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Getting Quality Audio for Your Video: Understanding Microphones and Mic Placement

Technology PlanningProject ManagementVideoDigital Storytelling

By: Allea Grummert, Director of Operations at Nonprofit Film School (powered by Reliant Studios)

Get caught up on the first blog post in this series: Prepare and Listen.

 

Welcome to Part 2 of Getting Quality Audio for Your Video. We’re going to talk about equipment in plain speak so someone with little or no video knowledge could record good audio by following these steps.

Stepping Up your Audio Game

Purchasing equipment that raises audio quality, like a good microphone, is worth the investment. 

Of course, you’ll need more than equipment to get good audio. You’ll want to understand your mic, know your settings and make sure you’re keeping the mic in an optimal place during recording.

Exploring Pickup Patterns

Not all microphones are to be treated equal. In short, some pick up sounds all around and others pick up sounds within a narrow pattern in one direction of the microphone. These are called “pickup patterns” and it varies by the style of microphone you select.

Omnidirectional Microphone: Picks up sounds from all directions

Cardioid Microphone: Picks up sounds in a heart-shaped pattern, picking up more sound at the front of the microphone than the back

Directional Microphone: Picks up sounds directly in front of the microphone; this is helpful to avoid picking up unwanted sounds surrounding the microphone

Microphone Options and Best Placement

 

The On-Board Mic

The on-board mic comes built-in with most cameras and can be helpful for when you need to grab some quick footage and don’t have time to fumble around with additional equipment. Almost all on-board mics are omnidirectional, which means they pick up audio from all around the camera, in every direction, so your audio might be rough (think of the audio you’d pick up from children playing if you filmed an interview on a nearby park bench).

To get better audio with an on-board mic, you have to get in close to the action — because the camera itself needs to be closer to the audio source. If you want a shot from further away, your audio quality will decrease as you move further from the sounds you want to capture. It’s also possible you’ll get some unwanted internal camera noise, and that will reduce the quality of your interview or other audio.

On-board mics are not top-notch quality, so we’ll cover some alternatives below. Yes, these options will require you to invest time to learn how to use them, and perhaps expenses in gathering new equipment, but you’re reading this because you want better audio quality, right?

 

The Lapel Mic

The lapel mic (or “lavalier” mic) is what you see news anchors wearing on their, you know, lapels. We generally encourage hiding a lapel microphone, because you don’t want viewers to be distracted by what they’re seeing. We want them to focus on what they’re hearing about an organization instead!

You can get lapel mics with either an omnidirectional or cardioid pickup pattern. Either would work for interviews, but remember that omnidirectional mics pick up lots of noise around them, which isn’t necessarily the best for when you’re wanting to get good interview audio.

The pros of using a lapel microphone is that it’s right up close to the action. It’s only inches away from your interviewee’s mouth, plus you can have the camera placed anywhere you want since you’re not restrained to using only the on-board mic. Lapel mics are usually battery-powered and wireless, so our interviewee can walk around freely if need be.

The quality of audio from the lapel mic also depends on how you place it. We often place the lapel using the sticky side of tape (folded into a little triangle) on one side of the lapel mic, hiding it under lapels or blouses. This will take some practice, but it’s worth knowing how to place this mic well. Before you start filming, listen to your audio. It’s possible you’ll get some noise from fabrics rubbing on the mic, so be sure to adjust it so that your audio quality isn’t disrupted by unwanted sounds.

 

The Shotgun Mic

The shotgun mic is a directional mic that’s usually mounted on a boom pole. They’re placed directly over your talent or interviewee, getting in close to the action while not being attached to anything. It’s separate from your camera, so you can move it around however you’d like. Just be sure the boom pole or mic do not end up in your frame!

The shotgun mic has a directional pickup pattern, which means it needs to be pointed in the direction of your talent, so it picks up what they’re saying. This type of pickup pattern barely picks up the noise happening around the other sides of the mic, but rather only what’s right in front of it.

We recommend mounting the shotgun mic on a boom pole, then either holding it above the talent or securing its stability by using a c-stand. Be sure to weigh down the base of the stand, so it doesn’t tip over and hurt anyone!

Learn More

If you’d like to learn more about equipment we use at my organization, Reliant Studios, our recommendations or how we go about our video-making process, you can enroll as a student at Nonprofit Film School. Learn more about our toolkit of video tips and tricks to help nonprofits tell their stories through video.

Our online school walks you through storytelling, pre-production, production, cameras & equipment and post-production best practices. Broken up into bite-sized modules, it’s easy to follow along. In a matter of hours, you’ll be armed with new skills that’ll make a noticeable difference in the quality of videos you or your team makes. 

Read on with Part 3 of 3 of the Getting Quality Audio for Your Video series. You’re almost there!


About the Author

Allea Grummert
Director of Operations at Nonprofit Film School (powered by Reliant Studios

At Nonprofit Film School, Allea’s the control center; the one behind-the-scenes making sure you have an amazing experience by ensuring everything's running smoothly. At Reliant Studios, she’s the Production Coordinator, often found shuffling schedules, deadlines, milestones and working with clients.

Nonprofit Film School is the ultimate learning toolkit for nonprofits to tell their stories through video. It’s an online learning experience designed specifically for nonprofit organizations to learn how to produce their own videos from start to finish - everything from storytelling techniques to how to edit a video and choose a camera that is right for them.