Capturing Subjects in Low Light and a Clean Audio Track

by Bryant Falk

THE PROJECT

I am contracted to produce a number of sales pieces demonstrating a new type of vision training software. It is important to bring out all the interactive aspects of the software by having patients directly interface with the program.

THE CHALLENGE

Since the software requires the use of an overhead projector, I am confronted with the issue of capturing the doctor and patients in low light so they could see the screen in front of them. Another challenge is how to handle the software audio interface cues while still capturing a clean audio track of the training between doctor and patient. Also, the typical issues of quick turnaround and limited storage are part of the equation.

THE PLAN

I decide to shoot on the Sony EX1R camera. Here are three specific reasons why:

(1) Records straight to card allowing for faster than real-time transfer.

(2) The codec does not seem to need transcoding into Final Cut. It just drops straight in. This also gives me the advantage of smaller file sizes. Other formats such as AVCHD still require transcoding which results in at least a doubling of file sizes.

(3) The EX1R has been reviewed as having excellent low light performance. This plays a role in its use for this application.

On the audio side, I decide to feed the software audio directly into the patient’s ear with an ear bud. I feel the doctor’s audio needs to be captured clean, as he is a very busy professional and may not have time for pickups after the shoot. I, then, use a wireless lav mic on both the patient and doctor with a boom mic overhead. All audio goes straight to camera again reducing time in post for syncing.

THE RESULTS

At the end of the day we are able to capture what we need. The low light capabilities of EX1R are effective in giving us the ability to shoot both the talent and the overhead projected screen.

Also, running the clapper came in handy, as we didn’t have time to lock the two cameras together with time-code. I always recommend clapping all cameras, as you never know when you might need it.

On the audio side, I contact the software developer and am able to obtain all the software sound allowing me to place it in the video after the edit is complete. One of the challenges on set is deciding on the shotgun mic placement. Not wanting another person on set distracting the “talent” I decide to drop a locked shotgun location from overhead. Usually this is done for a sit-down interview but with the limited movement and control of external audio I feel we would get useable sound.

Once in the edit suite, it is a pleasure pulling the video clips into the computer. I use Sony’s proprietary software to pull the clips into a drive of my choosing. The data rate is a manageable 36 megabits per second. Running a 7200 RPM Firewire hard drive with optional eSATA hookup allows for an effective editing platform.

LESSONS LEARNED

Working with multi card video recording devices can create a unique issue. Though not insurmountable it can tie you up a bit in the edit suite. As you’re shooting your project, many times you may have a video that straddles both storage cards in the camera. This can result in an “Incomplete” file on either card. You will need to reassemble these two files in your nonlinear editing system. Pay special attention to the names of these two files. Make sure they load in correctly to allow for a successful union on your timeline.

Another issue that I manage to skirt this time was camera matching. Make sure you carefully match your multiple camera settings. In a previous shoot, one of my shooters has his camera set to drop frame while everyone else is 29.97 non-drop. This creates a drift issue in Final Cut. Though it is remedied by building a new edit sequence the original stress of watching your video drift out of sync is something you want to avoid at all costs.

Photo courtesy of the author.

Bryant Falk has been a producer and engineer for over 12 years working with such clients as The Ricki Lake Show, Coca-Cola, Sports Illustrated, Valley National Bank, and MTV’s “The Shop”. His company Abacus Audio handles many aspects of the audio production field from creative and production to mixing and final output.

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