Updated on Dec 22, 2021
Whether you’re working on a new film, YouTube video, or a fun class project, audio is a key component to creating memorable, quality content. As a microphone specialist, I’m getting questions all the time about the best ways to record audio for a film, and our team has put together a list of the 3 key methods for achieving this.
The different types of settings, productions, and targets involved in the film can vary drastically, and as such, the way we capture audio changes as well. There are so many considerations to keep in mind, such as how many extra hands you have, whether you’re filming numerous types of shots, and if you’re planning to be stationary or moving.
It’s also important to remember that the microphone you use & which strategy you use to capture audio will only be one part of the process. There’s other equipment we’ll need to begin recording audio, which is where we’re going to start this article.
After going through the other equipment you’ll want, we will dive into the 3 primary strategies for recording audio in film. By the end of this, you should have a clear idea of the pros and cons of each method, and which one is right for you.
Before we can start discussing the different methods of capturing audio for our film, we need to look at other equipment. No matter what strategy you use, there are things like cables, microphone preamps, and most popular, field mixers. There are other things to consider as boom stands depending on the strategy you move forward with.
In terms of controlling how our audio is recorded, we need to look at two options. They are microphone preamplifiers & audio field mixers. They’re both very similar and offer the necessary properties we need to power our mics & record our audio.
Both preamps and audio mixers will have an XLR port for plugging in your audio device. They’ll allow you to control the gain (volume) of your microphone, and some will let you control other stuff such as frequencies, filters, and effects. Some mixers/preamps will have more than one XLR port and separate controls for each. And fortunately, there are plenty of options that make it simple to use on the go.
The other reason we need one is because many microphones require what’s known as Phantom Power (48V), a common powering standard for condenser microphones. A lot of shotgun microphones and lavalier microphones require this, but some offer optional battery powering as well.
The best microphone preamplifiers for recording film audio are ones that can be either battery operated, or USB powered. A great example of a preamp for this would be the Focusrite Scarlett Solo, which gets power from the same USB port that it uses to transfer your recording to your laptop. It’s insanely popular in the USB audio interface market.
In terms of stands, you’ll only need one if you decide to use the boom microphone strategy. If you’re unfamiliar, we’ll go in more detail later, but it’s essentially when you see someone holding a giant pole (the boom stand) with a microphone above a person or group of people, outside of the camera view.
As for cables, you’ll likely get one included with your microphone purchase. That being said, you’ll need to be your own judge on whether you should buy a new one. Microphones generally use XLR cables, and for some films it’ll be useful to buy longer or more durable choices. Some are made better than others, and you’ll find the type designed for stage use can withstand people walking over them, certain weather conditions, and more.
The easiest & most affordable strategy for recording audio with your film would be to mount your shotgun microphone onto the camera and go. Some mics come with the required mounting brackets, and it doesn’t require a dedicated person to operate them. But there are a lot of considerations you need to make before going with this strategy, as it’s not always the best.
The problem with recording using an on-camera shotgun microphone is that it’s inconsistent & not always close enough to the source. Yes, these mics are highly directional, so they can record with great accuracy even from a distance, but they’ll always sound better (and less noisy) the closer you are.
If you’re recording your friend, standing in front of a tree talking about something for a class project, then fine, you won’t have any issues. Standing in one place, recording a single target is a great candidate for an on-camera shotgun microphone.
If your target is moving around or you’re taking several shots, the audio levels are going to change drastically. This type of inconsistency is not easy or fun to correct in production, and so maintaining the same distance from your target is important.
At the end of the day, it depends on how much money you can spare & whether you’ll have the extra hands to operate a different strategy.
Recording audio using a boom microphone is by far the best strategy for most people. If you don’t know already, this is when a boom operator, holding a boom pole, suspends the boom microphone over your sound source. It’s consistent and ensures we always get the same audio levels from our target. It also allows us to get as close as possible while keeping the microphone out of the shot.
The downside with this strategy is that it’s honestly easier said than done. If you don’t have a dedicated person for operating the boom pole, you’re pretty much out of luck. If you plan to be stationary, you’d might as well just use the on-camera shotgun microphone strategy.
It’s also important to consider other aspects like the shadow of your pole/boom microphone, knowing where your target is moving to, etc. There’s a term known as blocking the scene, where you work out your actor’s movements beforehand so that you know the different camera blind spots & where shadows will land.
Just like we would with an on-camera shotgun microphone, you need to use a shock mount. I don’t care how good your boom operator is, there will be handing noise & vibrations, and the shock mount is there to absorb all of this.
Using lavalier microphones for capturing audio is a fantastic way to isolate speech for your actors. What better way to hide your microphone from the shot than to use one discretely tucked into your shirt? This strategy has its own pros and cons, so let’s dive into them.
The first thing to note is that there will be no issues in terms of audio levels. The microphone should, in theory, maintain the same distance from your target throughout the entire shot.
The downside to lavalier microphones is that they’re not as precise as a shotgun microphone. Lavaliers are made to be omnidirectional, which means they pickup audio from all sides. On-camera mics and boom microphones use a cardioid pattern, which is much more directional and picks up audio from the front only, blocking out other noise.
Lavalier microphones have their own way of mitigating this concern by using a stronger signal-to-noise ratio. This calculates the desired signal to the level of background noise before the microphone is activated. This way you won’t be recording that car down the street, because it’s not loud enough on your microphone to trigger the signal.
There’s definitely an advantage to having a lavalier microphone, especially on smaller budget projects. If you’re debating between the lav and the on-camera shotgun microphone, think about how different each shot will be, whether you’re moving around a lot, and remember the importance of consistent audio levels.
Which strategy you choose when recording audio for your film will be heavily dependent on 4 factors; Your shots, your team, your environment, and your budget. We touched briefly on each one of these throughout the article, but let’s use some examples so we can get a better understanding.
If you’re filming a single person sitting in a chair, you could implement any of the 3 listed strategies. This is where budget is going to be a controlling factor. Using a boom microphone would technically be the best way to go, as you’re getting as close as possible to the target while canceling out any background noise (better than a lavalier would). However, these mics are more expensive, then you’ll need a boom pole, and ideally someone to operate it.
If you’re filming a person walking around a building, for example, you might be better off choosing between a lavalier microphone or a boom microphone. They’re better for mobile recording, and so just like the last example, budget & a dedicated operator will be the controlling factors in that decision.
Mounted camera mics work best when you’re filming stationary targets, so you don’t need to worry about inconsistent audio levels. They also work best if you’re filming either one single shot or multiple shots with the same distance between the camera & target.
Using a boom microphone is best for moving targets & getting as close as possible. They’re usually my preferred method, but can be a little more costly, harder to operate, and require a more hands-on deck.
The lavalier microphone is the best alternative for moving targets & recording larger groups of people by giving you the option to isolate voices in more complicated manners during production.
By now you should have a much better idea of how to record audio for a film. There are three primary strategies that filmmakers use, whether you’re filming a YouTube video, an interview, or a nature documentary.
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Posted on Feb 18, 2021
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