If you don’t already use the audio filter Compressor in your video or audio editing application, then you are missing out on the key ways to make your dialogue sound better in your productions. Here is an excellent video tutorial from MacBreak Studio’s Steve Martin and Mark Spencer who show you how to apply a compressor filter to a clip and adjust the parameters in Final Cut Pro X. The key thing to remember when applying the filter is the 4:1 ratio. It will make your dialogue clearer–much like applying a unsharp mask to a photograph .
Many of may old posts that deal with tips about how to do video storytelling and audio slideshows get linked on a lot of blogs used by college professors who teach digital media classes. Most of these posts are buried amongst my pontifications about the changes facing the newspaper industry. So for anyone interested, here is a roundup of my best multimedia suggestions and useful tip posts in one place…
For anybody who has edited video in Final Cut Pro, you know that there are many different ways to perform the same tasks. Recently I watched this free Apple seminar on how to rapidly edit news and sports packages. This tutorial is geared primarily for TV shooters and editors transitioning from tape-tape and into the world of non-linear editing. The video seminar is taught by long-time TV news shooter and editor Joe Torelli, who really knows his stuff.
I found the most useful information comes in the second video where Torelli shows an interesting way to edit clips on the timeline verses setting in and out points in the viewer. His techniques, geared for deadline productions, are something I will try when I need to edit something in a hurry. As newspaper websites use more and more video, learning to edit efficiently will only become more important.
As newspaper still photographers transition to shooting more video, they can get overwhelmed by all the non-creative tasks they have to do. With white balancing, audio monitoring and sequencing chores at hand, many new videographers forget to be creative with their video cameras. Here are some of the techniques I use to add a little visual variety to my videos:
Get on your knees or climb a tree. Take the viewer to a place they wouldn’t normally go. I love putting the camera on the ground to get that unique perspective. The ground also serves as a decent tripod. Shooting high will give you that overall establishing shot that you know you need, but like me, sometimes forget.
Don’t just shoot a tight shot. Instead, go super tight–as tight as your lens can focus tight. These shots are gold because they are as visually jarring as they are visually interesting. They also make for excellent transitions between scenes. I learned this from master TV news shooter Dave Werthelmer. His favorite line is: “Don’t shoot the donut, shoot the donut hole.” I try to remember that line each time I start shooting.
Look for that subject perspective shot. An example of this would be a shot following the feet of a mailman trudging through snow, or following a toddler around from their low perspective. I think too much of what we shoot tends to be tripod or eye-level. You just have to anticipate when to drop the pod and move with the action.
Turn off your autofocus and try a manual shift-focus shot. Try starting with a blurry shot, and then quickly bring your subject into focus. Or try racking your focus from a foreground subject to a background subject. It is pretty effective when done right. Just make sure you are rock solid on a tripod!
Layer your shots with foreground elements, just like you would as a still shooter. They are more complex to see, but done well, they really ratchet up the visual variety of your video.
I don’t do this often, but at times it can be effective. Use a slow shutter speed to blur movement. I’ve used it on people dancing and it gave the video clip an interesting romantic look, especially if I followed the action in time like a pan shot with a still camera.
Try speeding up the action or slowing it down either in camera or in your video editing program. Here, I am careful how I use this. Like the slow shutter shot, it has to be done for a reason. Don’t speed up the action just because it is cool. Do it because it adds something to your story such as compressing time. Over and under cranking your video is already overused, so be selective.
Shoot more telephoto shots. One thing I’ve learned since I got the tripod religion is that a solid, tight telephoto shot will fill your frame with intimacy. Because video cameras have so much depth of field, anytime you can make the background go soft so that our subject pops, you should do it. While tight on your subject, don’t forget to pull out and shoot a medium and wide shot. It’s an instant three shot sequence.
What do you do to get creative with your video camera? Please share.
You’ve probably heard it a thousand times before–viewers will forgive you for bad video, but they’ll bolt if forced to listen to bad audio. Wind noise and distorted audio hurts the ears. Have a video where the subject can’t be heard over distracting ambient nosie? I, like most people, just hit the back button on my browser. Here are some audio tips I’ve learned from my time behind a video camera:
I’ve watched too many videos and audio slideshows where wind noise has ruined an interview or mucked up the ambient sound. It is important to use a quality microphone with a windscreen to minimize this horrible sound. A couple of years ago, I climbed windy Mount St. Helens with my video camera. I bought one of those fuzzy windscreens that looks like a tribble (yes that is a Star Trek reference.) It worked brilliantly. For reporters stuck with a point and shoot cameras, good luck. Your audio is at risk every time the wind blows.
If you use a lapel or wireless mic on a subject, the rule of thumb is to place it at the second button on a dress shirt. Don’t place the mic inside the shirt or against skin, as that will add a rustling noise every time the subject moves. Listen closely with headphones for noisy clothing like ski jackets or jingly jewelry. You will beat your head against your keyboard trying to edit around these distractions.
Nothing screams amateur like a dangling mic cord on the outside of a subject’s clothing.Take the time and run it up inside the subject’s shirt or top. If it is a tee shirt, run the mic out the collar, and down a couple of inches. Pinch the shirt and clip the mic so that it is facing up. It doesn’t always look the best, but will give you better audio quality than if you just clipped it to the collar. Also, take charge of placing the mic. The subject usually has no clue of how to clip it correctly. Stringing it under their shirt, well, I’ll leave that to my subject.
If you are using a wireless mic, make sure to turn off all cell phones near the transmitter and receiver. Our company’s Palm Treos interfere with our Sennheiser G-2 wireless kits. This random interference will happen only when the subject says something profound.
When I shoot interviews with a wireless mic, I record in two channels of audio ( I use a Sony Z1U with two XLR inputs.) One channel is the wireless mic and one channel is my on-camera shotgun microphone. That way if I get interference or distortion, I can use the other channel in a pinch. This has saved me countless times. This also works well for stories where you have one subject that you need to wire up. I have that channel always recording, even if I’m just shooting b-roll of something else. I can always drop that channel when I’m editing. Great things are said when the camera is not in the subjects face. Just remember to turn off the receiver if your subject heads to the restroom…
Get a curly cord extension for your on-camera shotgun mic. That way when you do a quick on tripod interview with someone, you won’t have to stick the camera so close to his or her face. A TV news shooter once told me that sound falls, so place that shotgun mic about a foot out and below the subject’s mouth. In other words, let the sound fall into the mic.
Always wear headphones to monitor your audio. Everybody that shoots video knows that, but not everyone does it. Nothing is worse then realizing you captured crappy audio and then having to spend way too much time trying to make lamb chops out of ground beef. Ok, I admit it. I hate wearing headphones. Sometimes I get lazy, but one thing I don’t ever compromise on is wearing them during an interview. You can always fudge your b-roll audio by lowering levels, but rarely can you do this with your a-roll audio.
If you’re doing an interview with a subject outside, turn them away from noise like traffic. Shotgun mics tend to amplify the noise from behind the subject.
Nothing is worse than trying to edit a sequence with music playing in the background of several clips. The ambient music will jump around like a goldfish on a carpet. Which brings me to the first thing you should do when walking into a room you’re going to record in. Listen. Listen for hums, clock tics (my favorite), traffic noise, music etc. Try to minimize these distractions if you can.
Record a minute of room tone. You’d be surprised at how handy it comes in when you’re editing. Need a bit of breathing room between two clips of someone speaking? Room tone to the rescue.
Got an audio gathering or editing tip. Share it here!
I think it’s time for everyone to banish that ugly black bar used to display lower thirds titles in Final Cut Pro/Express. For the longest time, I struggled with what to do with white text on a light background. I usually ended up using the standard black bar, which is so wide it usually lands across the speakers chin.
Experimenting, I learned to change the bar’s color by using the color sampler.I also tried lowering the bar’s opacity until it was almost transparent.That lipstick didn’t help. It was still an ugly bar mucking up my shot. I’m not a fan of motion titles—they’re distracting and look too much like the snappy graphics in TV. So what to do?
I finally discovered that by clicking the motion tab when my lower thirds title generator is loaded in the viewer, I could add a drop shadow to my text. It was one of those “duh” moments, that I just couldn’t believe I didn’t connect the dots earlier, Now my lower thirds text floats and are much more readable. Make sure you click the drop shadow check box and click the triangle for more settings. Here’s the numbers I use —1.5 to 2 for inset. Softness, 20-30 and opacity 90.
When Joe Weiss released his audio slideshow production tool called Soundslides in August of 2005, I quickly produced my first slideshow of a grand entrance at a Native American powwow. I was amazed at how easy it was to put together. I didn’t need to know Flash or have programming skills. I had a feeling back then that this little program was going to change photojournalism forever, and it did.
Now two and a half years later, I think it’s time to take a constructive look at audio slideshows and review ways to make them better. One of the raps on audio slideshows is that they can be boring and predictable. I agree. I’ve watched hundreds of audio slideshows and it can be painful at times. But then I hit one that just nails it and my faith in the genre is restored. I have probably produced 75 or so audio slideshows. I understand the challenge of making a compelling narrative resonate with viewers. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned over time:
I shoot the photographs for my slideshow like I shoot a video sequence–by taking wide, medium and lots of tight shots. This gives my shows visual variety and allows me to cover my audio by opening with a wide shot, then transitioning to a tight shot of the same scene.
It’s best to open your show with a bit of natural sound rather than with a subject talking. The ramp up into your story is important. If you don’t pull the viewer in fast they will bolt. Natural sound eases the viewer into your story without jolting them with dialogue.
Stop having the subjects introduce themselves. Really, stop it! The biggest cliché in audio slideshows is the “Hi, my name is…” intro. Instead, use a lower thirds title.
Use passionate subjects for the narrative of your story. If your subject has a boring monotone voice, then maybe you should write and voice some narrative bridges yourself to help move the story along.
Like video, try to match up photos to what the narrator is talking about. The same goes for the natural sound.When you do this, your story will really start to crackle.
When you record an interview, make sure to do it in a quiet spot. Then add your natural sounds (at a reduced level) under the narrative to give it sound depth.
Record a minute of room tone wherever you are taking photographs. Use it to cover the sound gaps between or under the narration.
Never, I mean NEVER have dead air sound gaps in your audio narrative. Cross-fade your audio between clips or add room tone to prevent this at all costs.
Use a multi-track sound editor to do your audio edit. It allows you to add the layers of sound that helps you create a soundscape that rocks the viewer of your show.
Your final audio edit should be as smooth as butter. Nothing should take you out of the moment. I like to close my eyes and just listen to my edit without looking at the timeline. Hit stop when you hit a bump and fix it. The difference between a great edit and a poor edit is in how you do your final audio tweaks. Make sure to normalize your audio so that there are not low and high dropouts in the mix.
Make sure your show is paced correctly. Too fast and you make the viewer mad, too slow and you bore them visually.
Use music for a reason, and not because you need to make a boring show more interesting. Don’t use music to manipulate emotion. If it is not in the narrative or photos, don’t force it with music.
Finally, create what I call a nat/narrative weave with your audio edits. Start your show with natural sound, and then weave your narration and ambient sound in and out. The worse thing you can do is have one subject drone on for three minutes without stopping.