Shooting a documentary is one of the first movie genres that newbies venture into. While the actual footage of the film is vital and often comes down to technique and talent; the sound is another aspect. Some basic knowledge of audio is thought to be enough when starting with your first documentary. However, this basic knowledge will sound precisely as it should – Basic. Shooting a documentary film with great sound on a budget is a great way to make your first impression in the filmmaking business.

Microphones are important in filmmaking and picking up a good professional one will go a long way. Depending on your budget there are microphones that will suit every project and every pocket. Some microphones that you can use when shooting a documentary film are:

  • Shotgun Microphones
  • Handheld Microphones
  • Lapel Microphones
  • Wireless Microphones, and
  • Smartphone Microphones

Before the Shoot

Preparing for the shoot is essential and so is a comprehensive checklist of all the equipment you will need. Yes, you have probably heard it from your filmmaking studies that lists are the most crucial part of preparing for your shoot. However, checking all your equipment is equally important if not even more critical for your pre-shoot preps. Every cable, microphone, and socket should be tested if they sync well with all the audio and video equipment. No point buying or renting equipment if your other devices aren’t able to sync correctly.

During the Shoot

Check your audio levels regularly before and during you begin shooting. You have to make sure that the sound is not too high or too low. Depending on the video camera you are using, the audio level controls will be independent or dependant on the camera. If you are using a microphone that is inbuilt into your camera, then you will have to stay close to your subject to pick up any sound. Plus there is a considerable compromise you would have to make on the quality of the audio. Therefore, an external mic connected to the camera is the best way with the microphone set up to pick up the tone correctly.

If you have seen videographers, you will notice that they all have headphones. These headphones are not just accessories. They play a significant part is monitoring the sound while the video is being recorded. Therefore, as a documentary filmmaker, it is essential always to wear headphones when shooting with sound. Make sure that the subject tests the microphones with a chosen phrase so that the levels can be set just before taking a shot. Background noises can also be controlled accordingly.

Tricks for Audio Recording

  • If heavy vehicles are passing by when you are shooting an interview, you can do two things. One, you can ask the person to repeat their statement, or you can show the vehicle to bring in the sense of naturality to the scene.
  • You can blend the sound mix in the end when you record background noises when recording. You can achieve this by recording some background noise before and after the scene has been shot.
  • Environment sounds are not a bad thing. You can use these to bring the reality feature to the interview. Especially when it comes to documentary, authenticity counts. Therefore, having the sound of coffee machines in the background churning out coffee is not a bad thing when you interview a barista. You can record these sounds separately on different microphones as well if you wish to alter the volumes.