Choosing the best microphone and using proper microphone handling techniques can make a big difference in your audio quality, and ultimately, in your story.
In videography, sound makes up 51 percent of the audience's experience. The sound IS the story. It propels the narrative forward. It creates a mood, gives great color to people and places and directs the audience's emotional experience, which is so important in audience engagement.
If an audience has to choose between shaky video and great sound, or poor sound quality and great video footage, they are far more likely to choose the video with great sound. They can always use their imagination to mentally construct the surroundings. Think about it. We have NPR pieces that create so much depth you feel as though you're there. But a photo without a caption gives us a very little bit of the story.
Secondly, even though you should always strive for good video quality, you can always use still images, animation, graphics and other visuals to fill in the gaps. There's no substitute, though, for good sound. It's also very time consuming, and sometimes impossible, to edit bad audio. And we want to keep video production as simple as possible to produce amazing videos for your business. Using a mic is a key part of collecting good audio.
You've probably heard photographers say the best camera is the one they have with them. It's the same with microphones. But you should always have some audio solution outside of the mic built in to your phone or camera.
How you use the mic will depend on what sort of mic you have: built-in mics, in-line mics, a lavalier mic, a shotgun mic, and handheld mics.
Types of Microphones
This is the mic within your device. The sound, if close to the speaker in a very quiet setting, will be passable. But since this mic must be where the camera is, chances are it will be so far away from the speaker that it will pick up a lot of ambient noise even in a relatively quiet place, and will make it seem like the interview subject is far away. If you must use the built-in mic, it should be placed 6-12 inches from the sound source, if possible.
An in-line mic, the one on your headphones, can make for an pretty good substitute if you don't have any other mic options except the built-in mic, and you can't get it very close. It cancels out some of the ambient noise in and gets you closer to the subject. You can use a hairpin or a safety pin, or even just tuck it into their shirt collar to attach it, preferably about four or six inches from the mouth. Two things to keep in mind when using this mic: hide the cords as best as you can and frame close (the cord doesn't stretch very far, though there are extension cable options).
A lavalier microphone, or lapel mic, is a small mic that clips to your subject's shirt. It's great for interviews, especially if the person is going to be moving around, this is a great option. There are wireless lav mics, and wired lav mics, most of which have a long cord to allow for motion. Placement is very important. The mic should be about six inches below your source's chin. You will need to make sure to hide wires and limit any head turning from your source, of the clothing getting between the mic and your speaker's mouth.
A shotgun, or boom, mic is mounted outside the shot, just out of frame. You'll either require someone to hold the boom mic, a boom arm, or an attachment to connect it to your device. It's a favorite for TV and movie sets. It's very directional, so it works well in isolating the sound you want to record, but if slightly off, may not be picking up the sound at all, so you should definitely wear headphones when using one.
A handheld, or stick, mic is also a good option, and common. Like the shotgun mic, unless you're going for a reporter-style look, it should be kept out of frame. They're portable and durable and can be used in a lot of environments. They're great for gathering natural and ambient sound, and recording voice overs, because you can get it quite close to the source of the sound. When using a handheld mic, you'll also want to hold the mic at a 45 degree angle from the sound. Otherwise, some some sounds will sound stunted if your mic is directed straight at the sound.
Rules of Thumb
Regardless of what type of mic you end up using, once you're recording, you shouldn't touch the microphone. Because sound quality can vary based on distance, if you move the mic closer or further away from the source, the recording volume will sound very different. If you're recording audio or video footage on two devices at one time, be sure to clap at the start of each clip to save time syncing, or matching, the clips when editing.
In addition to choosing, and placing, your mic, you also need to have a way to monitor the audio you're collecting. Many audio recording apps give you the option to adjust your gain, or the level at which you're recording audio, within the app. This is useful because it will allow you to keep a wide variety of audio volumes at an even level, so your audience doesn't need to manually change the volume themselves. For example, if you're switching between a quiet, calm interview and the noise of a busy basketball arena. If your app or microphone doesn't allow you to adjust the gain, it's all the more important that you wear headphones.
Headphones are the only way to really make sure the audio you're collecting is good. You might see sound waves “recording” only to discover later that much of the sound is the hum of a refrigerator, the flush or a toilet, or some static.
With proper microphone use and placement, and some way to monitor your audio, collecting high quality audio is absolutely within reach.