November 12, 2015

How to Record Great Sounding Natural & Ambient Audio In-Camera

Academy of Storytellers In Camera Audio Tutorial
No budget for a dedicated sound recordist/mixer? No access to sound equipment other than a video mic for your camera? No problem.

As part of their recent partnership with Vimeo, the fine folks at Story & Heart are releasing select Academy of Storytellers tutorials for free as part of the Vimeo Video School. And the video they released yesterday might very well be one of their best yet, particularly if you're a low-budget shooter looking to drastically improve the quality of the audio you record.

The tutorial features Jeremy Bircher, founder of Portland post production company Boom Sizzle, and it's all about how to effectively capture natural and ambient sounds when all you have is a camera and a video mic. Check it out:

In the video, Jeremy talks about the three types of natural audio that you're likely to encounter in a shoot, and he shares his best practices for capturing each type of audio. Keep in mind that these tips are great for solo shooters, but they're equally applicable if you're using thousands of dollars worth of audio gear. Here are the three types of sounds and the Story & Heart descriptions of each:

Transient sounds

Transient sounds happen quickly and abruptly. They arise sharply and cease almost instantly. Think of a footstep, a plate smashing on the ground, or a punch to the gut. 

Evolving Sounds

Contrary to transient sounds, evolving sounds hang around for awhile and persist. These noises may be introduced slowly or quickly, but ultimately they decay much slower than transient sounds. In some cases, they may never completely go away. As examples, fondly recall the car horn outside your window that failed to abate, the incessant buzz of an overhead fluorescent light, or the ancient grumble of the office freight elevator. 

Speech

Speech sound effects are kinda self-explanatory: they involve the voice. You may hear them referred to as “walla.” Often, these are the background conversations that make a scene feel human. 

In terms of recording each type of sound, the biggest takeaway from the video is that you should consider the perspective from which the audience will hear each sound. For instance, the sound of footsteps in snow is completely different when recorded from 3 feet away, 20 feet away, and 20 yards away. Depending on the types of shots that you capture, you'll want to focus on recording sounds from a certain distance (or a combination of distances) in order accurately replicate the sounds as they occur from each perspective.

The Academy of Storytellers is currently running a promotion until Friday evening where you get $80 off a year of membership and 25% off a Vimeo Pro subscription. If you're interested, check out their registration page for more information and use the code "awesomesauce" at checkout. Also be sure to leave your best tips for recording great location audio down in the comments!     

Your Comment

8 Comments

Nice overview of essential sounds to bring your film to life.

November 12, 2015 at 4:15PM

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Alex Everingham
Video Editor
548

Wow - some of these thoughts are mind blowing. Forget picture -chase sounds with your camera. If you want strong sound go close more environmental further away !
Nothing about getting atmos or coverage or protection against noise or interference.
I have no doubts the guy has done a sound course but film sound - not at all.
The options are not between a pro mixer and nothing - they are between a pal with a mic either with a wire back to your camera or better to a cheap recorder. The best sound is rarely captured from the same angle as the best shot. But better again is to borrow a zoom or olympus hand recorder (I phone if you must) and mic it up and get a pal or student to get sound whilst you attend to the pictures. You can hire a field recorder mic and wire for a day for about $50. Try student union hire for best prices. http://www.scarycow.com/lowbudgetaudio/
Fraid this is another common NFS 3rd party advertisement dressed up as a article.
Not so awful if the "experts' actually knew something about film sound but not guilty here.

November 12, 2015 at 4:38PM, Edited November 12, 4:38PM

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Hello,

thank you for your time and effort to create this video. I'd like to share my opinion.
While this video is definitely educational, especially when it comes to the different types of sounds, and the difference it makes from what angle and distance you record them, I disagree with the overall thinking behind this video.
In the ever evolving film industry we see more and more workarounds. Young filmmakers accept projects that they are not ready for, yet they think they are, because a website told them so. To be clear, I do not blame No Film School, I used to read through their articles quite a bit and am a strong proponent of auto-didactic filmmakers. But we used to not take on jobs, were the budget was so tight that it didn't even allow for a sound recordist. This is madness. The quality of the final product always suffers, along with the brand of the filmmaker being diluted. To tell young filmmakers: "No budget?, no problem!" is a dangerous thing. Of course we all have to find our way, and often it means to take things into your own hand or do a job, which brings you forward (!), for free. By all means: Do it and learn. But keep in mind for the future, that if you prioritise saving money over the quality of film, which after all is undebatably a team effort, you will hurt your own success and cheapen your products.

Sincerely,

S. Muly

November 12, 2015 at 6:36PM

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I agree for commercial projects, but if its not a client you are shooting for but you're own project the "no budget? no problem!" mentality might be justified again ;)

November 13, 2015 at 6:02AM

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True. As I said, for learning experiences or personal projects, this might be helpful advice. But young filmmakers will use what they learned in the early days, in later (presumably commercial) projects. These tutorials or advice columns are never marked as "for personal use" or "for experimenting". Often it says explicitly to use these tricks, when the clients budget is tight. I wish we could see filmmakers being educated as much in how to work in the film industry, how to respect the process of filmmaking, and what it means to be properly paid. With cheap tricks, we are not only diluting our own products, but also irreversibly change the viewing habits of the audience.
Everybody has to find their own way of course, but if you want to make it in the film industry you are not doing yourself a favour when cheapening the budgets. Quality filmmaking doesn't have to be overly expensive, but it requires a base set of skills and people.

November 14, 2015 at 6:27AM

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Good video. One small faux pas is not having a "dead cat" on the Rode mic because the Rode foam wind-screen is not enough to stop wind sounds.

I would also recommend using a small portable recorder on top of your camera for "natural" sounds instead of the Rode VideoMic Pro because it's going to capture higher quality audio with less self-noise than most cameras will, and will also give you the option of stereo sound if you want it. ( you still need a "dead cat" for your portable recorder too )

November 13, 2015 at 9:41PM, Edited November 13, 9:43PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
31122

Loved the info, even if I thought going in there would be, "-and this is how you make crappy pre-amps sound acceptable."

November 14, 2015 at 6:25PM, Edited November 14, 6:26PM

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I enjoyed the video, especially the suggestion of layering on sounds recording at different perspectives/distances. When I'm running around and clean audio isn't important, I use a mic attached to the camera. But if the audio is important, definitely at minimum use a recording device and headphones! Ideally as Alex Everingham said, have another person in charge of it and who knows the equipment. It's easier to make mistakes with any number of issues the fewer people are in the crew.

For recording, I usually use a Tascam DR-100MKII with two lines in for redundancy and to adjust for two subjects who speak at different volumes. It has power redundancy as well (three sources of possible power) so it is built not to fail you.

November 15, 2015 at 4:48PM, Edited November 15, 4:48PM

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Suzie Park
Director & DP
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