March just flew by. Video production is one of those subjects that I could easily spend the rest of the year exploring and writing about. But, the goal for this year is to sample and learn the basics of a new photo or video topic each month.

I believe I accomplished my goal for learning video production in March. Granted I have a lot to learn yet, but I am now able to setup my camera, light the set and add some good quality sound to my videos. That’s more than I could do at the beginning of the month.

What did I learn during the Month of Video Production?

Setting Up The DSLR

  • Set the white balance manually in order to prevent automatic white balance changes during production.
  • Set the DSLR for manual exposure.
  • Set the shutter speed of your camera based on the frame rate of the video. 24 fps=1/50th of second, 30 fps=1/60th, and 60 fps=1/125th.
  • Set your f/stop to achieve the desired depth of field. For talking head and interview videos, f/2.8 or f/3.2 with minimal depth of field is good.
  • Adjust the camera’s ISO to achieve the exposure level needed for a good video.
  • Use manual focus to prevent focus motor noise in your videos and to prevent focus hunting in the middle of the video.

Lighting The Video

  • You don’t have to spend a small fortune for video lighting.
  • The cheapest route to go is to use natural lighting and fill in the shadows with some kind of reflector. Overcast days provide a nice soft light.
  • Low cost, daylight balanced LED lights work on or off camera. Light output is good, but not great.
  • Continuous output compact fluorescent lighting kits are available at a price that most can afford. These produce a lot of daylight balanced light.
  • For talking head or interview videos, three-point lighting is a good way to light the set.

Capturing and Recording Audio

  • You don’t have to spend a small fortune to capture and record sound.
  • To start out, all you really need is whatever sound recording device your camera provides.
  • A shotgun mic, like the Rode Videomic Pro, plugged into the microphone jack of your DSLR will improve your sound.
  • A microphone like a lavalier placed close to the mouth, greatly improves sound and reduces room noise.
  • Recording high quality sound with a sound recorder and synchronizing to the video during edit is a great way to go.
  • Make sure whatever microphone you use has the right jack to plug into your recording device.
  • Use a wind screen when outside.

Being the Talent

I learned two things about being the talent in a video. It’s very difficult for me, and I’m terrible at it. I’ve spent my entire adult life trying my best to stay behind the camera. A lot of personal mannerisms that I battle daily are very apparent when on camera. I’m somewhat of an introvert, and tend to not look people in the eyes when talking. I also have a tendency to shut my eyes when talking.

I spent two hours one night shooting a one minute introduction for my Google Helpouts page, and ended up throwing it all away. None of it was usable for the above mentioned reasons.

Later I went back and reshot the Google Helpouts introduction with the knowledge that I was going to have to force myself to look into the camera while talking. I did a lot better the second time. My video footage was usable. Maybe not the greatest, but usable.

I will continue to practice at being the talent. I assume that I will eventually get comfortable in front of the camera.

Editing and Post Production

I didn’t discuss any video editing or post production this month. Editing is one of those topics that could easily dominate an entire month, if not an entire year. If you are interested in learning video editing, I recommend you check out some of the resources that I will list below. Most of them will have some good editing tips and techniques along with recommendations on editing software.

I did learn during the month to keep my video transitions simple. Primarily, for talking head and interview videos, a straight cut is always a good way to go. However, if there is any kind of jump between takes, meaning sudden movement of the talent from one frame to the next, then a slide transition is a better way to go. With a straight cut, the position shift in the talent is unexpected and troublesome to the viewer. By using a slide transition, the viewer can expect the position jump and accept it it easier.

Resources

Here are some resources that I’ve used in my research and training. These are just a few that I’ve found. There are countless other good sources that can be found with a keyword search.

Vimeo Video School – many great training videos

Wistia Learning Center – many great training videos

DSLR Cinema, Cinema Raw, and Cinematic Journalism – blog by Kurt Lancaster

Cheesy Cam – DIY photography and video projects

Next Wave DV – blog and training videos on gear, video, sound, and post production

DIY Video Guy – blog and video course

Wrapping Up Video Production

I realize that I have not posted any videos for you to view yet. Part of the reason for that is my inabilities as on-screen talent. Also, producing a video is time consuming.

I’ve heard that to produce a video takes at least ten times longer than writing an article about the subject. I would have to agree, after spending eight hours to produce a one minute introductory video. Using video is such a powerful way to communicate with an audience and share a message though. It’s importance in communication will continue to grow, and I believe the extra production time is worth the effort.

I do promise to get some videos up for you to view. I’m working on one now that demonstrates the sound quality of three different microphones.

What’s Next in the Year of Photographic Exploration?

In April, I will be exploring strobist photography. Basically, this is intermediate and advanced use of one or more small flashes in your photography. I hope you will follow along. If there are any aspects of flash photography that interested you, please leave a comment or contact me directly.

 

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Similar to video lighting, you don’t have to make a huge investment in sound equipment to start out in video production. There are free and low-cost options available to use until you are sure you want to pursue video more actively. You will quickly discover however, that the more you invest in sound equipment, the better your sound quality is.

Free Sound Option

Any camera capable of shooting video, also has the capability to record sound. This includes pro video cameras, camcorders, DSLR’s, point-and-shoot cameras, and even cell phones. Typically, the professional quality video cameras have high quality shotgun microphones attached to them. Definitely a great way to go for remote interviews and documentary video work, but in a controlled environment, most videographers would use a higher quality sound recording device.

With all the other camera types, the built-in microphones are not what I would call high quality. They get the job done, but just barely. You will often hear background noise, an echo sound, and even a tinny quality to the sound.

Since I do all of my video work with a DSLR, I’ll address that particular microphone. With the Nikon D7000, the microphone is just under the model number on the front the camera. It’s a mono microphone located behind three holes in the plastic. It gives you a fairly low-quality sound with a dash of room echo. Also, if you use the camera’s autofocus feature, you will pick up the noise of the focus motor.

Better Sound Option For DSLR CamerasRode VideoMic Pro

A very popular alternative to the DSLR’s built-in microphone, and one that I use, is the Rode VideoMic Pro. This is a directional shotgun style microphone that mounts onto your camera’s hotshoe and plugs into your external microphone jack. The microphone itself is suspended by rubber shock bands which isolate it from the noise of the camera body. The VideoMic Pro can be used as a primary microphone or as a reference microphone, which I cover in more detail below.

Although a definite step-up from the DSLR’s internal microphone, the VideoMic Pro is not perfect. You will notice a huge improvement in sound quality, especially outdoors. Indoors, however, you will still pick up just a bit of echo. This is caused by the distance between the microphone and the talent. You can eliminate echo almost entirely by mounting the VideoMic Pro on a pole and positioning it just above the talent, but this requires an extension cord for the microphone or the use of a sound recorder.

Best Sound Option For DSLR CamerasGiant Squid's Omnidirectional Mono Lavalier

For talking head or interview videos, one of the best options is to use a lavalier microphone. A lavalier is a very small microphone clipped to the cloths approximately six inches from the mouth of the talent. If you’ve ever watched a newscaster, you’ve seen a lavalier. When well placed, however, you hardly notice them. Here’s a good video by Izzy Hyman of IzzyVideo on 7 Ways To Hide a Lavalier that you may find useful.

Lavaliers are typically good quality microphones. What makes them really effective however, is that they are placed very close to the mouth of the talent. This eliminates a lot of the ambient noise levels and room echo.

Lavalier microphones vary in cost anywhere from $20 to hundreds of dollars. As is usual with most video production and camera gear, the higher the cost, the higher the quality and the more features. I have found one lavalier microphone however, that is not only high quality at an extremely affordable price, but is also made in the United States. Giant Squid Audio Lab makes and sells a few lavaliers that I highly recommend. They have a nice look and they work great. Currently their Omnidirectional Mono Microphone only costs $40.

Sound Recording Options

Tascam DR-05 Digital Sound Recorder

If you do decide to go the route of an external microphone, you will have a couple options in how you will record the sound. The first is to plug directly into your DSLR’s external mic port. This is a 3.5mm minijack connector located somewhere on the camera. On most Nikon DSLR’s, it’s on the left side behind a rubber access door. If you plug directly into your camera’s external mic port, you will need a microphone cord long enough or an extension cord.

Option two is to plug your microphone into a sound recorder. There are many of these on the market ranging in price from less than $100 up to several hundred dollars. Two popular brands used by photographers and videographers is Tascam and Zoom sound recorders. You will have to shop and compare to determine which is best for you. The Tascam DR-05 and the Zoom H1 are two of the very popular, low-cost options for entry level video production. I’ve been using Tascam for years, and have always been happy with them.

XLR Connector vs 3.5mm Minijack Connector

One thing to be aware when purchasing a microphone or a sound recorder is there are two common connectors used on microphones. Higher end microphones and sound recorders typically use what is know as an XLR connector. A rather large connector with three pins.

The other connector commonly found on the lower cost options is the 3.5mm minijack. This is the same connector found on most headphones and earbuds. It is also the connector you will need if you are plugging a microphone into a DSLR camera.

The important thing here is to make sure that your microphone if capable of plugging into whatever sound recording device you elect to use.

Primary Microphone vs Reference Microphone

When shooting, many videographers and cinematographers actually record two separate tracks of audio. The primary microphone is either a lavalier or shotgun microphone placed close to the talent’s mouth and plugged into a sound recorder. A second microphone is used solely as a reference, and is typically the camera’s internal mic or an external mic plugged into the camera.

In this situation, the reference sound track is recorded with the video using a lower quality microphone. Later in editing, the higher quality audio track from the sound recorder in synchronized to the reference track either manually or with software like PluralEyes by Red Giant. After the two tracks are synchronized, the low quality reference track is muted. Using both a primary and a reference audio track is a very simple way of syncing high quality sound to your video.

Wind Screens

Wind screens are usually foam or artificial fur covers that are placed over the microphone to cut down on wind noise. You will often hear the artificial fur cover referred to as a dead cat.

If you have any kind of wind outside, it is best to put a wind screen on your microphone regardless of whether it’s a shotgun style mic or a lavalier. My Rode VideoMic Pro has a foam wind screen as standard, and I have a fur wind screen (dead cat) that fits over the foam in extremely windy conditions. My Giant Squid lavalier has a small foam wind screen, but I only use that when I have to.

You will oftentimes hear the foam wind screen referred to as a pop filter, although technically, it is not a pop filter. A pop filter is used in a studio environment and prevents sudden rushes of air from hitting the microphone when saying words starting with “P” or “S”. It also prevents corrosive saliva from getting on the microphone. However, with that said, a foam wind screen can do a decent job of acting as a pop filter for those microphones placed close to the mouth.

One of the best resources for fur and foam windscreens is The WindCutter. There you can find very high quality products for a wide range of microphones.

Is that all there is to know about sound capture and recording?

I wish that was all there is to know. This has been an introduction to video sound recording. I’m positive I’ve only scratched the surface, and there is a lot more to learn.

Just like in the previous article on lighting, no matter what you currently have for sound capture and recording, give video production a try. You can improve your skills and add to your equipment later. And don’t forget to share a link to any of your video experiments below.

 

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