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Moving Pictures – Sound and Noise

Moving pictures can be beautiful… but let’s face it, telling a good story is almost impossible without some good sounds as well. My college video teacher (yeah, I did a little schooling for this gig of mine) once gave a great dissertation on the difference between sound and noise… and while I’m sure he added all kinds of useless but impressive-sounding words to convey his thoughts (he did have the better part of a 2 hour class and a subsequent lab to kill), the bottom line is this: Sound is what you want, noise is what you don’t want. Simple enough. What you will find as you do more video productions is that you are rarely able to control as much of either piece as you would like:

  • SOUND: Your mics will die (well, the batteries will anyway), people will hit the mic while talking and will talk too loud or soft for you to be able to adjust for it on the fly.
  • NOISE: Regardless of how inadequate you may think your mics are, you’ll be continuously amazed at how long you can hear a passing plane overhead. The wind will only gust when you hit ‘record’ and no matter how far away from civilization you think you are, there is always some one using a leaf-blower close by.

While we may never be able to control everything we would like to in the way of audio, there are a few things we can do to minimize the potential mishaps.

-Buy some good mics: I know that most churches/ministries operate on tight budgets, but this is an area where you get what you pay for. Make sure you get something that suits your needs for a while. If you’re looking at getting a wireless mic, make sure the receiver is something that will integrate easily with your camera.

-Windscreens: Wind is inevitable, even indoors (air conditioning for one, and try as you might to stop it, people will continue to breathe through the entire shoot!). Side note: Don’t lose your windscreens… the companies that make them are counting on you doing this and are ready to charge you handsomely to replace them.

-Fresh batteries: Seems like a simple thing, but having to stop an emotional interview to change batteries can be a real buzz-kill. Start with fresh batteries and have fresh ones standing by in case of emergency.

-Headphones: Just because your camera may have a cool display that shows that you’re getting audio, constant monitoring is the only way to truly know what that sound is.

-Know your camera: This may sound odd since we’re talking about sound, but it’s vital to have a good understanding about how your camera processes sound. You need to know if your meters are telling you the truth about your sound levels so you can adjust accordingly. One thing I love about the Panasonic HVX200 is that I can set both audio channels to mic input 2; this allows me to set one high and one low to help in post production with low and loud sound.

-See what you hear: This might be the most important element of control. Since some noises are inevitable, do what you can to incorporate the origin of that sound into the piece. For instance, traffic noise is acceptable when you have some one telling a story near a busy intersection, and wind isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as you can see something blowing in the wind.

-Be patient: Sometimes waiting just a few minutes can be the difference between bad noise and good sound… that leaf blower can’t go on forever! (or can it?)

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