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3.5 Sound

Good video is about more than pretty images. In this lesson, you’ll learn about the power of sound and how to capture it well.

3.5 Sound

Welcome back, I'm Cindy Burgess for Tuts+. If there's one thing that separates amateur videographers from pros, it's audio quality. Most people don't give it much thought, but good sound is every bit as important as beautiful pictures when you're recording video. In this lesson, you'll learn how powerful sound can be in your storytelling and how to capture it well. So why is sound so important? Because we use it to help interpret what we're seeing. If we see a video that's fuzzy or hard to make out but can easily hear what's going on, our brains will fill in the blanks. It's that whole theater of the mind thing. Back in the days before television, families used to gather around their radios to listen to programming. They could only hear what was going on, but their imaginations did the rest. On the flip side, you can have the most brilliantly composed, well lit story in the world, but if we have to strain to make out what someone is saying, none of that matters. Bad audio is extremely frustrating for the viewer and they'll leave. Sound is all part of the sensory experience of traveling. When we use it in our videos, we inject flavor and texture to the pictures. We add information. Good sound helps make the viewer feel like they're really there. Compare these two short clips. The first is silent and then the second has audio. [SOUND] See what a difference it makes when we can hear what's going on? The sound the lava makes as it flows is so unique, sort of a hollow, tinkling sound. Being able to hear it makes the visual experience that much richer. So let's take a look at how to capture audio well. First off, be aware that the microphones built right into video cameras, and DSLRs, and smartphones, have limitations. They're very basic and they capture sound from all directions. That's fine if you just wanna record background audio. But if you're trying to record yourself or someone else talking, especially in a noisy location, you're going to need an external microphone. Here are the most common types. The first is what's known as a shotgun microphone. These attach to the top of a camera. They're called a shotgun not only because of their shape, but also because they're directional. They're very good at picking up sounds directly in front of them and rejecting sounds from behind and on the sides. Shotgun mikes are excellent for capturing ambient sound, which is an industry term for all the background sounds at a location. If you or someone else is speaking on camera, shotgun mikes are most effective if you are within arm's length of them. Next up we have the lavalier microphone, also known as a lav for short, or lapel mike. These little guys just clip onto your clothing. Lavs are great to use when someone's speaking or moving around or demonstrating something, like I am. A wireless lav like the one I'm using gives you the most freedom. You just attach the receiver to the camera, add the transmitter to your body, and it doesn't matter where you go. The microphone will record what you're saying. The other option is wired lavs, like this one for smartphones. You plug one end into your smartphone and you attach the other one to your clothing, and you're good to go. Of course, you're limited by the cord in how far away you can move from the camera. Whether you decide to use an external microphone is up to you. It is an added cost and, of course, one more thing to lug along. Regardless, here are some tips for capturing great sound. First off, don't narrate while you're recording video, or at the very least keep it to a minimum. Remember, we're trying to avoid those long continuous boring shots, and your voice describing everything that's going on isn't going to make it anymore interesting. I hate to tell you. If you're talking through every shot, you have no way of cutting your video down. You're locked into that commentary. The only option is to get rid of the narration altogether. And then you lose all the audio, including the background noises that are an important part of your story. Some people narrate because they wanna be able to remember later where they were or what they were looking at. I totally get that. It can be confusing, especially if you've visited multiple sites in one day. One thing I like to do after a video shoot is make a couple of quick notes about what I've seen, things like place names or highlights of the tour. You could do this while you're traveling back to your hotel or even before you go to bed. The experience is still fresh in your mind and you can refer to these notes later when you're putting together your video. If you don't want to physically write this stuff down, use the voice recorder on your smartphone, or turn on your video camera, for that matter, and just talk, speak a few notes out loud. Whatever you do, just avoid narrating while you're recording. Narration is something that is better added later. We'll talk more about that in the next chapter. Second, get close to the action. Most people's instinct is to stand back on the sidelines when they're recording video. They don't wanna get in the way. But the secret to good video is to get close, not just to fill the frame with our subject, but to capture the best audio. Here's an example from a story I did at a chocolate making factory in Nicaragua. These two women are crushing cacao beans. Take a listen. [SOUND] Notice how you can clearly hear the crushing. If I had stood back and zoomed in to get that close up shot, you wouldn't have been able to hear the crunching so clearly. Instead, I walked right up and I put the camera about a foot away from their rolling pins. They didn't care. Getting close is essential, especially if you're relying on the built-in microphone to capture sound. So zoom with your feet whenever possible. Finally, listen for opportunities to capture little sound bites. What makes video unique from photos is that we can hear the ambiance of a place. So don't just look at a scene to decide what you wanna record. Get into the habit of listening as well. What are you hearing in your location? Bird song, waves lapping on the shore? Record shots that capture some of these sounds. For example, a close up of meat sizzling on a grill. [SOUND] >> [FOREIGN] >> A medium shot of a vendor hawking food. [MUSIC] A wide shot of drumming. Sound is extremely powerful, and it's an important part of storytelling. Watch this next video I created for the Weather Network about storm chasing tours in Tornado Alley. Listen to the way I used sound bites from the various locations. >> Look over to the left, guys. >> Brian Spencer is living a dream. He's seeing tornadoes in person. >> To see one live, it was miraculous really, it was absolutely phenomenal. >> Those feelings were echoed by everyone on this two week storm chasing tour. >> Great. >> Including Terry Hilderhoff of Bickering. >> I think it's amazing how every single one is different. It almost like a snowflake. No two tornadoes are the same, right? >> These storm chasers are among the hundreds who come here to Tornado Alley every spring in hopes of hitting the twister jackpot. The odds are good, but of course, when it comes to the weather there are no guarantees. >> The cards are kinda stacked against us today. George Kourounis of Toronto has been working with Cloud 9 Tours since 2004. >> Let's go guys. >> Every spring, he takes tourists to the doorstep of severe storms and helps them understand what they're seeing and hearing. >> It's all hail. Yeah, it's almost being held aloft and it's all cracking into each other. It's coming this way though. By coming on the tours, they get a really good immersion into the lifestyle of a storm chaser. And by showing them the beauty and the majesty of the atmosphere, they can hopefully appreciate our place in it a little bit more. >> The lesson is not lost on this group. They were near Joplin, Missouri when the tornado hit. >> Getting there right afterwards and seeing 12 semis turned over, you can't even imagine how that actually happened. >> Any time Mother Nature just wants to take you out, she can. And we're really just kind of on borrowed time. >> For the Weather Network, I'm Cindy Burgess. >> See how great it is to be able to hear what's going on? It sort of draws you in more as a viewer. So listen for opportunities to capture sound bites. These are going to be little building blocks in your video as well. Now good audio won't make up for bad content, of course, but it will help take your videos to the next level. In the next lesson, we're going to focus on lighting. You'll learn how to avoid backlighting and use natural light to your advantage. See you soon.

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