22: Audio and video

We’re all living in a casino. It’s just Vegas. Everything is on camera. Everything is being recorded. Everything is on audio. The truth is we all have access to everybody else’s information. 
…Ashton Kutcher (https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/ashton_kutcher_569568?src=t_audio).

Maybe storytelling belongs in audio — a short story is the length of a commute. That can be a sacred spot where you have the ear of the reader without having to compete with other media like games or TV.
…Paolo Bacigalupi (https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/paolo_bacigalupi_715863?src=t_audio).


VIDEO and audio are additional skills that add versatility to reporting for citizen or mobile journalists. Writing and stills photography might be the basic skills needed, however these other skills add diversity to our work.

For both video and audio we will need to acquire ability in:

  • capturing sound and vision
  • editing sound and vision
  • distributing our productions.

Video

Mobile phones video camera apps with the 1080p or the higher-definition 4K setting are fine for citizen journalism. The lower-definition 720p gives lower quality images.

Some computer operating systems come with basic video editing software such as Apple’s iMovie (Mac and iOS operating systems). If we find video is our forte then we can invest in better software.

Stabilising video

As shown in the chapter on Shooting video for MOJO, it is important to hold the device steady when recording video. There are brackets available that attach to the mobile device that assist doing this.

This Joby grip folds, providing two holding positions. A removable bluertooth shutter button slides into the cold shoe in top.

Some of these combine functions such as hand grip, table tripod and camera extender. Most include a cold shoe attachment for attaching a microphone or small LED light panel.

Attachable brackets allow the mobile device to be connected to a full-size tripod. This is useful where a videographer is recording an interview that shows both interviewer and interviewee and where camera movement around a scene is not needed.

The Joby model in the photo has a remote, removable bluetooth-connected wireless shutter button attached to the top. The bracket folds closed against the front of the device to provide an alternative means of holding the camera in a stable position that minimises camera shake.

A popular alternative to the full-size tripod is the mini-tripod. There are a number of these available and they allow the camera, fitted to the mini-tripod, to be placed on a table. Mini-tripods may also be useful for audio recording and some come with a bracket for attaching a GoPro action camera.

A grip with adjustable camera phone bracket that extends into a mini-tripod. The camera can be tilted up or down.
Thew grip extended into a mini-tripod. This allows the camera to be placed on a flat surface.

Mini-tripods are shorter, lighter and more-easily carried than full-size tripods, making them useful to mobile journalists. I have used several mini-tripods. One is the Joby Gorilla Pod, a device available in various sizes the smaller of which will hold devices as light as a mobile phone, ranging to heavy-duty models suitable for digital SLR cameras. Their flexible legs allow the tripods to be twisted around railings or other fixtures to steady the camera. Those for mobile phones are available with a spring-mounted bracket that grips the phone.

Another mini-tripod I find useful is the Manfrotto PIXI EVO 2-Section Mini Tripod. Unlike the Joby Gorilla Pod, the Manfrotto has rigid legs that splay for use as tripod and fold to form a hand grip, making it useful for video work. It is equipped with a ball joint, allowing a lightweight camera, a GoPro or similar action camera or a phone-camera to be angled in a comfortable position.

The mini-tripod/grip unextended.

The mini-tripod/grip in the photos above has a swivel camera bracket that allows the mobile phone camera to be tilted up or down. Unextended, it can be used as a mini-tripod or extended when extra height is needed. Extended, it makes a selfie stick as is used in mobile journalism when doing a reporter-to-camera commentary piece.

Like much of this type of equipment there are various models on the market, so shopping around can pay off.

Two mini-tripods. At rear is the flexible-legged Joby Gorilla Grip that comes in various sizes for mobile phones, smaller and larger SLR cameras. The flexible legs allow it to be wrapped around railings and poles. At front is the Manfrotto PIXI. The legs of both types fold to form a hand-held grip to stabilise the camera when making video.

Audio

Audio recording is the basis of podcasting. The addition of an audio file in our blog allows an interviewee to express themselves in their own words.

At an event we can record an audio report as a sound file and post it on our blog. One technique is to speak a commentary over the ambient sound of an event (make sure ambient sound is not too loud). Interviews and ambient sound can be edited into an audio documentary.

Learning basic audio recording skills and understanding how the microphone in our mobile device or our attachable microphone works is useful to the citizen journalist.

Microphones

Microphone rigged for hand-holding to record an interview. The app on the screen is the Rode recording app for iPhone, free to download.

The built in microphones in mobile phones are good, however they pick up a lot of sound we don’t want because they collect it from all around the device. They are what is called an ‘omnidirectional’ microphone.

An attachable, directional microphone that picks up sound from mainly in front of the camera, plus a little from the sides, is a worthwhile investment. These microphones will be described as ‘cardiod’ (a heart-shaped pick-up pattern) or ‘shotgun’ (a narrow pick-up pattern). Available for cameras and for mobile phones, they produce better sound quality than the device’s built in microphone.

Wind noise is something we want to avoid in our audio or video. It is that rumbling sound caused by wind gusts activating the microphone. There is little we can do to avoid it when using the device’s built-in microphone, however we can reduce it when using an attachable mic.

For outside recording the use of a wind filter or ‘dead cat’, a fuzzy, furry-looking hood that fits over the microphone, dampens wind noise. This is recommended and some microphones come with them.

A dead cat wind filter (left) fits over the microphone to reduce wind noise in the recording. The device at right is a bracket to absorb camera movement noise and mount the microphone to a cold shoe on the recording device.. The cable connects mobile phone camera to phone.

The microphone we use to record the audio track for our video also serves for recording only audio. We can add this to a story as a sound file. The audio file, such as an interview, brings something extra to a written report. Supplement it with a head-and-shoulders or environmental photo of the person in their workspace of other environment relevant to the interview topic.

A high-quality stereo audio recorder with adjustable settings suitable for radio reporting.

Improving video and audio capture

Important for recording video and audio are:

  • for video, holding the smartphone, GoPro or camera steady so as to avoid camera shake; a camera bracket that supports the device as well as an external microphone is a worthwhile investment; a tripod, either full-size or table-top type offer greater stability
  • for audio, both as audio-only and audio recording for video, using a dead cat wind filter to reduce wind noise when recording outdoors adds to the quality of the recording
  • understanding microphone pick-up patterns and recording techniques
  • learning to use audio and video editing software
  • learning basic photography skills.
Keeping the small bits together avoids having to rummage around in our bag to find them. An audio kit of microphone, dead cat wind filter, bracket and cable fit neatly into this compact bag.