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Equipment

Proper Techniques for Using Shotgun and Lavalier Microphones for Video Interviews

Published January 11, 2016

The audio from an interview recording truly is the single most important piece of media you capture. Without a clean, quality recording of your interview subject’s testimonial, your story is lost. No amount of b-roll or text on screen will create the same amount of emotion, drama, or interest that a real person can create when speaking from the heart.

As beginner videographers expand their kits to include audio gear, and photographers start to transition over to the dark side (if they only knew the power, of video production), there’s a lot that needs to be learned about the gear and techniques needed to properly capture audio. Interviews and testimonials are often the backbones to many documentary and corporate video projects, so learning about audio recording is vital to a successful production.

There are three ways to capture audio in an interview setting: using an on-camera mic, clipping a lavalier (or lav) mic onto your talent, and by using a shotgun (sometimes called a boom) mic just off-camera. In the article below I’ll explain how each of these mics are different, the proper techniques for using them, and offer some suggestions on makes and models.

BTS Microphone Setup for Video

Recording Audio From an On-Camera or Built-in Source

Just about every video camera has some kind of microphone built into it, but I would never rely on it for an interview. At best, they are good for reference audio or providing some background NAT (natural sounds) as it will pick up noise from an entire set, with your interview subject sounding very distant.

Video Microphone GH4

A step up from the built-in mic is using a camera-mounted shotgun, like the Rode VideoMic Pro, which is great for DSLR shooters. For cameras with XLR inputs, shorter shotgun mics like the Rode NTG-2 or Sony MKH-60 would make a good choice. Camera-mounted options are great for run-and-gun operations where you don’t have the time to mic someone or budget to hire a boom operator. However, if you’re doing seated interviews, using a mic that is on your camera is simply not the best choice, because it’s so far away from the source of audio (your subject’s mouth, in this example). Whenever you can, you should try to get your mic as close to the source as possible for the punchiest, cleanest recording.

Using Lavalier Microphones

Lavaliers (or “lav” mics for short) are small mics that get clipped onto your subject’s clothes; usually onto the edge of a jacket or between buttons on a button-up shirt. They are easy to set up, and will capture very usable audio when placed about six to eight inches from the talent’s mouth. This is how I mic 90% of the interviews I shoot.

Clipping a Lavalier Microphone

Lav mics might not provide as much tonal range as a similarly priced shotgun mic, but their convenience makes them an industry standard for interview video shoots.

Recording the signal from a lavalier microphone can happen in one of three ways.

Wireless Lav Mic Setup

1. Wireless Transmitters and Receivers
Wireless packs are the most common method of capturing the audio from interviews. The lavalier plugs into a belt pack transmitter, which sends a wireless signal to a receiver that plugs into an audio input on either your camera or audio recorder like the Zoom H4n. Wireless packs are great for convenience, but be careful to use only batteries that are at full strength and select frequencies that are clear of noise and signal interruptions. The Sennheiser G3 series are the standard for most crews I’ve worked with, and I myself have owned the older model of these for years.

2. Wired Directly into the Camera
Wired lavs like the Shure SM93 will plug directly into your camera’s XLR port, and can offer a cheaper alternative to using the wireless method described above. If you’re in an area where there is a lot of radio signal traffic, this might be a safe choice to avoid unwanted dropouts.

Zoom Microphone Setup

3. Plug into a Stand-Alone Recorder
If you don’t mind syncing up your audio in the edit, using a “second system sound” is an easy, albeit sometimes risky, way to record your audio. I like to use a Zoom H1, as it’s incredibly small and very simple to use. You plug your lav directly into it, set the levels, hit record, and it will follow your subject wherever they go.

iPhone Rode Lav Setup

A newer, perhaps cheaper option for some, is to use smartphones. The Rode SmartLav+ is specifically sold for this purpose, as it works (and only works) with a smart phone jack, and can be controlled by an app.

The downside of stand-alone recorders is that you aren’t able to actively monitor the signals during the recording. This means that if the battery dies, the mic clip moves or something else happens to ruin the audio, you might not realize it until you’re back at home editing!

Lavalier Models

Most wireless kits will come with a basic lavalier microphone. This will get you an OK recording, but upgrading from a kit model to something like a Countryman B6 or a Sennheiser ME-2 will give you a bump in sound quality.

Lav Mic Placement

 

Techniques for Clipping a Lavalier Microphone

In most interview settings, it’s completely acceptable to see the actual microphone itself, but you should try and “dress” the mic to make it look presentable. This often means hiding the cable inside the subject’s shirt, and making a loop in the cable just below the capsule. The loop actually serves two purposes; it makes the mic placement look neat, and it also creates a small amount of slack in the cable, which will help eliminate contact noise if the mic cable is accidentally pulled or rubbed.

Making the loop is simple to understand, but can be tricky to master, especially when you are in someone’s personal space. First, let your subject know if they need to run the mic up their shirt or not, and be professional about it. Hand them the mic, and ask them to pull out about three to four inches from the top of their shirt or between a pair of buttons. Once they have, take the capsule and use your clip to affix it to an appropriate place, about six to eight inches from their mouth.

Lav Mic Loop SequenceLa Mic Loop Sequence

Open the clip back up, and run the cable back through it in a “U” shape. On the backside of the clip, create a much smaller, upside-down “U” by catching the returning cable into the end of the clip. Use some double-sided spike tape as needed to keep it seated and in place. It can help to practice on a friend, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it right the first time. Try to keep the mic pointed in the direction of the talent’s mouth, and keep it clear from rubbing on their clothes or hair.

Using Shotgun Microphones

Shotgun mics, or “boom” mics, as they are called when mounted onto the end of a boom pole, are rod-shaped microphones that are great for capturing interview audio. Shotgun mics are directional, meaning they capture more sound from what they point at, and less from the sides. This is a very general explanation of this style of microphone, as not every shotgun mic is created equal. They can have different pickup patterns from one mic to the next, which is worth looking into before selecting the proper mic.

Shotcun Mic Placement

For controlled interviews, a cardioid or super/hyper cardioid style of a microphone is typically used. The Rode NTG2, Rode NTG4+, Sennheiser MKH-416 and Sennheiser MKE 60, are all solid choices for a quality shotgun mic for interviews.

Shotgun Mix Sennheiser MKH416 Placement

No matter if your interview is a seated one, or captured handheld while on the street, the most important thing to do is to get the mic as close as possible, without it entering your frame. The closer the mic is, the stronger the speaker’s signal will be, which means you’ll get significantly less background noise.

I prefer using a C-stand with an Auray pole holder to sit my K-Tek boom pole in, and positioning it just outside of the upper part of my frame, with the mic pointed directly at the space in front of my subject’s mouth. This will get a great sound, and can be a bit less intrusive to the subject than having to clip a mic onto their clothes.

Boompole Set Up

A Few More Things to Know

Use both shotgun and lavs for your interviews! Best case is you can pick (in the edit) whichever mic sounds better, or if you get signal loss/interference on one mic, you can pick the other without having lost the clip. Building in redundancy is smart if you have an important interview.

If you’re working outside, get “dead cats” for your mics to help eliminate wind noise. They work wonders, and you can get them for both lavs and shotguns.

Pickup patterns are different for each mic, but generally come in one of four patterns: omni, cardioid, hyper cardioid, and shotgun. Don’t get confused by the “shotgun” pickup pattern, as not all shotgun mics have the shotgun pattern.

Also, make sure you invest in a decent set of headphones. In a pinch, you can use earbuds, but a quality pair of studio-grade headphones are well worth the price to monitor your audio, which after all, is the most important piece of your interview shoot.

 

Mike Wilkinson

Guest Contributor

Author: Mike Wilkinson

Posted in Equipment
  • Binoy Thomas

    Hey guys check out my $200 budget sound kit using the Rode Videomic Go: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhKDllbKrL8

  • Olli Vanajas

    Thank you Mike! I’m gearing up to do interviews on a regular basis, and this is awesome 🙂

  • Wow. Amazing info that you have shared with us. Last night, I was searching for tips to choose best shotgun choke tubes then I found your blog I read it completely. It contains useful information

  • Carleton Foxx

    T-shirts are the worst, especially because they usually sag where the microphone is attached. I wish someone would invent a way to attach a lav to a t-shirt.

  • Rishi O.

    You’re guide is missing the best option for lavs. I use an iPhone attached to a seinmheiser clip mic ( http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1136079-REG/sennheiser_clip_mic_clip_mic_digital.html ) which conmects directly to the lightning port. I then use my apple watch the wirelessly monitor and control audio levels.

  • Henry Crun III

    What is the technical definition of “punchiest recording”?

    People are either on-mic or off-mic. All else is EQ!

    Seriously, a pole mounted mic overhead just out of shot will get excellent sound, with two caveats: it needs to be good quality, so the polar pattern is fairly independent of frequency. A ‘well-travelled’ SM58 ain’t gonna cut it in that context! You want a decent condenser mic, that has a decently high output. The second thing is decent mic amps in the recorder or mixer. For quiet speech that’ll be 65-70dB of clean gain (to line level), with headroom.

    I have no experience of the specific mic mentioned, but good cardioids will work just fine. I’ve used, and had colleagues use, all sorts of stuff in booms on TV shows, from STC omni+ribbon cardioids, through AKG 451s, 414s and even U87s (which are a bit of a handful as they’re so heavy). Historically, AKG even made a verision of the legendary D12 (popular for kick drums!) to use in booms, with bass roll-off on the mic. It was really nice to use as all the mass was in the middle of the mic, so it didn’t see-saw when you turned it quickly.

    On terminology, mic stands have boom arms, sometimes, The thing you get arm ache from, held over your head, is a fishing rod (fishing pole on the left of the Atlantic), and below is a proper boom, albeit with a posh backrest (never in my day!). Note that they are pretty horrid to use with a 416 on them (picture) as it’s long, heavy and swings around a lot.

    http://www.local695.com/Quarterly/wp-content/uploads/5-3-fisher-6.jpg

  • Henry Crun III

    You’re right, but for the wrong reasons: Gun mics rely on sound from one direction to work. If the same sound arrives from several directions (reflected) the interference tube design fails, and they behave very oddly indeed.

    They always have ‘back lobes’ too: when I did cricket coverage we used to put guns on the cameras facing down the wicket, to get the click of the bat (days before burying tiny mics all over the place). You sometimes had to remind the cameramen not to chat on headsets, as, although facing directly away from them, the gun mics would pick them up fairly clearly, and occasionally, if they had one ear off, you could even hear the director’s talkback!

  • Henry Crun III

    Personal mics: they are almost always omnidirectional. If they’re any good, that means what it says: they are NOT directional. So, putting the mic facing the speaker’s mouth doesn’t alter the sound at all (unless the mic is cheap and nasty).

    There is, in fact, a significant downside: humans breathe through their noses, as well as their mouths. It’s common for people to snort right into the diaphragm of a personal mic rigged as described above. If there’s a windshield, it will help, but may not eliminate this problem.

    The solution, or at least a big help, is to rig the mic upside down. That way the diaphraghm is protected by the mic casing, and it tends to eliminate the problem. There might be a VERY small loss of HF, but this is easily compensated for with a slight bit of treble lift in post.

    Usually you’re EQing a personal mic substantially in any case, so it’s all part of the job. It means you get a clean recording, instead of an explosion every now and then when the subject breathes out hard. It also keeps the mic dryer if caught in the rain (yup, I’m a Brit!).

    And always pinch that cable! I mean to catch it up in the clip that’s out of sight behind the cloth. Most cable noise comes from the last couple of inches (silk ties and scarves are the absolute worst!). You need that bit to be well controlled, and so a tug on the cable from below can’t get as far as the capsule.

    As a general rule, don’t ever, EVER leave the ‘talent’ to their own devices with a personal mic. You’ll get the “I thought I had it right.” look of innocence… and a frustrating retake. By all means ask girls to route the cable themselves, but also ask them to leave the mic dangling out of their top by about three inches, so you can actually place the clip yourself. People don’t mind if you’re professional.

    Then there’s the actual distance of the mic from the mouth. Counter-intuitively, you really don’t want to get too close. This is for several reasons: good personal mics (Countryman/Trams being an arguable exception) are EQed to sit on the chest – the resonances of the chest cavity are allowed for in the mic design. Put one too close to the neck, and the sound goes ‘thin’ and fairly unpleasant. T-shirts are a nuisance for this because the neck line is really not ideal.

    The other problem with a too-close mic, is head turns – a particular problem in interviews. I always prefer a mic about half-way-down a suit lapel (real or imagined). Pick the nearest lapel to the camera, or to the other person in an interview. And don’t forget: UPSIDE DOWN! If someone is going to turn away you won’t win, but most of the time small head movements don’t have the exaggerated effect they will if the mic is too close.

    Ensuring you ‘get away with it’, incidentally, is the biggest single reason for using a pole mic close to the action. It’s obviously quicker than fitting radio mics in a fast moving situation, but it’s also a ‘get out of jail free’ card for those annoying off-mic head turns. Send the pole mic to another track of the recorder, and mix it in well in post. The personal mics keep the speech clear, and the pole mic gives you a bit of ‘air’ so the effects of movement don’t sound so obvious. Back in the day, we always had a Fisher boom overhead in TV studios for exactly the same reason – to deliberately loosen the sound of the radio mics, so head movements, etc., didn’t spoil things.

    Clean ‘close mic’ sound with a personal mic is achieved because it’s very close to the mouth, compared to, say, a gun mic. They are omni- as I said, but occasionally manufacturers have a brainstorm and produce a cardioid (or even hypercardioid) one. Avoid these like the plague, unless you are using the mic for something NOT attached to a human.

    This is because the mic least sensitive to handling noise is an omni. People rustle, rumble bump (and sometimes even grind!). You want the speech, not the accompaniment. And if the thing rotates during an interview, you’ll still get something usable, rather than the person suddenly going off-mic.

    It’s a fact of physics, incidentally, that gun mics go omnidirectional (or at least nastily less directional) indoors, on when used close to hard surfaces. Good gun mics (e.g. Sennheiser 416/816 family) are expensive for good reasons. Sticking something costing $15 on a hot shoe is NOT going to give you good sound. Personally I prefer the 416 for general convenience and sound quality, and it’s gentle to things slightly off-mic, but it’s too expensive for amateur filmmakers, especially with the full Rycote kit it needs out of doors. Indoors, you can use a good quality cardioid or hyper- just out of shot for general coverage. Adding a bit of ‘air’ to the mix that way makes personal mics sound a great deal nicer. If you haven’t got enough hands, or an assistant, stick it on a mic stand!

    Me? Quite a while doing broadcast mixing in the UK some years back, including Antiques Roadshow (LOTS of personals on that!), a lot of live TV news, and other shows of all sorts. T-shirts aplenty…

  • Carleton Foxx

    Let’s discuss how to not be pervy. Unless a woman is an actress or celeb who is used to sound people, let her run her own microphone cable up her blouse or dress and clip it to herself. Using yourself as a visual aid point to the approximate place on you where she should put it (don’t point at her chest) and then look in a different direction while she wires up. After she has it done as best she can, then ASK if you can adjust the mic and make the loop.

  • halfmac

    With this mic, it works well out of frame. Just out of frame. Sounds really good.

  • Interesting to hear. My question would be though, how well does this mic pick up when placed out of frame? In my experience, these style of microphones need to be between 3-6 inches away from the speaker for the punchiest recording.

  • halfmac

    Indoors instead of a shotgun, I use a U873R Hyper Cardioid Condenser from Audio-Technica. I find that shotguns are too reflective and pickup echo. Outdoors they are great. The Hyper Cardioid Condenser does not seen to pick up the reflectiveness for the room because it does not have a long barrel like a shotgun.

  • peety3

    Tips from a former lifetime as a sound guy: for wireless microphones, use Duracell batteries, period. Many times I’ve rented wireless mics and was told that “Bad Things Would Happen To Me ™” if I allowed any other brand of battery into the pack. (Too small, and it shakes around, dropping out the power. Too big, and it stretches the case, making Duracell too small for the next gal, and causing me to drive to a different supplier for my next rental…) Also, run the cord around the person’s body: in some cases, it’s the antenna, so now you get coverage if they twist & shout, and you prevent “microphonics” (the physics of the cord swaying in the moonlight translating into motion/sounds that the mic picks up). If going wired, do your sound check with everything on, so any buzz from your lights is there, etc. If the usual tricks don’t work (make sure audio and power cross at right angles, space out the cables somehow, etc.), I did have some successes with special 4-wire mic cables: four wires plus shield, with the wires tightly encased so they maintain constant spacing end-to-end. Two opposing wires are soldered together at each end to carry one pin of signal; the other two opposing wires are soldered together at each end to carry the other pin of signal. Their spacing causes interference to (usually) cancel out. The biggest drawback was that the cable was not nearly as flexible and must be carefully laid out to avoid odd spirals as it snakes across the floor.

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