Audio basics: Sound is often the most overlooked part of documentary filmmaking, especially for beginners, and knowing some audio basics will take you a long way.
If you can get an experienced sound person on your project, this is ideal.
But if you’re like a lot of documentary filmmakers, budget is KING and you are probably a one-man-band.. or will be at some point in the project.
Before you head off to your shoot, CHECK your audio equipment to make sure mics are working, batteries fully charged, no bad cables.
Constantly check your audio levels to make sure the sound coming in is not too high or too low.
Depending on the complexity of your video camera, you may or may not have control over audio levels. For the simplest cameras (a hand-held handycam) with just a built in mic, you will need to have your camera close to the subject to pick up sound.
Put on your headphones and have your subject do a “testing 1,2,3” to make sure your camera’s microphone is picking up the sound.
Always wear headphones, if possible. (Some cameras, such as the DSLR's, don't have headphone jacks. Of course you can fix that by adding on a preamp audio box.)
If someone is speaking, make sure there is not a lot of background noise (traffic, wind, construction, etc). It can be distracting and make the interview unusable.
Is there really such a thing as the "best microphone for documentary filmmaking"? Probably not. The best microphone totally depends on any number of factors including your budget, type of shooting (interviews, news gathering, etc) and other equipment you're already using. Are you a one-man filmmaking crew or are you making a high-end documentary for the BBC or Discovery Channel?
Because you are on this page learning about the basics of audio, let's assume you're on a budget and looking for the best audio for the best price. The choices below aren't the cheapest, but they are solid microphones that can be used in multiple situations.
Are you in need of more than just a microphone?
We've put together a great "filmmaking starter kit" check list to help you find the best gear for your project.
Click here to see a list of Documentary Video Production Equipment Gear.