Use Your Photography Skills to Master Videography

Lesson 21/37 - Options for Recording Sound


Use Your Photography Skills to Master Videography


Lesson Info

Options for Recording Sound

When you're using something like a 5D, or a DSLR, there is an internal mic in the camera. It's this tiny, you know, tiny little guy, it's a little hole in there. And I think everyone probably has the experience of knowing that is basically just enough to give you like a reference track so that you have some audio in your material, but that's not a microphone that you should be using. So definitely get rid of the idea that just out-of-the-box camera as is mic, is good enough. There are a couple of different options though, if you wanna use your DSLR and you wanna get great audio. One is that you can use something an external sound recorder, and kind of a sound mixer called, this is Zoom H4N. This is kind of a very standard model, this has been around for a long time. They have two XLR inputs, which means kind of those three-pronged cables, that I'll show you shortly, means it can do two channels of sound. As well as this top recording input here. So you can get a lot of atmospheric soun...

d, but you can also use lavalier microphones to attach to a subject, and do some types of interviews. The great thing about this, is that this is a really good quality, very, very high quality. Especially it doesn't cost a lot of money, it's very durable, these last a long time, lots of people use them, and you get great, high quality sound that will be great for your sound mix, that will be great for your final product. A couple of issues with this. One, it's a good thing and a bad thing, one is that this records directly to its own device. This is not communicating with your camera, you're not sending a signal from here into your DSLR, this is like its own thing. You record to an SD card. You don't need a very big one, this one in here is 16 gigs, it's probably the biggest you'd ever need, 'cause sound files are not that big. A four gig card is usually sufficient. You record directly to that, which means that you've got all of your audio material nice and neat in this card. However, that means a couple things. One, when you're done with the day, you have to sync the material from your camera and sync your material to here. You can use a program called Pluralize to sync that material. It's not perfect, but it does a very, very good job. Sometimes there are glitches, sometimes it can't quite line your material up. But overall, you basically run this program, it looks for the kind of waves of audio that you've recorded here, as well as the track of audio that's from you camera, and it finds where there's patterns, it lines them up, and it syncs that material for you. If your camera by chance is not recording sound, because you've done something wrong, you can't line up that material. If by chance you had this thing ready to go but you forgot to press record, you don't have any audio. If one thing kind of runs out of batteries before the other, you don't have that audio. And there are just a lot of opportunities, in my experience, there's a lot of opportunities for kind of human mistake, you know, and human error, using this system. It's great if every time you press record on your camera, you remember to press record here, but I've definitely been in situations where I've completely forgotten it. Especially when it's documentary setting, things are happening, you're managing a lot, you're managing people and your gear, and this is like its own crazy thing to be keeping track of, that can be overwhelming and you can forget. It's a very good system if you're on it, if you're in a studio setting like this, and you're gonna be doing interviews throughout the day, this is a great device. You can look at your audio files here, you can watch them to make sure they're not peaking. And by peaking, we mean hitting the very upper threshold of your audio limits, where it starts to get crunchy and sounds really terrible. You can watch your levels here, you'll listen with headphones we have here. And you'll always want to be using headphones like this, good over the ear, high quality headphones that are not blocking out sound entirely from your environment. I can't still hear, but are giving you enough protection over your ear so that you can actually really hear what's happening through your microphone systems. This is made by Sony, there's also a great set made by Sennheiser, the same company that makes these lav mics here. So you wanna be listening for that, again, it's great for a studio type of environment. I've done run and gun material using something like this, and the sound quality is fantastic, but you might forget something and then you don't have your audio. That's one option. There's another option, which is using something called a juice link. And this is this tiny device that you can screw into the bottom of your camera. It's got a bunch of settings that are really kinda hard to see and a little hard to read, they've improved some of 'em, but sometimes it's hard to know exactly what is what, there's lots of arrows and things like that. But as with everything, you can go online, you can watch a YouTube video to help you set it up, you can ask friends that have used it, should be able to get the settings right. What this does, is it screws into the bottom of your camera, you run a cord directly from this into your camera, and what this does, is it kind of overrides what your camera is doing. So in a DSLR, Canon has made a sound recorder inside, a little sound mixer, but Canon, at least for that DSLR, their focus has been on the camera part, on the visual parts, on the sensor, it wasn't ever necessarily designed to be a great sound mixer. What this is, is it overrides that function for your camera. As soon as this is plugged in and running. And I'm not sure these days if you need to run a hack on your camera. You used to have to basically run a tiny hack every time you turned it on to just tell the camera, don't worry about the sound, this device will handle it. But basically, as soon as this is up and running, your camera shuts that part of its brain off, and let's this thing do the trick. What's great about this, is that all of the human error that we're talking about here, isn't necessarily an issue. You just are running a cord into your camera, there is no card in this thing, this thing doesn't do any recording. It has a slot here for nine volt batteries, which it will eat like it's candy. I mean you will go through, if you use system, you should walk around with like five nine volts a day, but sure. It has a slot here for a battery, it has your inputs for XLR, a shotgun and a lav, two lavs, whatever you want to do. And then some settings here, but other than that, it doesn't record anything, there's no card in this. Which means that all of the information that this thing is processing, is going directly into your camera, into the card, and your sound is getting burned right onto your tracks. That's great. However, this is a little bit less precise of a system. It's not as good as doing some of the high end audio mixing as the Zoom is. Its precession is not as quite as good, you can't actually see digital... You can't see your tracks, and you can't necessarily tell when you're peaking in audio. There might be a little red light that goes on like, danger, danger. But that's not a very precise thing, you can't set it to quite the same amount of settings you have here, you can't lower and raise decibels, it's not as precise. Also, in my experience, any time you have a cord going from one device to another device, it's a point of your technology where things can fail. It's a place where an input can just get blown out, or get pulled out of socket, or not be communicating, or talking, it's a place that as you're going around and you're running and gunning, a twig can pull it out or something like that. It's an opportunity, again, for something to go wrong. This situation is an opportunity for your brain to have something go wrong, this is an opportunity for something mechanical to go wrong. You have to think about which kind of person you are. Are you the person that's very, very careful with your gear, and is really gonna be watching and making sure, and always monitoring, and always checking everything, but might be forgetful about setting things up and pressing record? Or are you a little bit more rugged, and you're gonna throw this thing in your backpack and toss it around, but you're always gonna remember to do it? Or are you neither? In which case, you can use a sound person. And I feel like every time I teach this class, and I have in options for sound, every time I've got a sound person on there, people laugh and think it's a joke. It's a real thing, you can hire someone, or work with someone, or partner with someone where this is their job, and you don't have to think about sound at all, which is potentially great. Sound is incredibly important. The goal of today and of this segment it to get you up and running and really embracing sound, conquering sound, getting confident with it. But also, it's an incredibly important part of your video skills. And if you feel like you're not gonna be able to tackle it, it's better to get someone who's own separate job it is to do it, than to try avoid it and say, well I just can't handle it. So working with a sound person is a very real option. And then later on, we're gonna talk about cameras where this thing and this thing are kind of tossed away, which is that you've got XLR inputs directly into your camera. So you don't have to worry about pressing record, but you also don't have to worry about a mechanical error, or running out of batteries, or things like that. Eventually, if you want, it can just be part of your own camera package. When you're working with this, you wanna be listening directly to your Zoom. So you won't be plugging your headphones into your camera, because you're camera, in that case, is not doing the audio. And if you do that, you might get confused about what you're hearing. You always want to be listening to the audio source. There is a way to run a line from this to your camera, but there's a decrease in volume that happens, and there's an inaccuracy in doing that system. What that does, is it overrides that human error thing that I'm talking about, because it basically uses this in a similar way as this. But I wouldn't recommended it, because that transfer of material drops the audio, and it'll be very hard for you to listen accurately to what's happening. Because it's the line from your headphones that's required to go into camera. If you're using this straight, what you do is you listen directly to this, you don't listen to what's happening in your camera, 'cause that's not where the audio is. You have a volume setting on the left-hand side of the Zoom, which will monitor how loud you're hearing it. And you wanna make sure that that's kind of in this middle zone, because if you have the volume of your headphones turned way up, you might be overcompensating for how low the actual recording is. It's almost like if you had a hearing aid and you were in a very quiet room. A person with a hearing aid can turn that hearing aid up so that the sound appears louder, but it's not that the volume in the room all of a sudden got higher. The volume in the room, or whatever is being recorded, is controlled here on the right-hand side of your Zoom, under the record levels. And that goes anywhere from, I think, zero to 100. And what you wanna do, is be bringing your record levels up so that you're kind of in this just below peaking area of volume. You wanna listen to someone talking, you wanna get a sense of what the room sounds like, and bring it up enough so that it's big and robust, but that it's never hitting your peaking mark. And that's kind of when you're in your safe zone. And you need to watch it, you need to monitor, this is not something you just turn on and just throw away, because sometimes people change in their volume. When people are interviewed, at first sometimes they're very shy, and then they get really animated, and they start talking louder and louder. And if you've set this up and walked away from it, or mentally walked away from it, thinking you don't need to watch it, you might not catch that as they go on, they get more excited and their voice gets louder. Or someone who feels very, very confident in an interview, might start off extremely strong, and as you start asking more and more personal questions, they might retreat into themselves a little. And as you really start to go for the things that you're really after, that thing that you really wanna talk to them about that's hard, and you've had to warm up to get there, they might start retreating into themselves, which is fine. And that audio, that sound of them retreating into themselves is great, you're gonna want that. You're gonna wanna hear that intonation. But if you don't watch this here, your audio is gonna kinda slip away from you and drop so low, so you just gotta keep massaging these tools. The same goes for this. In this situation, you plug in directly to here, so that you're listening to what... No, that's not true. In this situation, you want to plug into your camera, because what this is doing, is sending information to your camera, but ultimately you want to hear how your camera is handling it, and your camera is processing it. Again, you always want to listen to the place where the audio is being recorded, where the audio is really happening. So while this is providing the information, collecting the information, it's sending it to your camera, and in my opinion, you should be listening to your camera. 'Cause if your camera is somehow set to a very high sensitivity, within your camera you can go in and set how sensitive it should be to sound. If your camera is somehow set to a very high sensitivity, this might be all running nice and smooth, but if your camera, again, it kind of has that hearing aid on where it has turned things up, all of a sudden everything's gonna be very loud for it. So you wanna make sure you're listening through your camera, watching the levels on your camera, so that if it's peaking, you can hear it and you can also see it. Basically, there are little level marks where, and we'll show you on this one, where it turns red. All of these things will always turn red, meaning, danger, back off. Yeah, you had a question. Actually, I had a question about your levels. Do you want it to at the very peak if it flashes red a little bit, that's okay? Or do you wanna just make sure all the levels are up there, but not hitting that ceiling? You don't wanna hit that ceiling. You don't wanna hit that ceiling. You wanna just be like kinda flirting with it, but never really hitting that ceiling. It's not quite the thing where it's like, oh every now and then it's just flashing. You wanna kind of back off from that. Listen, if it happens, it happens. There are some situations that are very hard to anticipate. We're here at a studio, let's say there was a big studio audience, when we're all talking, it's one thing. As soon as we start clapping, it's gonna go there. I mean some of this is about thinking, okay, what's the most important material? What's the most important audio for me to capture in this situation? I know that the clapping is about to peak it. If I drop things down so much so that the clapping doesn't hit that peak, am I gonna get that last sentence that Jessica said to close the class? Probably not. So sometimes it's a trade off. Which do I need more? A sound person will know how to anticipate those things, work with those things, find those. I mean even as I'm talking through it, it's like this is what I would do, but an experienced sound person really knows how to manage situations to their best and fullest potential. How to get you the best audio that you can walk away with, and do the most in post and your sound design with. I have one more question. Of course. About the Zoom. You probably use it, I'm guessing, with the microphones plugged in. That's correct. Is there a way to attach that to the camera? That's a great question. So there is and there isn't. What I used to do, when I was doing this on a shoulder rig, and this is also where this thing gets a little tricky, because with a Zoom, you need to be able to see it. It's not something that you can put on the back of your camera, or attach to the top. This is something you really need to be able to put your eyes on. So in my situation, what I used to do, and I only did this for about four or five months, in part because it was a cumbersome way to do it, was I on my shoulder rig, I just attached another little bracket. And you can see here that there is a little bit of a screw mount, and what I did, was found one that had a little bit of a ball head. So it didn't have to just sit like this, I could kind of, but it wasn't quite perpendicular to the ground either, I could kind of tilt it so that I could see it, and also so that I could access the buttons on the either side. This becomes a very difficult thing to strap down, you can't put it necessarily on the top and strap it, because you need to get back here for your batteries. You can't kind of do things on the side to attach it, because your control panels are here. Obviously, you need this front part. So it kind of has to float from this thing like magically without anything else being too encumbered. The bottom is where your XLRs are. So I used to use this ball head screw mount to have it off of my shoulder rig so that I could see it. So that I could see, A, that it was... Not even about monitoring levels, which is super important, just knowing that it's recording. If this is like your lifeline to your good, clean audio that you need for your video, you want to make sure that, did I just press record, or did I press stop? You have to be able to see that this thing is red, not blinking red, but red, which means it's recording. So that's how I attach it, but this can be a little bit of a difficult thing. This is a great system if, again, if you're working in a studio, if you're doing interviews, if you've got two people, if you've got a little bit of an assistant type of situation, this can be a really great thing to hand over to someone else who maybe has another job. Maybe they're second camera, and you are focusing on getting all of the primary shots. It's not that you're handing this to a sound person, but that sometimes this needs more than one brain to make run smoothly. Yeah? Can you adjust the levels on the fly, even as someone's speaking, you're adjusting it and you don't hear that? That's a great question. It's very much like camera movements, in my opinion, which is that you can definitely adjust it. And you should adjust it, because if you hear that there's a problem, you should back off, you should back off slowly, you should back off incrementally. If you all of a sudden plummet it down... Listen, if you know that someone's giving a eulogy, and they're about to say the most insane line, it's a similar thing that I was saying with the shooting. If you're shooting here and something's behind you, you kinda gotta get there. So if you know something really important is coming up, don't sit there and be like, Minus one, minus one, minus one. But if it's in the middle and you're noticing it's a little crunchy, it's peaking a little bit too much, back off, but back off slowly so it doesn't all of sudden. But those kind of changes, in my experience, are a little bit easier to fix, because they're always kind of on ride... On kind of curves. The changing of an aperture is literally a click. You go from one stop, to negative one stop, and it's something that's very hard to correct visually. I was also gonna ask, it seems like you would have to have another person. I imagine doing these things on my own, but I'm just wondering I would probably obsessively wanna monitor these levels, and then if I'm interviewing someone, I'm looking at this thing and I'm trying to connect with them. It seems like it wouldn't work. Definitely, that's a great. And if I somehow skip over this, we're gonna talk about kind of the interview in a moment, but it's totally true. Which is that, in general, I wanna teach you how to do all of these things that you all walk out of here and feel confident, and feel excited, and feel like you can conquer the world, but I don't think video's a one-man sport. I think video is just inherently it's a team sport, because we've only been talking for a day and a little bit, and we've gone through so much, and there's gear everywhere, and there's stuff, and there's batteries, and there's chargers. It's a lot. And it's exciting, and it's great, and you can do it. And I figured out how to do it, I didn't do this a couple years ago, and now I do. It's manageable, but I don't do it alone. I almost never do it alone. It's too much to do it alone. And it's great when you can rely on someone else, and someone else turns to you and says, Do you have extra nine volts in there? Oh right, I gotta grab those. Or, Do you have the, you know. It's great to have a support system. And in the interview, which you're totally right and we'll talk about that, it's almost impossible to do it alone, because you need to be connecting with people, and showing that you're there and really listening, and also monitoring this thing. There's nothing worse than being at a dinner table, and someone that you're pouring your heart out to is checking their phone, that's kind of what it feels like in an interview if all of a sudden you're dealing with some gadget. You don't wanna be dealing with technology when you're talking about emotions and feelings, you just wanna be there. So we'll talk about how to do that. Yes? We have several question on the Zoom. Yes. So I'm wondering if we can try to hit some of those. Sure. Pretty quickly. Sure. This is from Simal Kausman. How does the Zoom handle wind? Like open in the windy areas? Oh, that's a great question. So the Zoom does have two mics on top here, which I almost never use, but you can get a tiny windscreen. Basically, no mics like wind at all. A lav, a shotgun, this microphone on top here. You can get this kind of fuzzy little wool hat type thing that you can put right on here, and that handles wind. But mostly what's happening is that with a Zoom, you will plug your shotgun directly in. So in this case, my shotgun is channel one. This is the cord for my shotgun, let's say if it was off my camera, that would go right into here. Like that. This on this mic in my windscreen. So it's not so much that the Zoom has to handle it, it's that my mic is handling it. Mic without it, would not like it at all. Even just panning around the room, it would hear it. So that's why people basically shoot with their windscreen on all of the time, even if they're not outside, because at this point, you've got all this other stuff, what's another thing? But this will completely protect you from wind. Yes? Great, so you're either gonna have, generally speaking, the shotgun mic, or the lavaliers, that we're gonna talk about in a minute, plugged into there. Plugged in, yeah. You can use it with those? Absolutely. But it's gonna be a different story. You can totally use it with these top microphones, and lots of people do. Lots of people that do radio stuff, and interviews and stuff do, I've just always used these for the XLRs. I've never really found a need for this, but that's just my technique. Also, I find some of this stuff overwhelming, so I want it to be as stripped down as possible. When I'm listening, wanna make sure in my headphones that I'm listening to the lav, and the shotgun, and this I find somewhat distracting. Bring another photographer and videographer in here, and they might say, Oh I always turn this on. And make sure that this is recording also, 'cause it's like a third channel of audio that I then can use as backup in case this gets bumped, in case something's going on, this is also collecting sound. It does mean it will hear everything. These mics up here, when I'm going, you know, clicking all this stuff, these will pick that up for sure. This separated from the box here, on a stand, or on a pole in someone's hand where they're being very stable and steady, won't pick those things up. Yeah? Okay, When you are recording on a Zoom, do you usually record on a WAV format, or an MP3 format, or does it depend? I do a WAV format. Okay. And I believe, and people at home can tell me if I'm wrong, I believe that's just because that's the larger, more extensive file, versus an MP3, which is compressed. You can always make an MP3 later. But again, these aren't big files. The Zoom that I have, it's an older model, I don't think ever put a 16 gig card in, because I think my older Zoom can't even handle this large of a card. Meaning four gigs, eight gigs, is enough to get you through a full day. So I don't worry about kind of doing any compression in this thing, because there's no need, they're not big files to begin with. And then from Studio Modern, How do I know in advance what kind of spacial recording profile I would need my mic to have? So can you do a zoom profile, a wide angle profile? Oh, that's a good question. In this system, I actually don't know. I just have it set up where my mics are dictating that. Your shotgun is pretty directional, so it really matters that it's pointing at what you wanna be recording. If your lens is here, but your shotgun has drifted off to the side, your shot gun is really a very directional mic, and it's kinda collecting and gathering sound from where it's pointed. We use mics like that on cameras because where the camera is pointed, is what is getting shot, and chances are is what you wanna be hearing. I don't know believe that there are any types of profiles in here, but I might be wrong on that. Again, my expertise in some ways can only go so high, because a sound person is its own separate job. Again, what I wanna get people comfortable with, is knowing that you can handle it. You don't have to work with one, it's a great option if you want to. It's also an extra body in a room. I tend to work in stories that are very intimate, very private, require a lot of trust, I've always opted for I don't want another body in the room. And if i want another body in that room, like I discussed yesterday, I want it to be a separate camera angle. I want it to be someone who can provide part of this visual language, and be providing different perspectives, and focal lengths, and things like that. So I really opt to work for another camera person who also knows sound, so that if I make a mistake, we have a backup system for each other. But if there's gonna be that extra body in the room, for me, I kind of want it to be another camera.

Class Description

Just because you’re a photographer doesn’t mean you can’t shoot compelling video. If you have a digital SLR, you have the equipment. If you’re a photographer who loves to tell captivating visual stories, you have the passion and the necessary skills. It doesn’t matter whether you want to create powerful short films about global issues or take videos of your friends on vacation: all it takes to start being a successful videographer is strong photography skills.

Join VII Agency photojournalist Jessica Dimmock for this class, and you’ll learn:

  • How to storyboard to create a strong narrative
  • How to properly capture sound and voiceover while on a shoot
  • How to shoot for an editor and to think with the edit in mind
Jessica has traveled the world in the pursuit of powerful stories. Her work has been published in publications like the New Yorker and Time, and has been exhibited in galleries around the globe. Her skill with a camera allowed her to pivot into videography, where she created music videos, short projects and feature films. Becoming a filmmaker as well as a photographer opened up a new form of media for her stories - and doubled her day rate. Draw in new clientele and start expressing your creativity in new ways!  


a Creativelive Student

I have been waiting for a course like this. Purchasing it was a no-brainer. Taught by an accomplished professional in the field, with a strong track record of high level work, Jessica Dimmock, I feel, is exactly the type of instructor Creative Live should be giving air time to. I have watched other Videography classes on Creative Live, and this was the first one that I felt was worth purchasing due to how much info was being shared, in a very methodical, easy to follow (but not dumb downed) fashion.

a Creativelive Student

This class has left me feeling very encouraged and inspired about getting into videography. Jessica has made some great work, in her short career with video, and was able to share what she learned through those experiences. She started out as a photographer and has now incorporated video into her skill set and it seems to have expanded the diversity her opportunities and has enriched what she produces and shares with the world. I look forward to doing the same thing in my own way. Thanks CL for another wonderful class.


Simultaneously broad and deep, the information Jessica covers and the way she delivers it really give you the feeling you can jump into video right away. Professionalism in every area, from prep steps to workflow in the field to clean organization and processing, inspires confidence in the value of her methods. She clearly learned most of this in the field over years of work, which means the rest of us now have a huge leg up on our first projects. Thank you so much!