Don’t let the picture do the talking

Canon SLR cameras deliver stunning pictures, but to create a polished video you have to pay attention to the sound as well. The high end EOD 1DC Canon digital camera comes with a headphone jack – but if you’re shooting 4K video then you are probably lucky enough to be working with somebody with their own kit, who can think about sound for you. Manual audio level adjustment is only just arriving for the 7D, a reminder that Canon cameras that aren’t designed for broadcast won’t have the sound capabilities of those that are. Here’s how to deal with it:

Canon IXUS 510 HS Camera, WhiteImage Credit: JohnLewis.com

Think like a pro

Just knowing how a great sound recordist thinks can help you step into their shoes. This job requires you to be ready for any situation, particularly on factual shoots – and to adjust levels on the fly. Group conversations, children, even animals; nothing flusters the dependable recordist! These qualities are similar to that of a good listener – patience, readiness and attention to your surroundings will save you time and ultimately help you craft a better piece.

External mics, recorders and headphones

Even cheap audio recorders can make a difference. The Zoom H1 is popular among DSLR shooters, while the more costly Tascam DR-100 has XLR inputs if you’re lucky enough to have some quality microphones.

Sound recorders also allow you to wear headphones, which DSLRs don’t. And donning the cans isn’t just crucial to know what you’re recording; it can enhance the content of your interview. Simply leave the recorder on, and let software such as PluralEyes sync it up with your footage in the edit. Remember, if you get sound but no picture, you’ve still got something, but if you conduct an interview which is inaudible, you’ve got nothing.

Adjusting levels while recording

Test whatever mic you can get hold of to plug into your DSLR’s input before you shoot. With a laptop, transfer test footage and trial the sound with headphones – you can even do this on location before you start filming – and adjust your levels and mic setting as necessary.

Ask your subject a few fun questions to allow them to ‘warm up’ while you make sure they are hitting the right level on your screen, which should peak at around -10db.

On the shoot, point your shotgun away from background noise, go somewhere quieter, or get closer to your subject. Nod your head in response to their answers rather than making any noise yourself and be careful not to knock furniture, crack knuckles, fiddle with shirt buttons, or let your interviewee do the same. It all comes back to being super-aware of your surroundings, calm, patient and confident, so you know exactly what you’re getting and are in control of it.

Philip Bloom began life as a sound recordist and is now a top DSLR cinematographer. He offers more great tips at the Vimeo Video school, which is worth exploring to find out more about mic patterns, sound boxes, and good practice: https://vimeo.com/videoschool/lesson/16/recording-sound-for-dslrs

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