Video & Filmmaking

How to Record Quality Sound for Multimedia

August 13, 2010

By Holly Hughes

© Simon Biswas

Simon Biswas shot video portraits and interviews with his subjects.

While DSLRs that shoot HD video promise an easy way to shoot high quality video, the weakness of many videos photographers have shot this way is in audio recordings. Sound designer Jesse Flower-Ambroch advises photographers, “These cameras are definitely not built for audio.” Flower-Ambroch has collaborated frequently with  photographer Simon Biswas on several video projects.  (See “ How Collaboration Can Produce Better Video.”)

When one of Biswas’s assignments has the budget for it, he brings Flower-Ambroch in to record sound or work on the editing and mixing. On personal projects, he says he has learned enough from watching Flower-Ambroch work and listening to his advice that he can now create crystal clear audio files.

“It’s best to have a location sound person to record, monitor and manage audio, especially when shooting sync video with DSLR cameras,” Flower-Ambroch says. “If you must record the audio yourself, invest in some decent equipment. There’s a lot of crappy, but enticingly priced audio gear out there and having nice gear makes a huge difference. Unlike cameras, audio equipment depreciates in value very slowly, so consider it a long-term investment.”

With Flower-Ambroch’s advice, Biswas has spent about $750 on kit that includes headphones, a shotgun mic and a digital recorder.

In the video he created for the LookBetween photo festival,   Biswas, a portrait photographer, shot long takes of his elderly subjects — like portraits with motion.
Untitled from Aruninator on Vimeo.

As he recorded interviews with his subjects in a nursing home and in subjects’ apartments, he monitored sound levels himself. He also sure there was little traffic or other unwanted noise (he’s learned to unplug refrigerators, for example). Most importantly, he recorded a few seconds of room tone at the beginning and end of each recording. This provided Flower-Ambroch the ambient noise needed to make smooth transitions from one audio clip to the next. As Biswas notes, in a room, “even silence has a sound,” which is different from the silence that comes in a break in an audio file.

Flower-Ambroch recommends picking up tips through online user groups for sound designers like and “Gearslutz has a good post-production sound forum,” he adds. “Sniff around there and if you can’t find the answer to your question try posting it.”

His closing advice: “You are guaranteed to screw something up at first so don’t be too hard on yourself.”

Related story:
How Collaboration Can Produce Better Video