How to use sound when shooting video

Imagine a street at night, street lights reflected on the wet pavement and a man walks across the street. Now, imagine imagine you hear a piano playing a subtle melody, almost sad or nostalgic, while you watch the scene.

Now imagine the same street with the same lighting and the same man crossing the street. This time you hear the sound of a big drum, thumping more rapidly as action goes on.

In the first case, you may have thought of a lingering romantic, just walking without any destination. In the second example, it could be a mysterious man seeking equally mysterious mischief ...

Shhhhh, krrrkrrr, clik clik...

In either case, sound contributes to the atmosphere and context of these images. It all gets spoiled if you hear a clicking sound from the lens adjusting focus or a "shhhhhh" because of the wind. Suddenly, the whole magic is gone…

This example might seem cinematic… but it serves one purpose: to illustrate how sound is important when shooting video, and the impact sound has on your images. If you make sure and capture good sound when shooting, you’ll be able to use it in any context.

Whenever you press the button to record, you might be capturing images of the next viral video of the year, or the week. Or maybe not. But one thing is certain, if the sound is good, your video will be a lot more fun to watch.

External microphone or not?

Most cameras with a video recording mode are equipped with a built-in microphone. Take some time to listen to the kind of sound your camera records. If you "hear" the internal settings of the machine, you should consider buying an external microphone.

Depending on available models, you can even connect a quality micriphone directly to your camera. This feature is a must if you think yo’ll be using your camera for any kind of video production.

You can also record sound on an external source, such as a digital recorder or even a smartphone, provided you dampen the noise from the device itself, and you make sure to use a reasonably high sampling rate. In this case, you’ll have to synchronize sound with your clips and editing can quickly become tedious.

Low sensitivity, high or automatic

Before shooting anything important, try all controls and settings available in the camera and on your microphone. If you are in a noisy room, for example, you should check if lowering sensitivity of the mic in your camera will let you hear people talking close to you. When shooting outdoors, you should always try to block any wind coming straight at the microphone, which could make your sound totally useless.

If you’re able to test each sensitivity setting of your camera before you shoot, you’ll be better prepared for difficult sound conditions. If the low sensitivity setting is effective, for example, you will avoid a lot of editing trouble if you shoot in a music show and find yourself too close to the speakers. Remember: experiment until you get a good feeling for how your equipment performs. Sounds like a good idea, no?