Mic proximity (not to be confused with the proximity effect).

This last of the three issues outlined above foxes many people because they assume that microphones hear in the same way we do; whereas, in reality, our brains do a phenomenal job of taking the massive array of sounds that our ears consume, filtering out what’s not needed (i.e. most of it), and then making sense of what’s left. Unfortunately for us, microphones don’t work this way, and even though some mics, described as cardioid or unidirectional, are designed to be far more sensitive to sounds coming from a particular direction, they still hear all sorts of unwanted environmental sound, including room reverberation (that ‘echoey’ stuff I mentioned earlier). So, if we’re recording an interview for something like a marketing video, and we want to get a good recording of a human voice, we need to get our mic in close to the person speaking; effectively making their voice louder than everything else. In other words, we need our mic and our talent to be in good proximity to each other.

It makes sense, therefore, that to address the problems caused by poor mic proximity, as a general rule, its best to use an external microphone, off-camera. This means that it can be placed in close to the talent, thereby doing a good job of picking up their voice; while, in comparison, picking up much less ambient sound.

Poor microphone placement with large Red Cross

A microphone placed at a distance to your talent will not record speech well.

Good microphone placement with green tick

To capture good voice recordings, the talent and microphone need to be in close proximity.

Microphone choices

Probably the two most common types of microphone used by grassroots videographers are shotgun mics and lavalier or lav mics, sometimes referred to as lapel or tie clip mics. For instance, a wedding videographer will typically shoot with a camera mounted shotgun mic, when capturing general footage of the day, while they will probably choose to place a wireless lav mic on the Groom, to pick up the intimate detail of the exchange of vows, during the ceremony itself.

Top-level shotgun mics can easily run to £1000+, but there are any number of perfectly respectable shotgun mics on the market in the sub £250 price band: The Rode Video Mic Pro Plus, Audio Technica AT897, or Sennheiser MKE600, for example. While several manufacturers are also now producing miniature shotgun mics, aimed specifically at mobile device shooters, such as the Rode Video Mic Me or the Saramonic SmartMic+ for less than £75.

Rode Video Mic Pro Plus shotgun microphone

The ubiquitous Rode Video Mic Pro Plus, camera mounted shotgun mic.

Lavalier or lav mics, such as the Sennheiser ME2, Rode Lavalier Go, or Sony ECM-V1BMP can be used either wired or wirelessly, and are ideal for isolating and capturing individual voices. Lav mics are particularly useful in noisier environments because they can be deployed very close to the sound source without being too visible. Lav mics can even be hidden completely underneath clothing, though this can affect their sound adversely. While a perfectly good lav mic can be purchased for around £100, adding a reliable wireless system to this will add considerable cost. Significant savings can be made by purchasing a kit, which includes both lav mic and wireless system, although the initial outlay will be higher. Once again, several manufacturers are now producing lav mics aimed specifically at the mobile shooter market, including the Rode Smartlav+ or the Saramonic Sr–lmx1.

Saramonic Sr–lmx1 lavalier microphone

The Saramonic Sr–lmx1, shown with an extension cable. A lav mic aimed firmly at the mobile shooter market.

You may be thinking that potentially spending several hundreds of pounds on microphones is extravagant. However, having quite possibly spent many times this amount on a camera, if the sound in our movies is just as important as the visuals, then surely, it’s not unreasonable that we give a realistic budget to the equipment we use to capture it.

While wireless lav mics are commonplace, shotgun mics can be used with an XLR transmitter, though this usually requires a battery powered mic. Handheld shotgun mics with wireless transmitters are often used for outdoor interviews for news gathering, as they’re easy to share between interviewer and interviewee/s, requiring much less time to deploy than lav mics.