"Ensure your Movie
has the best possible video sound track."
Article by Will Hutchinson
To a dedicated stills photographer, sound may only
have reared its noisy head in the form of random canned music piped
along to a slideshow. When it comes to making moving images of any
length or genre however, sound should be considered with extra care.
Ever since the release of the first proper talkie - The Jazz Singer, in
1927 - sound in all its forms has been inextricably embedded in movies,
indeed some consider it to be responsible for as much as 90% of the
whole movie viewing experience.
While thinking about this extra
dimension, I stepped out into the walled garden behind my office. I
could hear the bang and crash of a neighbouring building site, the
shouts of children at playtime in a nearby school, a distant siren, an
aeroplane on its way to Heathrow, and several squawking seagulls. In
just a few seconds, I heard and understood a complex and constant
soundtrack, none of which I could actually see, but all of which I
could distinguish perfectly.
RECORDING: BASIC TIPS
camera, SOUND, action! The single best piece of advice is simply to be
conscious that you are recording audio, and that you have another set
of factors to consider before hitting ‘record’. As well as looking at
your subject, listen to it. Are you shooting directly into the wind?
Can you wait until that ambulance has passed out of earshot? Is your
subject clearly audible?
Sound should be considered equally important
as exposure or focus. Have you got the best composition for both sound
and picture? Be aware that audio recording is also sensitive to sound
outside your field of view, and that, while people talking behind the
camera won’t be seen, they will most certainly be heard. Don't be
afraid to use the legendary words, 'Quiet on set!'
Cutting from one
shot to another at the editing stage creates discontinuity, but having
an audio track that blends between shots can restore this continuity.
With this in mind, hold your shot a little longer at the start and end
of a take, to give you some leeway in the edit, and consider recording
some background noise to add ambience later.
If you are outside in a
windy situation, find somewhere sheltered from direct wind, and record
some atmosphere from there. Adding this audio at the editing stage
balances out the cuts and adds depth to the scene.
BUILT IN OR
If you can record sound separately, you probably should -
the results from a dedicated recorder and microphone will undoubtedly
be superior to sound recorded directly from your camera’s mic. However,
as well as the additional cost and hassle of syncing separate audio,
the benefits of shooting HD video on a small, unobtrusive device are
negated if you need an extra pair of hands for recording sound.
don’t record audio separately, a dedicated microphone will help improve
results, especially if recording outside. You could consider a
directional mic such as the Rode NTG-2, with a separate baffle (the
cost, size and unwieldy nature of this make it only of interest for
more serious productions), or a simpler all-in-one model like the Rode
I conducted some tests using the built-in mic on a Canon EOS
550D and the two Rode mics mentioned. The EOS has an autogain function,
which renders these tests imperfect, but they still show clear
differences in quality.
CANON EOS 550D BUILT-IN MIC
|The EOS 550D’s
built-in mic is actually very useable in controllable indoor
environments. Outside, in even a slight breeze, it doesn't fare so
well, suffering badly from wind noise. Also, you need to be aware where
the microphone on your camera is situated. On the EOS 550D, it is on
the front top left of the camera body, a position that is easy to
accidentally cover with an errant finger - the audio equivalent of
putting your finger over the lens.
built-in microphone visible in its top left hand corner.
Most built-in mics are also very
sensitive to autofocus noise, and to any noise conducted through the
body of the camera. So don't use autofocus during filming, and be
careful with any hand movements.
all in one videomic on Canon EOS 550D.
|Rode's budget dedicated
solution comes with all you need to record better audio from your
camera (even with autogain). A directional shotgun mic, it comes with a
foam windshield, and is seated on a shock proof mounting, which in turn
sits on a cold shoe mount, so it can slot right on top of your camera.
The microphone's built-in lead plugs straight into the 3.5mm jack on
the side of your camera.
When using this, wind noise was massively
reduced, and could be reduced still further with the addition of a fake
The directional nature of the mic also tends to improve the
issue of autogain picking up and amplifying external environmental
sounds in quiet indoor conditions, resulting in your subject being more
The only downside I could see to this mic is that the
rubber mounts holding the mic on the shock mount are quite flimsy, and
the mic is
not very well protected, so you wouldn't want to throw this in your kit
bag without finding a solid case for it.
NTG-2 AND RODE BLIMP
microphone and Rode Blimp, on Canon EOS 550D.
high-end Rode NTG-2 is a professional quality standalone microphone,
and as such doesn’t come with the required XLR lead, and has no
anti-shock mount, and no way of attaching to your camera directly. It
does however come with a simple baffle, and a mount suitable for
attaching to a boom pole.
The professional XLR connector this
microphone uses is an issue if you want to connect it directly to your
camera too. XLR leads are heavy, and you may have no XLR connector on
your camera (there is no such input on the EOS 550D).
connector means you will need a lead that goes from XLR to jack, and
then jack to mini-jack. This precarious solution, coupled with the
weight of the lead, means you will have trouble keeping a solid
connection, as the lead will tend to drag itself out of the minijack
connector on the camera.
I used the Rode Blimp to house the mic, which
is very solid, protecting the mic completely, with an outer shield and
an antishock sling mount. Along with the included furry baffle, this
cut wind noise almost entirely, even in the windiest of conditions.
While being a great professional solution, this does however
necessitate a second person to hold the mic while recording.
As with all editing, some degree of post production will be beneficial
your film's audio track. If you simply cut between shots without any
fading, cross mixing or audio levelling, you will hear changes in
background noise clashing.
Apple's latest editing incarnation - iMovie
11 - is now available as a single application download from its app
store, and has much improved audio controls. These include a simple
visual view of the sound wave below the main image on the timeline,
draggable volume and fade points, noise reduction, and a 10 band
equaliser, all of which can be set individually for each clip.
editing can be split into two processes - the main edit and bedding in.
The main edit consists of balancing the volume of individual clips,
adding and adjusting fades, removing pops, hisses and hums; while
bedding in is the final addition of background sounds, sound effects
and music, to restore continuity to your edit, and to obtain a fully
balanced and engaging sound track.
iMovie 11’s visual waveform enables you to balance the
volume of the audio for an entire project accurately and easily. The
higher the wave, the louder the sound, so by dragging the volume of two
adjacent clips until the waves are similar in height, you can match
their overall output.
Judge the best volume from a single clip, and
then match other clips to this as best you can.
Remove Background Noise
fade points at the beginning and end of clips by dragging the
associated audio handle left or right. You can also reduce or increase
the volume of a section of audio by selecting the part you want and
then dragging the volume bar inside the selection, which will just
affect the selected area. You can use this to remove or fade specific
pops, crackles and unwanted noises.
You can use
the dedicated slider to reduce background noise, but use it sparingly,
as it tends to destroy the quality of the main audio. The equaliser can
be a more useful tool.
Use the 10-band equaliser to add more bass or
treble, remove hum, or individually tweak your audio. The equaliser has
some presets, but you can also use it to isolate frequencies and remove
specific sounds, such as aeroplanes, quite successfully. To do this,
find the clip in question and play it through, while systematically
raising and lowering each band in turn, until you can isolate the
frequency with the rogue noise.
Then just lower this slider until the
noise is gone, or at least acceptable, without ruining the overall
balance of the clip.
Adding Ambient Sound you
Film Edit -
If you drag a clip containing some ambient sound you recorded to your
timeline, you can detach the audio from the clip (CLIP > DETACH
AUDIO) and then drag this audio
clip to another part of the movie, adding atmosphere and helping to
mask the audio clipping between edits.
Add Sound Effects
with a limited sound effects library. Click on the audio tab, and you
will see a list of available sounds - simply drag to the timeline to
Adding additional background sound is an effective way to 'bed
in' your audio, and to mask edits with a continuous ambience, but make
sure that you adjust the volume as necessary so that it is indeed
You can also find huge libraries of 'royalty free'
and even plain 'free' sounds on the internet. Do you need the sound of
a golf crowd? Audience applause? A creaking cartwheel? It's not as hard
as you might think, and while this may sound like so much unnecessary
fakery, you will be surprised
how much difference a bit of well produced background ambience can
As well as covering a multitude of audio sins, a bit of
well chosen background music can really add to the atmosphere. Choose
from your own library of music in the audio section, and drag to the
timeline to add, balancing the volume as always.
Edit - Mixed Audio
an important part in any film, so give yourself the best chance of
using it well by treating it seriously from the start. Expose and
compose for sound as well as image. At the editing stage, edit for
story and continuity first, and then clean up the basic audio tracks
before 'bedding in'.