It can be a distraction for knowing what you need versus what a large production company with unlimited resources might need. So this list will give you a nice lean collection of the minimums to capture professional quality sound for your projects. Note: This assumes that you are aware of cables, media cards, card readers or any other devices to transfer the data to your editing system.
This list of 7 items that everyone should have in their audio toolkit, plus, as a bonus, a couple extra audio tools that aren’t necessary but can make your life much easier.
1. Shotgun Mic
Now this may sound like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how often people will try to capture audio on a camera’s built-in microphone only to be disappointed by the noise that is also recorded. Shotgun mics are designed to be very directional in nature and capture the sound that the microphone is pointed toward.
2. Portable Recorder
No microphone is complete without one these. This is the workhorse of your audio capture capability. Now, there are several options for recorders on the market at varying prices and capabilities, all of which have unique features and options that you may or may not use. So, research is key in this department.
3. Mic Mount
This one is key. While handholding a microphone is sometimes necessary, there is a good chance that the slightest movement with register as a large sound to the microphone. The type of mount you need will definitely depend on the type of shooting, so let’s break this down a little further.
If you are in a situation where you have to run-and-gun without an opportunity to set up, for instance at a wedding or trade show where you are capturing candid comments, your ideal option would be to have a camera shoe mount for the mic. Whereas if you are shooting an interview at a desk, a normal microphone stand that sits on a desktop may be all you need.
This is another biggie. It is impossible to capture clean, quality audio if you have no way to properly hear what’s being recorded. There are zillions of brands and styles of headphones in today’s market. Hyperbole aside, the three major styles are over-the-ear, on-the-ear and in-the-ear (earbuds).
A good pair of headphones, (emphasis on “good”) can make a world of difference in capturing quality, audible sound versus capturing some sound mixed with wind noise, ambient sound and a hovering helicopter. Also, a good tip is to not choose “noise canceling” headphones. Noise canceling may cause a poor representation of the audio being recorded.
5. On Camera Mic
Hey! Wait a minute! You just said that capturing audio on the camera’s microphone is a bad idea! What’s going on?! This knee-jerk reaction is the proper one. While the whole point of having the extra gear is to capture high quality, professional sounding audio, the camera’s microphone provides an invaluable reference for the audio recorder’s audio. What’s this mean? A benefit of having audio recorded on your camera is that it is always in perfect sync with the video. During the post-production process, you have a way to line up your recorder’s audio to the video without pulling your hair out.
6. Lavalier Microphone
Also called a “lav”, this is a great way to capture audio on talent without having to follow them with a boom microphone. This is especially helpful if the talent is farther away from the camera or constantly on the move. Another benefit is that the audio remains consistent during takes because the microphone is stationary relative to the subject being recorded. Now, a quick search for wireless lavaliers will turn up that the prices start at a few hundred dollars up to several thousands for what seems like the same thing.
More than anything else, putting a windscreen – or sometimes known as a “dead cat” – on your microphone will help cut out the environment sound that may be inadvertently recorded during shooting. There are multiple types of windscreens ranging from most common foam to a furry microphone cover. This fuzzy microphone accessory is quite successful at eliminating a significant amount of wind noise as well.
A pop filter/hoop wind screen. This is great for studio recording. When someone must speak directly into a microphone there is a tendency for words that have “B”s, “P”s and “T”s (also called plosives) to give the audio a popping sound which is difficult to correct in post. A pop filter will cut the wind sound of these letters into the microphone and greatly reduce and corrective work.
A boom holder. This cannot be overstated, but only when it is needed. Doesn’t make sense? Well, if you find yourself at a shoot and don’t have anyone to hold the boom pole for you. This will immediately make sense. A boom holder attaches to any C-stand and acts like your boom operator with the exception of being able to follow multiple speakers.
Ok. You get all that? Well, don’t fret if you didn’t. Some of these concepts might seem foreign, but with a little practice it will become second nature. This is especially true if you can’t afford a sound recordist on your projects.
Steve Everson holds a Master’s in Motion Picture and Television Producing and works as a freelance producer.