There is an old adage that it’s more important that a film sound good than that it look good. And it’s absolutely true.

Viewers are quite forgiving of visual deficiencies, like a slightly out of focus shot or poor lighting. But make it hard to hear what a person is saying and they’ll tune right out.

Audio is one of those things that’s often taken for granted — but when it’s bad, it sticks out like a sore thumb.

Here are some tips to help ensure you’ll get great audio on your next shoot.

1. Pick a quiet spot.

Seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how often people suggest noisy spots to record interviews. Lobbies, elevators, phones, highways, water fountains and fire stations all have one thing in common — they should be far from your filming location.

2. Control ambient noise.

Locations that seem quiet often have underlying sounds that can be easy to miss. Close your eyes and concentrate on what you hear. Chances are you’ll pick up on ambient sounds like air conditioning vents or the hum of a vending machine, refrigerator or fluorescent lights. Turn them off if possible.

3. Use the right microphone.

Be sure to use the right microphone for the job. In most interview situations, a shotgun microphone is best. If people are walking and talking, use a wireless lavalier mic. Only use a camera-mounted microphone to capture background sound.

4. Don’t step on lines.

If you are recording dialogue or shooting an interview, be careful about stepping on the subject’s lines. Let him or her finish talking completely before saying anything. And ask him or her to wait a beat before answering your question. It’s nearly impossible to fix a line of dialogue that has been stepped on.

5. Get room tone.

Always record room tone right after recording the audio. This is simply a 30-second recording of the “quiet” room, allowing you to pick up any ambient noise that you couldn’t eliminate. It is often possible to remove the room tone from the audio track in post.

6. Consider sound design.

Sound design is the art of working with audio in post production. It can do wonders for your soundtrack. Noise removal, vocal enhancement, mixing and foley are just a few of the tricks that can make your finished video sound amazing.


We managed to get some clean audio for this video, even though it was filmed in one of the noisiest places on earth — a junior high school.


You can be an ally in your film crew’s quest for excellent sound, and they will thank you.

Sounds good, right?

Bill Haley

P.S. Have a question about video? Let me know and I’ll try to answer it in a future post.

 

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