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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hi-Tech Studio: Using Sound In Multimedia

As photographers gear up to make more HD video and multimedia productions, there are quick and simple ways to add sound to your work to make it more polished and professional

SmartSound Sonicfire Pro 5

Photographers who make a move into creating multimedia presentations or shoot HD video with one of the impressive HD video D-SLRs will embark on a whole new art form, and very quickly you’ll find that it goes beyond the moving image. Sound, whether voice-overs or musical soundtracks, is foreign to most photographers. If it’s not something you have a lot of experience with, it can seem complicated, but in reality you can put together a solid, polished production with relatively little experience.

Start by writing a script. By writing it ahead of time, you’ll organize your thoughts and be much smoother in your delivery. Keep it conversational. If you haven’t done this before, there can be a tendency to sound more like you’re standing at a podium in a lecture hall, but this should be more like a conversation you’re having with a single viewer. Keep it intimate. Imagine that you’re talking to someone who’s sitting right in front of you. For examples, listen to Garrison Keillor in an episode of A Prairie Home Companion (prairiehome.publicradio.org) or any of the stories on This American Life (www.thisamericanlife.org). Both Keillor and Ira Glass of This American Life have a gift for sounding like they’re having an intimate conversation with just a single listener, and it’s captivating.

Like digital photographs, digital recordings are free. Go over your script several times and listen to it. Practice makes perfect. It’s true that most of us don’t particularly like the sound of our own voices. Get over it; you sound fine. But listen for the cadences and pauses. Make some notes about places where you want to punch up your voice for emphasis. Be aware of speaking in a monotone. We once watched a rough cut of a short documentary where the filmmaker produced an excellent script, but because he read it in such a monotone, the viewers were falling asleep within a few minutes. Be engaging. Again, imagine that you’re having a conversation with someone, not just reading a script.

For capturing the voice-over, a simple microphone will work, and you don’t need a professional sound booth. It goes without saying that you need to do the voice-over recording in a quiet room. Keep the mic close to your mouth as you speak. If it sounds like there’s an echo or like you’re at a distance, try doing the voice-over with a heavy blanket over your head. Yes, it’s hot and not especially comfortable, but you’ll find that the results are quite good. One tip is to be aware of hard consonants like “P” or “K,” which tend to pop in the recording. Also, as you’re doing your practice runs, get the levels dialed in so that you’re not hitting the peak, which can lead to distortion and dropouts.

The simple combination of a Mac and GarageBand has launched the careers (or hobbies) of a huge number of podcasters. For most of your voice-over work, it’s more than adequate. GarageBand gives you a powerful and reasonably simple sound-editing program. If you’re making a two-minute voice-over, don’t worry if you stumble or stutter. You can easily edit it by cutting out the stumble and inserting a smooth delivery from another take.

Whether you’re shooting HD video in the field or assembling a multimedia-type slideshow, having a voice to tell the story beyond the pictures adds significantly to your project.

Any professional sound engineers and editors who are reading this are probably pulling out their hair right about now because they will tell you there’s a lot more to editing. Of course, there is. Professional sound editors are master craftsmen and craftswomen and true artists. However, this article is about what you can do right now, today, to make a production that will be most of the way to perfection. If you sell your project to CNN or Ken Burns, you always can go back in and redo the voice-over.


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