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A Guide for Choosing and Using Microphones

Selecting The Best Video MicrophonesA Microphone Guide:  How To Select The Best Video Microphones

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.

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.

Photo Credit

First, it’s important to figure out what sort of budget you’re working with. If your camera costs a couple of hundred dollars/pounds, it’s probably not worth forking out for an audio system that reaches into the thousands. Plus, the audio obviously isn’t the only equipment or outlay that you’ll need to take into consideration. It may be possible to rent your microphones, and use your budget to get better quality mics for less money.

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

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. 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.

sound man holding micBoom 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 wireless lavalier microphones rule the day.

sony lavalier microphone sony ecm44b
Lavalier Mic with cord

Lavalier 

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.

 

Hyper cardioid Mic

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. 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 the pickup pattern.  It means heart shaped.  The pickup pattern of cardioid mics is  shaped 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!

About The Author

This guest post was written by Peter Robins from King’s Audio who sell a range of Audio Technica mics (like these) and headphones (and these). Peter is an Audio Visual fanatic and is always playing around with new recording equipment and trying to learn more about sound and video.  Video Production Tips appreciates his contribution with this microphone guide.   Those are NOT affiliate links.  🙂

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Lorraine Grula


Lorraine Grula has enjoyed a fast-paced, multifaceted career in the television and video business, producing, shooting, writing, and editing documentary-style videos in both news and corporate settings. Later, she got to teach media and video production in two high schools, which then morphed into instructional design and corporate training. Lorraine is now dedicated to sharing her vast knowledge with others who wish to learn the art of video making, with an emphasis on storytelling and creating professional-quality videos for the internet as simply, yet creatively as possible.

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