October 17

A Guide for Choosing and Using Microphones

How To Select The Best Microphone For Your Video Project

For anyone who is considering making a film or video, it’s important to consider how you’re going to capture the audio if you want your work to come across as anything other than amateur.  Viewers will reject any film or video that has crummy sound and simply not watch.  The first thing you have to consider is the type of microphone you should use to match your recording needs.  There are many types. They differ considerably in how well they pick up sounds and at what distance they work best.

Whether you want to make the next Blair Witch Project or you just want to get great quality audio of an interview with your grandma you’re filming for posterity, read on to see how you can enhance your video by choosing the correct microphone and using it properly.

Location, location, location

Where will you be filming? Think about your location carefully before you decide on a microphone. Will you be doing lots of outdoor scenes? Does your indoor location create lots of reverb – or ‘reflection’ of sound? Think about the challenges that you might face with your audio, and consider which microphone would be best suited to your video’s particular needs.

Stop, look, listen

This might sound obvious, but it’s important to do a sound test on your microphone, both before you decide which one to use for your film, and when it is in place, and you’re about to start shooting. You should also keep checking the levels to make sure that your audio stays at a consistent level throughout shooting, or you’ll have a nightmare in the editing suite later on trying to even audio levels.

Types Of Microphones:

Sennheiser shotgun microphone
Sennheiser shotgun mic.  When in use, this would almost always have some type of wind sock, perhaps made of foam rubber, to muffle wind noise.

Microphones are categorized a few different ways. One way is by the pickup pattern, which is pictured below.  Another, is the way in which the mic works, or how it actually turns sound into an electronic impulse.  There are two main ways of doing that, dynamic and condenser.    Those are important things to know, but I have found for beginners, it is a good idea to first learn the different styles of mic and the most common situation in which to use them.  So that is what this post covers.  The style of mic dictates how they are usually used.  Of course, this is actually based on pickup patterns and how they operate, but on a practical level, what a member of a video crew usually needs to know is which mic to use for which situation.

Let’s take a look at the types of microphone available, and what they can be used for, this list isn’t exhaustive, but these are a few of the most common types you might want to choose.

Shotgun Microphone: The most common type of microphone used in many types of professional film and TV production is the shotgun. It’s meant to pickup sound at a distance.  Mounted on a boom, the shotgun is great at focussing on dialogue. However, it can be a problem if you haven’t got lots of space to play with, or you’re filming with a wide-angle lens, as the microphone can often creep into shot! You’ll see this mistake fairly often in late night TV talk shows like the Tonight Show.  Boom mics are usually held by a crew member on an adjustable pole.

sound man holding mic

Boom mic are handy in productions where you have multiple people talking. With a boom, only one mic is used, and the boom operator is constantly moving it around above everybody’s head in order to have it pointed toward whomever is speaking at the moment.  Using a boom mic is much less common in documentary style video production, where camera-mounted booms and wireless lavalier microphones rule the day.

sony lavalier microphone sony ecm44b
Lavalier Mic with cord


If you find that there is a lot of background noise you need to eliminate, then a better option than the shotgun is the lavalier. These small microphones clip onto your actor’s or presenter’s clothes, picking up their voices clearly. You can choose either wireless or wired lavaliers. However, one problem is that if you are filming drama, you’ll need to find a way to hide the mic without muffling it. Usually, it is clothes on top of the mic that creates muffing issues.  The solution for this is to put all parts of the microphone EXCEPT THE MIC ITSELF underneath the clothes.  You’ll often see the wireless transmitter hooked on the back of someone’s pants.  The mic itself needs to be exposed to pick up the voice well.

audio for video

Desk Mics and Hand Held Microphones

Some microphones made especially for voices are styled into mics designed to be held by hand or held by a small stand and placed on a desktop, so it is easy to sit behind and use.    A handheld mic is more useful for run and gun situations out in the field, such as news.   In fact, a TV reporter using a handheld mic is a common cliché.

icon for being on camera

Pickup Patterns for Microphones

All microphones have what is known as a pickup pattern.  It is one of the main features that distinguishes one from another.  Pickup pattern refers to the area around the microphone where sound is best picked up.  As you can see in the diagram below, the differences can be significant.   You use these pickup patterns to your advantage to help eliminate background noise and give you the best audio possible in any given situation.

Microphone pick up patterns


Reverberation (reverb), or ‘reflection of sound’, is incredibly distracting for a viewer and can ruin the semblance of reality, especially with dramas. If you’re shooting in a location where reverb is a problem, try a hyper-cardioid mic. (Hyper meaning a lot or extreme) They are especially good at rejecting sound from behind them, so will focus only on the sound coming from your actors or presenters.

heart cardioid microphone The name cardioid is used to describe several of the pickup patterns.  It means heart shaped.  The pickup pattern of cardioid mics is shaped somewhat like a Valentine’s heart, which is why they are good at eliminating background noise.

Tips on how to use your microphone 

Whichever mic you choose, follow these simple tips to ensure you capture high quality audio:

  • Place the mic as close to your actor / presenter’s mouth as possible. If you’re not using lavaliers, try to position the mic overhead, pointing downwards towards the performer’s mouth.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! It’s unlikely you’ll get a flawless first take every time, so do plenty of takes to ensure that you have a ‘clean’ version of each bit of each scene (e.g. no cars driving past or coughing from the actors, etc.)
  • Capture the ‘silence’. When you’re editing, you’ll soon hear the difference between true silence and the ‘silence’ that you hear in between people talking when filming. Even a room inside a quiet house has ambient sound, and if you use no sound at all in between lines, your audio will sound odd. Be sure to record at least 30 seconds of ambient sound in every location.

Happy filming!


  • Describe what a pickup pattern is for a microphone.
  • How is a boom mic usually handled by a professional crew?
  • How are some microphones like a Valentine?




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