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|| News Item: Posted 2007-08-20

The Times They Are a Changin': I have bought the recorder, now what?
By Nick Layman

Photo by Nick Layman

Photo by Nick Layman

The Triple A All-Star game prepares for the national anthem on July 11th, 2007. Images like these can set the scene for multimedia packages and can give the viewer a wide angle view of the location.
Buying the right gear for your audio recorder:
First off I want to congratulate you for sacrificing the purchase of the iPhone, a new flash or some dinners out to purchase audio gathering equipment. Great audio gear is will out last the camera body you are currently using. The audio equipment is still going to be useful long after you upgrade. I still have a 30-year old microphone that works like a charm.

Some audio devices have a record input and the best input to get is an L-shaped stereo. This connection fits snug into the recording device. This prevents a whooshing sound when the mic is being moved around during interviews and nat sound gathering.

In my bag I have two microphones and one recorder. If a person is going on a long documentary trip it's safe to bring a back up recorder. Two cables should be in the bag for any situation, a short and a long cable. A short cable can be great for gathering audio in situations involving close proximity to the subject. Cords longer then 5 feet are needed for press conferences if a person has to run the cord to an XLR box. Longer cords can lead to bigger problems with having gear tangled in the bag with the cord.

Also, in my bag is a set of headphones so I can monitor the sound going into my recorder. If you don't monitor your audio gathering with headphones it will lead to poor quality. This is the same as holding up the camera and randomly taking photos and hoping for a "keeper," in your portfolio. Some headphones have ridiculous cords attached to them and a person could walk to the mailbox outside while still having enough cord. The way to solve the extra cord fiasco is to get a rubber band to tie the cord into a smaller length.

As a multimedia journalist a person will have to find the right combination of photo and audio gear. But keep it simple. We are a different breed and we carry camera gear along with the audio equipment. It's a juggling act but you're a one-person circus that can create amazing multimedia projects with proper planning.

Proper Planning Makes Positive Performances:
So reading the last few articles on have made you go online and find all the right audio equipment and now you are convinced audio and photos will take your career to the next level.

I can remember when I bought some simple lighting equipment, it sat in the closet because I was afraid to use it. Don't be afraid of the new or used equipment you just bought, or the next photo assignment that lends itself to audio. Take a few breaths and take the audio gear to the next assignment. Make sure to pack an extra set of batteries for the audio recorder and shotgun microphone. Most shotgun microphones need 48 volts to be powered, they call this phantom power. It makes the microphone work while the recorder is turned on. The newer digital recorders give the option of drawing power from the batteries to the microphone. Keep in mind that your recording life will be cut short because you are powering two things with one battery source.

Before you leave the office or house make sure you have enough time to test all your equipment. Add an extra 15 minutes from the normal camera prep time. You want to make sure all the batteries are charged and cords are not frayed. This can cause headaches in the field with the recording. If a connection is poor it can be heard in the headphones and if it's heard in the headphones it's on tape.

At the Event:
Some of the photographers I have encouraged to try audio say it's a little overwhelming and there's no way they are going to touch it. Yes, it can be a bit overwhelming but I can remember when I was a little overwhelmed for my first freelance assignment for the Albuquerque Journal. It was a simple assignment of snapping a photo of the city hall building and I was dry heaving. If it's your first audio project don't be afraid to be nervous, it's part of the learning curve.

Each photo assignment is different and sometimes there isn't a possibility for audio gathering. A person has to pick and choose which assignments are going to be a multimedia project. Each time I work on an assignment I ask a couple questions. Will I have time to turn this around? Can I stay a little longer at this assignment to get interviews and natural sound?

If I answered yes to all these questions I make sure I arrive 15 to 30 minutes ahead of the event. This allows me to get images that tell the beginning of the story. I can also figure out what kind of audio setup I need to rig. This type of multimedia mentality would be for parades, press conferences and sporting events.

Photo by Nick Layman

Photo by Nick Layman

Albuquerque Fire Department personnel take down the press back drop after city officials warned of the dangers of lighting off fireworks during the Fourth of July. Images like these can end the story and give the viewer of a multimedia piece closure.
As an example, let's say the assignment sheet says the team is announcing a new coach at the press conference. You should get sound of the people putting up the backgrounds of the press podium. If you have access, get officials talking about logistics before it starts. Make sure to take images so they can go with your sound. If anyone has shot video, they teach you to get 15 seconds plus of video for B-roll. The same goes with audio, just let the recorder go for 30 seconds. The average time you will use the natural sound for an image is seven seconds. You can save a ton of headaches by recording small amounts of natural sound so you don't have to play back all the audio to find what you need for the story.

So you gathered the pre-press conference hubbub now it's time to set up the recorder at the podium. Make sure you use an omni directional mic to get the sound of the reporters asking questions at a hurried pace and the sound of still cameras clicking away while the coach answers questions. Most press conferences last half an hour, which includes the one on one interviews with the local reporters. Gather sound of the reporters asking questions in the one on one interviews with the coach and players. Don't interfere with the interviews but just get the natural sound of them doing their job. Stay an extra 30 minutes and be the last one to leave the conference hall. Get a nice story-ending image showing a T.V. crew packing up or a PR person taking the press podium down. Paint the picture for viewers and let them feel like they are at the event. We are privileged individuals that see what goes into these events. People are curious creatures, feed their appetite.

It takes time, the long-term solution:
I approach long-term projects a little differently than the average press conference, since I will be with the subject for a longer period of time. I find out what the subject does on a regular basis and try to capture those moments with sound and audio. Make sure you have all the aspects covered with the story. Study the subject and figure out how the sound gathering and photos will play into the story. This is a juggling act but you're with the subject for a long period of time so it shouldn't be too difficult. Don't panic if you lose sound and photo moments during this time. Eventually the opportunities will balance out and you'll get great story telling moments.

Take notes while you are documenting this story and don't worry about getting every detail on tape. It will become a hard thing to deal with if you have 6 hours of tape. Log your tape on the go so you can pull up moments quickly in post processing. If you know it's great sound then mark it in your notes. Do the same when you are interviewing your subject. Make sure not to scribble too loudly, a trained ear can hear a person writing on a pad of paper and it will ruin the interview.

Make sure your work is separated in folders and dated correctly so you can get the photos and audio to match. Log your tape so you know exactly which folder has interviews and natural sound. Always back up the audio. Audio is really easy to email to yourself if you don't have a hard drive close by. Just send yourself an mp3 format to save yourself if computer failure happens.

Take your time on the project and develop a storyboard. Take control of the project and make sure your telling a story, not taking the viewer on a wild goose chase. Make the story an adventure by getting the viewer excited to see the next frame. Sounds can hold the viewer's attention. Remember the viewer has 20 things going on around them and having them view the story is a victory. If your audio quality is horrible and the photos are out of place, they will close the Internet browser and move on to the breaking news of: Paris Hilton Watch 2007 or Barry Bonds Chasing Hank Aaron.

Take pride in your work:
The reason I got into this business was to give the voiceless a voice and to share that story with the world. We are responsible for documenting the struggles and triumphs of humanity. Each day we are given assignments and asked to document it in a different way. The A1 photo you took can be complimented nicely by the audio you gathered, that is now on the web site produced into a nice multimedia piece. Don't be afraid to use audio to tell the story of the human race. Some very powerful multimedia shows have been produced because the multimedia journalist spent time to understand the subject's story.

(Nick Layman is a full time photo technician at the Albuquerque Journal. He has filed stories for NPR and other major radio outlets and is willing to help newsrooms and photojournalists invest into community journalism with multimedia packages.)

Related Links:
Layman's member page

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