, ENG.

But wait—what is ENG?

ENG stands for Electronic News Gathering. You know when you watch the news and they cut from the studio to some poor schmoe stuck in a hurricane describing the rain? That’s an example of ENG.

It’s not to be confused with EFP—Electronic Field Production, which comprises a more complicated setup; often with ENG, you’re recording one or two channels of audio straight to the camera. You might be routing this audio through a mixer on its way to the camera, but at the end of the shoot, the camera person should have a synced, “taped” product ready to hand to a higher-up. The chain of equipment used in ENG can often be quite simple—a couple of mics, a couple of cables, a wireless rig, and a mixer are often enough for your typical, “IT’S RAINING SIDEWAYS!!!” kind of reporting.

EFP, on the other hand, allows you to shape the situation, not merely respond to it in real time. The production can plan for multiple sound-capturing devices, various camera setups, lighting rigs. With all that, additional considerations must be kept in mind, such as timecode synchronization. EFP is a topic for another article, but you should be aware of its existence—and the info you glean here will be applicable to both disciplines. Now let’s dive in with some tips and tricks, the first of which is…

Get the Right Gear

For ENG, you don’t need more than what we mentioned above. But what kind of mic do you get? And what if wireless is called for? (Hint: much of the time, it is.) Here’s where we can be of service.

Microphones to consider should be broken down into three basic categories: handheld, lavalier, and shotgun. The handheld mic is for the person you see speaking on camera, much like the unfortunate correspondent we left stuck in the rain earlier. Lavaliers (AKA lapel mics) are more discreet, and therefore, quite useful when two people need to talk to each other with full use of their hands.

Many ENG cameras come with integrated shotgun mics, so chances are the one you’d provide would sit on a boompole suspended over the shot. In such cases, this mic often records the bulk of the audio used.

You’ll find an industry standard for handheld mic in the EV RE50. Most of the time you’ll need a wireless rig, and that can be handled by something like this Sennheiser Combo System, which provides a lavalier mic, a bodypack transmitter, a receiver, and a plug-on transmitter for turning a handheld mic into a wireless unit. Purchase one or more additional Lav mics. For shotguns, a lot of people love the value of the RØDE NTG 2. We’ve paired it with various kits to better suit your situation.

Electro-Voice RE50L Omnidirectional Dynamic Shockmounted ENG Microphone with Long Handle

It would also behoove you to acquire a field mixer, so that you can utilize a discrete preamp section in mixing signal to the camera—and in case you run into a situation where timecode jamming or timecode sync might become necessary. Sound Devices has long been a standard for field recorders, but the Zoom F8 is a worthwhile choice, as well.

Sound Devices 633 Compact Field Mixer Kit with Carrying Case

Finally, purchase some utility items—a case for your mixer, a bag to transport items to the gig, a boompole, boompole polish, all the cabling you’d need, extra batteries, tools, and such. And don’t forget cans: you’ll want to get closed-back headphones you trust. The Sony MDR-7506 are widespread throughout the industry. I happen to be a fan of the Audio-Technica ATH M50X, but there are numerous great options. Now, some tips for how to comport yourself on the shoot.

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Monitor Headphones

Make Sure the Camera Is Receiving Sound

There’s a tried-and-true method for this. Most ENG cameras—for example, the Sony PXW-X320—sport two XLR inputs for external mics. After routing your mixer to those ports, you’ll want to send a test tone, usually at 1 kHz, to the camera (a mixer like the Zoom F8 will provide onboard tone generators). When the levels sound good on the outputs of both the mixer and the camera, you tape the settings down so they can’t be accidentally tweaked.

Sony PXW-X320 XDCAM Solid-State Memory Camcorder with Fujinon 16x Servo Zoom Lens

Always Monitor Through the Camera

Ultimately, the audio you’re delivering routes through the pipeline of the camera-person’s feed. If the sound is fantastic on the mixer, but you’re getting no signal in the camera, that’s a problem.

Make Use of Set-Up Time Wisely

Handling the audio in ENG is a run-and-gun situation comprising lots of different setups; from making sure the in-camera mic is set up, to holding the boom, you’ll have to accomplish a lot in little time. Make use of the minutes wisely. Set up your rig alongside the camera person. If talent is conducting a pre-interview, use the opportunity to test their lavs (with permission, of course). The important thing is this: Don’t waste time. Time is money.

Make Sure You Check for Phase

If you’re running more than one microphone—say a boom and a lav, for example—phase cancellation can always be an issue. You don’t want to end up with wimpy sounding vocals, especially since your mixer will be passing summed audio onto the camera. So, make sure you check the phase relationship between any two signals. Sure, you can use external gear or your mixer’s meters for this—taking note of whether the outputs are louder when you flip the polarity of one of the signals—but it’s best to use your ears, and headphones will make it plain: go for the tone that sounds the most present, most rich, and least wimpy.

Always Watch Where the Camera is Pointing

Under no circumstances do you want to be seen in the shot. As ENG is a reactive situation, you should always watch where the camera is pointing so you can scurry out of its angle of view if need be.

Record A Backup to Your Field Recorder

Even though audio is feeding the camera most of the time, and even though ENG is quick and dirty, there is always editing—and the possibility of needing to fix something in post does exist. If, for whatever reason, something happens to the camera’s audio feed, your backup will come in handy.

Take Notes

Taking notes is more of an EFP thing—keeping track of which takes had an airplane flying overhead or other sonic inconsistencies—but you still want to keep basic notes of what’s going on in the shoot. That way, in case your audio is needed in editing, you can locate moments with relative ease.

Keep Backward Compatibility in Mind

Some broadcast teams are still running with tape. Let me repeat that: Tape. As this is the case, make sure every choice you make, and every piece of gear you buy, can interface with the analog world in its ultimate state.

Those are our basic tips for ENG. If you have more, feel free to post them below, in the Comments section.

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Honestly, what this article doesn't tell you is audio operators are only used at the network level. Local ENG you are shooting, acquriring audio and editing it all. (And I believe network crews are editing in the field more and more as well) At the network level it is probably about 85% freelance crews, and most shooters are picky about their boom ops. A lot of times the audio huy is well versed in shooting and may come from the same freelance company where the crewing may dictate who does what. You would be well served to have a plan B, C and D if you are starting out. Do EFP work as well, just realize in news a lot of days you don't know what is coming at you, which means you may get a lunch break, you may not. Some days will be 90% downtime, and somedays you are running your butt off from start to finish 16 hours later. If you are doing freelance be ready to say yes everytime the phone rings. You don't want your name at the bottom of a very large pile of names. One or two no's and you'll be there. And having been in news for over 20 years I would look strongly at Lectrosonics wireless systems, they are the bedrock of ENG. Rode's new stick mic is pretty solid as well, and I think may have a better warranty than the RE50. Both are workhorses. It isn't easy at any level local to network, and these days you are pretty much hated by everyone, but it is hell of a front row seat to history.

What is EFP?

EFP? found it in Annotating on the Fly article. = Electronic Field Production. Thanks for supplying abbreviation translations.

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