Recording high-quality audio and video can sometimes be a challenge. Not only are there creative details like lighting, background, and composition, but there are technical restrictions that must be taken into consideration in order to produce a good recording.
In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to use a Mac and accessories to record high-quality audio and video, using an interview as an example format.
It is imperative to have good-quality equipment. By using a Mac, you’re off to a good start, but you’ll also want a good video camera and microphone.
Though many Macs manufactured in the last ten years have a built-in camera and almost all have a built-in microphone, you probably won’t get great quality from the built-in hardware.
Ensure you have a good-quality video camera. Generally, a higher-cost camera probably will be better quality, because a large part of the cost goes towards the lens and sensors. As far as resolution goes, there is no real reason not to record in HD at least in 720p (720 pixels tall) or maybe even 1080p (1,080 pixels tall).
Tip: the p stands for progressive, which means that each horizontal row of the picture is recorded and played in succession (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.), as opposed to i, or interlaced, where every other horizontal row is recorded and played in an alternating pattern (1, 3, 2, 4, etc.).
You’ll also want to take care of all the creative details, including ensuring that there is enough light to get a good image. Too little light results in a dark or grainy video.
Tip: Ensure the camera is in focus before starting the recording.
Though many video cameras have microphones built in, you’ll get better quality audio with a lavalier or headset microphone, because the mic itself can be much closer to the source of the audio.
Our ears and brain can filter out ambient noise so we can listen to what’s important, but microphones cannot, and a mic placed several feet away from the subject will pick up a lot of extra noise (heating/air conditioning systems, automotive traffic, people walking in a hallway, etc.) that will be noticeable and probably distracting in the final recording.
If possible, record a minute or several minutes of the subject speaking normally as they will during the interview and listen to the recording to see how much extra noise is audible; the less, the better.
Tip: get the mic as close to the subject as you reasonably can without it being visually distracting.
Avoid connecting the microphone to the camera’s audio input jack, if at all possible. Most cameras automatically set the gain (input recording volume); the auto-gain process usually results in a harsh sound quality, since it amplifies the sound too much after a pause, between sentences for example.
You’ll get much better sound quality if you connect the microphone directly to the Mac and use Audacity or another audio recording program to capture it. Here’s how to do that:
- Install Audacity.
- Connect the microphone to the computer’s audio input jack, or use a USB microphone if you have one available.
- Ensure the Mac is set to record using Line In in System Preferences under the Sound pane.
(If the Mac only has one audio port, check the audio settings to make sure that the audio jack is set to Sound Input.)
- For testing, set the input gain near the middle and then adjust up or down as needed, keeping in mind that the microphone may also have a gain setting. You don’t want to max out the gain on any one piece of equipment but keep them all close to the middle to avoid the extremes of distortion (too high) and fuzziness (too low).
When you’ve tested the equipment and have set the audio levels, you’re ready to record.
- Start recording in Audacity and ask the subject to say a few sentences in a normal tone of voice so you can check the volume levels.
- Start the video camera recording.
- When the interview is over, stop the camera and Audacity recordings.
- Save the Audacity file to a convenient location and export it by going to the File menu and choosing Export. Choose either the WAV or AIFF format as they are uncompressed and will keep the best quality. The native Audacity file format does not work with other programs.
- Import the video file from the camera to the Mac (see the user manual for details on how to connect and import the files).
Putting It Together
Now that you have separate audio and video files, you need to combine them into your finished product. You can combine the files using iMovie; the process is nearly the same for other video editing programs.
- Open iMovie.
- Click the Create button in the toolbar to create a new event; name and save it as you wish.
- Click the Import button in the toolbar to pull in the audio (AIFF or WAV) and video files.
- Drag the video to the timeline and choose Detach Audio from the Modify menu. Then drag the audio to the timeline as well. Note that the two audio sources will have peaks and valleys in different locations, because you likely did not start the audio and video recordings at exactly the same time.
- Trim and move the audio track to closely match the audio that the camera’s built-in mic captured, and then play to listen if the two audio tracks line up. If they’re close, delete or mute the camera’s audio track and move the audio recording back and forth slightly until the sound matches the subject’s lip movements in the video. Notice how the orange marker shows two peaks in the audio tracks lining up with each other.
- When finished adjusting the audio and video, put on any other finishing touches such as intro slides, transitions and export the finished product.
In this tutorial, I’ve shown you how to use a separate video camera and microphone along with a Mac to record high-quality audio and video and how to combine the sources in iMovie. Let me know how you used this tutorial.
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