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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Hi-Tech Studio: Shotgun!

If you’re going to be shooting video with your DSLR, you’ll want to add a dedicated microphone to your setup

This Article Features Photo Zoom

In the creative gold rush that has followed the introduction of HD DSLRs,
photographers have expanded their repertoires en masse to include motion. From motion clips that are incorporated into a sort of multimedia slideshow to full-fledged short films, every visually creative professional is getting into the game. As the bandwagon fills up, we've been seeing some distinct divisions between those who are creating narrative movies and those who are using the DSLR more for motion clips. Not only are there a multitude of creative possibilities, but there are opportunities to make some money and add to your client list, as well. As Yogi Berra famously said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."

Sennheiser MKE 400
For all of the attention being paid to motion-picture-capture strategies, the neglected stepchild of the process has been audio. This is ironic because audio is at least as important as the imagery. In the many seminars and workshops that have cropped up to cater to HD DSLR filmmakers, you'll hear a common refrain. People will tolerate almost any weakness in the picture, but they won't tolerate weakness in the audio. Wind noise, echoes, garbled speech, bad distortion—all of these will undermine an otherwise excellent video.

The most important thing you can do to ensure that your motion project, what-ever it is, will come out well is to have a reasonable strategy for the audio. Avoid the pitfall of an overly ambitious sound plan. Think of Vincent Laforet and Reverie. Although it was released some two years ago, you still can learn key lessons from this project that broke the floodgates. Reverie has no dialogue or ambient sound. The whole three minutes and four seconds has a continuous Moby music track that fades out at the end of the credits. On a limited budget and with just 72 hours allotted for the whole thing, Laforet didn't try to do too much with the audio. It's simple, which also allows viewers to focus on the visuals. To do more than running a soundtrack would have added layers of complexity from the script to capture to editing.

Audio-Technica ATR6550
For HD video capture, all DSLRs have the same shortcoming. Their internal mics, while improving substantially in every successive generation, aren't in the same league as the rest of the camera. If you want to capture decent audio, you simply must have another microphone. In this issue of DPP, we have an article on dual-system sound, which involves a separate recording device. That's an excellent solution for high-quality audio. In many situations, simply having an auxiliary mic that plugs into the DSLR will get the job done.

The universe of microphones is broad and complex, and for every job, there's a perfect mic. The one kind of mic that any DSLR shooter should have in his or her bag is a shotgun. You always can add other types as you progress, but the shotgun will be your go-to mic the majority of the time. The reason a shotgun is so useful is because these microphones are meant to pick up sound that's some distance away, and they have a relatively narrow area of acceptance, meaning that they exclude sound that's coming from far off-axis. A shotgun mic can be used in almost limitless ways. Often, you'll want to simply attach it to the DSLR via the hot-shoe, but you also could boom the mic or even use it handheld. Mounted on the camera and aimed forward, the shotgun will do a good job of capturing the sound of what's in front without capturing noise from the camera.
For all of the attention being paid to motion-picture-capture strategies, the neglected stepchild of the process has been audio. This is ironic because audio is at least as important as the imagery.
Depending upon the mic and the camera model, you can get a shotgun that plugs directly into the DSLR and record straight to the video. Unlike dual-system audio, this simplifies the process because there's no need to merge a separate audio file with the video file prior to editing.


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