Improve your DSLR for free. Do it. You have no excuses. Free as in: you don’t need to buy anything. Here is the key: record smarter, add additional sounds, and learn how to edit audio. Here are some tips on how I get better sounding audio out of my DSLR recordings:
Move Your DSLR (Microphone) Closer to the Source
Sound decreases at the rate of the inverse of the distance squared. So if your microphone is two times farther away, your sound will be 4 times quieter. Lets say you hold your mic 4 feet away instead of 5: (5/4)^2 = 1.5625, your audio would sound roughly 50% louder. What this means is that you can lower your input gain (or keep it at the same level if it is not clipping), allowing you to minimize the background sounds while maintaining the loudness of your subject matter.
The main reason DSLR audio sucks? Because the microphone is always really far away from your subject. A great way to get your DSLR closer to the subject is by using a wide angle lens. If you have a wide angle lens laying around, try using it. A wide angle lens will allow you to stick the camera less than a foot away from your subject, meaning the on camera microphone will be very close to your subject.
Record in Acoustically Friendly Environments
A second cause for poor audio is recording in a environment with lots of sounds bouncing around. A home office with bare walls usually sucks for recording audio. Try to find a “dead” room. Carpeting, lots of stuff on the walls, triple pane windows, furniture, all help dampen the sound waves. Less bounce results in cleaner audio. Some people record audio in their closets! The logic behind that is: all the clothing in the closet prevents the sound from bouncing around.
Add a Free Windscreen (This is the Shittiest Idea on My List)
What is a wind screen? Basically something that you place on your microphone designed to dampen the amount of air hitting your mic. A cheap or free windscreen will likely work poorly. It won’t block wind very well and it will likely change the frequency response of your recording. But a crappy windscreen is better than no wind screen (if you are in a windy location, otherwise don’t use one). You can scrunch up some stocking, use pillow feathers, fuzzy materials from a soft rag or stuffed animal, cotton from your pillow etc… You would then tape this around your microphone hole.
Also, a more practical way of avoiding wind is: shooting in the evenings or at night, and using buildings/trees to block the wind. Usually wind comes from one direction and so pointing your DSLR in the opposite direction with some sort of shelter to your back works well.
Edit Your Audio in Audacity
Audacity is a free tool for editing audio. It is very basic, and the interface is pretty ugly. Still, it works great. When I need to do a simple edit, I almost always use Audacity. Audacity will allow you to cut/paste your audio, create multiple audio tracks, and add effects.
Record Additional Sounds and Add Them to Your Mix
If you are more daring, simply use your DSLR to record additional sounds and add them to your mix. I often use audio that my DSLR recorded as additional background sounds to soundscapes I work on. The typical DSLR records with an omnidirectional polar pattern (it picks up sound from all sides). This is not great for speech, but it is fine for ambient sounds. If you let your DSLR sit on the sidewalk, chances are it will pick up usable street sounds.
Download Free Sounds and Add Them to Your Mix
A great way to drown out poor audio is to layer good audio over it. The best website for free audio is freesound.org. I use sound effects from that website for practically all my projects. Everything on there is free. All you need to do is create a free account. You can even download the files I have recorded: www.freesound.org/filmbrute
Add Music to Your Mix
You can download free music on http://freemusicarchive.org (its basically the music equivalent of freesound.org). I don’t download music from site like premium beats because it sounds so generic and boring (fine for corporate videos).
Create Your Own Sounds and Music
I use several programs to make music and sounds:
- Reason: This is my most used piece of software. Free demo allows you to use the software as if it was the paid version. The only limitation is that you cannot export the tracks and you have a 20 minute demo. (So you will not be able to use the sounds you have created). You can, however, save the tracks. This means that if you ever upgrade to the paid version you will be able to export your saved songs. While the 20 minute time limit is a bit harsh, it is enough time to get creative and learn the software. (After 20 minutes, you can restart and create a new track).
- Ableton Live: This is my second most used piece of software. The Free trial period lasts 30 days. You can pretty much do anything you ever imagined in Ableton. It does have a significantly steeper learning curve than Reason. Many professionals use Ableton. I love it particularly for mixing and beat matching tracks (not that useful for film). I definitely suggest doing a 30 day trial of Abeton.
- FL Studio: The weakest software of the three that I mentioned (in my opinion). Though I find that it encourages more creativity from me. Not sure why. FL Studio has the fewest Demo restrictions. Basically it’s like the paid version only you cannot open files. You can save your tracks, and you can render your tracks. I grew up on a demo version of Fruity Loops. So you should download it and use it forever. Its the best free way to create cool audio.
How Do You Improve DSLR Audio?
So what point am I making here? Basically DSLR audio sucks. But working with DSLR audio doesn’t mean your video recordings need to sound like shit. You can make your tracks sound better by recording smarter and adding additional sounds. And if you are willing to spend a little bit of money, you can buy a cheap $25 lavalier and take your recordings to the next level. Know your limitations and get creative. Sound, like video, is all about creativity.
This was just a simple little article to get your thinking. In the future I hope to write some in depth articles on how I record and edit sound.