How to Capture and Edit Excellent Audio in Your Illinois Videos


How to Capture and Edit Excellent Audio in Your Illinois Videos

Importance

Taking extra care to make your audio excellent will help immerse your audience in your video, impacting how clearly your message comes across. 

Target Audience 

  • Videographers and Photographers 

How-To  

Audio Capture 

  • Choosing location: Make sure the location you are filming in is as quiet and non-echoic as you can. Loud white noise or unwanted background sounds and conversation distract from what you want your audience to hear. Think about the time of day you will be filming as well—a space that’s quiet during a location scout might sound different during a passing period or if nearby construction starts up again. 
  • Microphones: There are multiple options for types of microphones to capture your audio based on what you’re trying to accomplish. Generally, getting your microphone closer to your subject will give you cleaner, richer audio with less background noise, even if your microphone is just a smart phone placed just outside of a shot. Most cameras will record in-camera audio; avoid using it in your final mix if possible. In-camera audio, or scratch audio, can be very useful for syncing your better audio to your video if you record it separately. 
  • Shotgun microphones: Shotgun microphones are a good choice for interviews and picking up targeted sounds because they are very directional, meaning they reject sounds outside of their pickup patterns. They capture a large range of frequencies, resulting in natural, well-rounded audio. If possible, place your microphone around 2-3 feet away from your subject and point it at the subject’s collarbone to capture words clearly without getting excessive mouth sounds and plosives. 
  • Lavalier microphones: Lavalier microphones are small and are usually clipped onto the subject around the collarbone area. They are a good choice if your subject moves around or the framing of your shot is really wide since they are unobtrusive and can be wireless. They can also be a good choice if the wind or other background noises are a factor as they are closer to the speaker than shotgun mics. The main downside to this type of microphone is that depth, richness and overall quality are not quite as good as other types of microphones. 
  • Studio microphones: Studio microphones work best if you are recording in a studio where seeing the microphone in the frame isn’t an issue. They can be a good choice for recording podcasts, podcast-style lectures or voiceover. To get the best performance out of a studio microphone, you want your subject to speak directly into the mic around an inch or two away. 

Recording 

  • Listen as you record: One very important part of recording audio is listening to the audio as you get it. There are all kinds of things that can go wrong that might not be obvious if you’re not listening—rustling from hair against a lavalier mic, interference from the channel you select on a wireless mic, wind noise,  etc. It’s much easier to correct a big problem during recording than it is in post-production. 
  • Capture audible audio: The other most important part of recording audio is making sure what you’re capturing is audible. Recorders vary, but keeping the main part of your mix between -18 to -12 decibels is a good range to aim for. You never want your mix to peak at or above 0 dB, which is the point where audio “clips” or distorts. 

Dialogue Editing 

  • Programs: Most of the tools and functionality needed for audio editing exist within video editors already. However, there are options if you’re looking for an audio-only editor. Here are our top couple of free recommendations: 
    • Adobe Creative Cloud: Adobe Creative Cloud is available for free for all faculty, staff, and students at Illinois. This includes leading video editor Premiere Pro and audio editor Audition, among other things. 
    • DaVinci Resolve: Resolve is a robust video editor with most of its features available for free. It has especially advanced color tools. 
  • Fix inconsistencies: Once your audio is synced to your shots and your video is put together, you’ll want to listen to your dialogue track and identify anything that stands out to you. Maybe there’s a breath in an awkward spot, maybe there’s a crash in the background, maybe there’s a gap with no audio that sounds jarring because the rest of the mix has room tone that suddenly disappears. Many problems can be fixed by trimming/extending audio, adding fades from one clip to another or replacing a small section with something else entirely, such as room tone from a different time in an interview or the first syllable of a word from a different take. This takes some practice and patience, but leads to a much cleaner-sounding video in the end. 
  • Reduce background noise: Sometimes background noise is unavoidable. Most editing programs have in-house denoisers to help remove room tone, pops and clicks to varying degrees of success. If the in-house tools don’t seem to be working for your situation, there are a few plugins available for purchase with more advanced algorithms that tend to lead to better results. We’d recommend: 
    • Clarity Vx from Waves 
    • iZotope RX Elements from Native Instruments 

Music 

  • Most videos benefit from background music to reinforce the tone and mood of the piece, but finding the right song at an affordable price can be tricky. Here are a few options for university employees: 
    • Storyblocks: The university has an enterprise license with Storyblocks that includes all kinds of music and sound effects (among other non-audio related things).
    • Universal Production Music: Strategic Communications and Marketing has a license with Universal Production Music that is available for U. of I. employees. However, only StratCom has the ability to download from the site. If you find songs on this site you’d like to use, please contact videoservices@illinois.edu and someone from the Video Services team will download the music and send it to you.
    • Public Domain: Any song in the public domain can be used by anyone for any purpose. Note: Public domain is not the same as “royalty-free.” Royalty-free music is not usually free. 

Audio Mixing/Mastering 

  • Mixing: Mixing is the process of balancing each audio element to work alongside one another as a cohesive piece.
  • Balancing volume: Start with the track you want to be the loudest, which is usually the dialogue track. Adjust the volume levels on each clip of your dialogue track until they sound consistently good the whole way through the video. A good range for dialogue peaks is usually between -12 to -6 dB, with the very loudest peaks definitely under 0 dB to avoid distortion. You’ll want to adjust your other tracks, such as music levels, off of this main track. A good starting point for music levels might be around -20 dB or so, but will vary greatly depending on the mood of the piece, the types of instruments in the mix and the complexity of the song. Keep tackling additional tracks until you’ve gotten through all the audio.
  • Compression: Sometimes an audio element might get too loud or too quiet and its peaks might not fit in the decibel range you’re aiming for. In that case, you’ll want to reduce the dynamic range of the spot or the whole track with compression. If there are only a few spots to fix, it’s simple to do this manually, with keyframes changing the volume or gain of the problem spot. If there are many spots to fix, you’ll want to look at the in-house compression tools of your program to help reduce the dynamic range of the whole clip or track. Compressing can allow you to go back and adjust volume balance by giving you more headroom to work with if you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to turn the levels up without clipping.
  • Equalization: An equalizer is a very powerful tool that allows you to adjust the volume of individual audio frequencies. Within the frequency spectrum, human hearing ranges from about 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz and different sounds and instruments exist in different frequency ranges within this spectrum. There are many applications for this tool, but here are a few of the most common for Illinois videos:
    • High-Pass and Low-Pass Filters: If you have a very low rumble or a high-pitched noise in your audio that doesn’t overlap a frequency you want to keep, such as a voice, you can use these types of filters to get rid of the problematic parts of the spectrum while allowing high or low frequencies to pass through.
    • Creating Space in Music: When you want to increase the level of your music but are worried that the dialogue will become muddled, adjusting music equalization can be the answer. Typical lower adult voices have a fundamental frequency from 85 to 155 Hz and typical higher adult voices have a fundamental frequency from 165 to 255 Hz. Lowering the volume in the corresponding spot of your music’s frequency range removes some of audio that the voices are competing with, allowing you to increase the volume of the music without muddling the vocal range.
    • Sweetening Dialogue: Sweetening involves subtly boosting frequencies that sound nice and subtly cutting frequencies that are overpowering. Editing programs will often have an in-house tool such as a vocal enhancer that will make its best guess as to what needs to be sweetened, but you can also do this manually for a more customized mix. Listen to your track and identify what you’d like to hear more of. In general, boosting lower frequencies can add depth and richness to a voice, boosting mid frequencies can add warmth and boosting high frequencies can add clarity. Each voice is different and small changes go a long way, so experiment, keep subtlety in mind, and keep listening to your track as you go. 
  • Mastering: Mastering is the process of balancing the whole mix after mixing is complete. One of the main purposes of this step is to make sure that your video will be consistent with other videos, as well as across different platforms and sound systems. This step used to be much more critical when there were more technical barriers for distribution mediums. If your mix is already in a good spot, you might not notice that much of a difference if you skip this step.  Mastering also involves EQ, compression and volume, just applied to the entire mix instead a single clip or track.
  • Loudness: One key difference is that mastering also takes into account loudness through LUFS. Loudness is based on how our brains perceive sound, which includes volume, but also other elements like how different frequencies sound to the ear. LUFS measures average perceived loudness across a mix, again taking into account more than just volume. Using the average of the mix gives you a way to see if your video’s loudness falls  within a good range. If not, you can continue tweaking your settings until everything sounds the way you want it to sound.
    • Streaming platforms have standard LUFS normalization levels so that jumping from one video to the next isn’t jarring. If your video doesn’t fall within the standard, the platforms will adjust your audio so that it does. 

Tips and Tricks: 

  • Wind noise can ruin outdoor audio capture. Bringing along a “dead cat” or another type of windscreen for outdoor shoots can make your life much easier.
  • Different microphones and different environments all have different sound profiles. Keep in mind that switching between something like a tinny microphone and a super bassy microphone might be jarring to audiences.
  • When mixing your audio, it can be really helpful to listen to your mix at different volumes on your computer. If you turn your computer volume down to almost nothing and still hear music, but also hear what is being said clearly, the mix will probably be pretty clear for someone listening at any volume on any device. 

Contact 

Video ServicesStrategic Communications and Marketing, videoservices@illinois.edu

Cinematography Tips for your Illinois Videos

Importance 

Videos with polished visuals convey your message in a professional way while helping to maintain your audience’s attention. 

Target Audience 

  • Videographers and photographers 
  • Social media professionals

How-To

Find Locations and Practical Light 

  • Whenever possible, find a location that has light switches you can operate, or speak with building maintenance personnel to see if they’re willing to help. Turn off the room’s lights and use natural window light or supplement with your own lights, as the lights installed in buildings are often flat, overhead and sometimes even inconsistent colors. Using lights balanced to “daylight” or 5600 Kelvin will match window light from outdoors and are the usually the optimal choice – although if there are room lights you cannot turn off, matching their color temperature (to your estimation) with an adjustable-temperature light will help keep things consistent.

Kelvin gradient

  • Harsh overhead lighting is generally not the most flattering for the subject, so whenever possible, use spaces with large windows out-of-frame and no direct sunlight to give the subject more diffused, “softer” lighting. This provides an appealing ratio of light to dark across their face, no harsh shadows cast by their nose, etc. 
  • Ideal locations will be larger rooms with a decent amount of depth – keeping your subject physically far removed from the background to keep it out of focus will generally deliver a more appealing image and guide the viewer’s eye. Try to keep bright windows out of the background or close the blinds, if available. 
  • When outdoors, it is always recommended to either use shade for soft lighting, or to use the sun as a backlight, while bouncing some return light into the subject’s face. Both of these choices will create an aesthetically pleasing look, compared to having the subject’s face be hit directly by harsh sun light. 

Use Lighting Equipment 

  • The larger and closer to the subject a light source is, the softer it will be. Generally, soft lighting provides a more professional, polished look. If your lighting equipment only has a small source, consider bouncing the light off the ceiling or a nearby wall in order to maximize its size and light your subject from one side. If your subject is sitting on the right, facing left across the camera’s field of view, light them from the broad side, past the left side of the frame. 
  • In order to make your subject “pop” off the background, consider placing a small light behind them. This is a “rim light” – when placed properly (and not too bright!) it can give the subject a gentle halo and separate them from the backdrop. 

Discover Rule of Thirds, Symmetry and Other Compositional Tips 

  • A common choice for positioning your subject, especially in a video with a “documentary” or “interview” feel, is to place your subject’s face a third of the way into the frame on either side. Place the interviewer on the opposite side of the camera so that the subject’s gaze crosses the image. 

Portrait where subject is to one side

  • If you are having your subject memorize their lines or using a teleprompter, symmetrical framing is a common choice. Lighting should still provide a soft ratio of light to dark from one side to the other. 

Portrait where subject is centered

  • If you have time, consider rearranging objects and furniture in the background of your image for aesthetics – but make sure you have permission and that you put things back when you’re done! 

Additional Resources 

The diagram below showcases a simple lighting setup.

Diagram of simple lighting setup

Contact 

Video Services, Strategic Communications and Marketing, videoservices@illinois.edu

How to Create Dynamic Portraits

Importance

The portraits we take of our university community are a representation of the Illinois brand. This written training aims to offer strategies to create dynamic portraits with simple tools.

Target Audience

  • MarCom professionals from content creators to professional photographers

Brand Guidance

Key Strategies

Strive for Ideal Light

Aim for a light source that illuminates their eyes. If there isn’t soft, flattering light filling their eyes, the portrait will lose much of its life. Proper illumination can be achieved with enhancements such as available light.

Photograph people in shade.

  • Soft light allows a person’s features to evenly illuminate.
  • An effective technique is to direct the person to stand near the outside edge of shade and face the direction of the light or open sky.
  • Avoid direct sunlight as this creates harsh shadows and causes squinting.
  • If it is necessary to photograph in direct sunlight, turn the subject away from the sun and photograph them with the sun at a 45-degree angle over their shoulder.
  • Repositioning toward shade creates even lighting.
  • Use a telephoto lens, if possible, to achieve the best results and reduce glare.

Photograph people facing window light.

  • This is the indoor variation of photographing people in shade.
  • Position the subject adjacent to the wall near the window.
  • Have them turn their face toward the light.
  • Use overhead indoor light to your advantage.
  • Be mindful that overhead lighting can create eye socket shadows.
  • Never put your subject directly below an overhead light.
  • Position them a few feet past the overhead light, looking back toward it.
  • Before the photo shoot, you can hold your hand up to the light to determine where it falls best on a subject.

Turn off overhead room lights.

  • Turning off overhead lights can sometimes help with indoor lighting issues.
  • The key is to have at least one other source of light in the room.
  • A table lamp reflected off the wall or light from doorways/windows works well.

Use supplemental lighting.

  • Adding your own light is a wise approach to overcoming poor lighting scenarios.
  • It is essential to use your lighting to create the effect of shade.
  • The goal is for light to come from a flattering angle and be soft.

Find Storytelling Environments

Showing the space that people work in or a place that illustrates the results of their work helps expand storytelling.

Scout the location.

  • Start with their space – it makes your subject more comfortable.
  • If the setting is not ideal, look for areas of the room that could potentially work rather than showing the full room.
  • If neither of these options are suitable, find an alternate location that reflects well on the university – think about grand spaces.

Fill the space in your frame.

  • Consider foreground/background: Your subject is your foreground.
  • Pick the best background for the person you’re photographing.
  • Backgrounds are almost as important as the subject.
  • Frame your image by placing your subject to one side or the other. Fill the other third of the frame with a storytelling background element. This technique is often referred to as the “rule of thirds.”

Engage with your subjects

Our university is filled with passionate people. It’s our job to capture their unique Illinois story.

Capture moments that matter.

  • Photograph moments, actions and behaviors that illustrate their enthusiasm for their work.
  • Every person has unique body language and certain poses can portray emotions differently—be mindful to pose your subjects in a natural manner.

Evoke emotion through connection.

  • Get to know the person you will be photographing. Ask thoughtful questions that express interest in who they are as individuals.
  • Let your subjects engage with their work or with others, which allows them to be at ease in their element and lead to dynamic images.      

Additional Resources

  • The Illinois Image Database is a curated collection of strong, dynamic photographs taken by the photographers in Strategic Communications and Marketing to best represent the Illinois experience. The goal is to provide accessible imagery for campus communicators to tell the Illinois story in an authentic way.
  • If you’re looking for other sources of stock photos (non-campus specific), plus video, music and motion graphic templates, be sure to check out the university Storyblocks account.
  • You may also be able to use your university credentials to access the Adobe Stock Library. Use your university email account to sign in.

Contact

Photography Services, Strategic Communications and Marketing, photography@illinois.edu

How to Search the Image Database

Importance 

Using the Illinois Image Database can help amplify the Illinois brand. The Illinois Image Database is a curated collection of strong, dynamic photographs taken by the photographers in Strategic Communications and Marketing. These images represent the Illinois experience and provide accessible imagery for campus communicators to tell the Illinois story in an authentic way. 

Target Audience 

  • MarCom staff who have Illinois Image Database access.  

PhotoShelter User Tips

Use Modifiers to Specify Searches

  • Use “&” (ampersand symbol) to find files that contain both words. Example:  alma & snow
  • Use “” (minus sign) to narrow your search. Example: alma – snow
  • Use “|” (vertical bar – found above the enter/return key) to find files containing either word. Example:  alma | statue
  • Use “()” (parenthesis) to group modifiers. Example: (alma + altgeld hall)
  • Use quotes to match a phrase. Example: “Fighting Illini”

Use Metadata as a Tool

Every photo has an embedded caption that is displayed when you click on an image. 

  •  The same metadata is also embedded in the downloaded image file. 
  •  Most desktop photo browser programs found on Macs and PCs can be used to display the embedded info in your downloaded images. 

Learn about the Information in File Names

Add context to your usage by examining the file name structure. Codes included in file names: 

  •  “UI” is for University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
  •  “231207” is the date the photo was taken. In this case, Dec. 7, 2023.
  •   “FZ” is the photographer’s initials.  A full credit is embedded in the image metadata.
  • 014” is a sequence number for multiple images for a group of related images.

Use Search Filters to narrow down your results.

Tighten up your search results by using the “Filters” tab on the left side of the page. Options that are helpful:  

  •  Image Orientation to narrow to certain image shapes (vertical, horizontal or square).
  • Set Date Ranges to limit search range. (useful for selecting current imagery)

Download Multiple Images 

  • Hover your cursor over an image you want to download.
  • Select and click the “circle icon to “checkmark” a desired image. 
  • Hover over and “check” other images to download at the same time.
  • Click the download “arrow” icon at the bottom and select your desired image size.
  • Click “Download.” A folder of images or zip file will now download to your device.

Download the File Size You Need

Images are uploaded as full-resolution jpegs.   

This allows for the highest quality for all possible campus uses. However, you might not need the full-size image file if your needs are for web, social media, or PowerPoint presentations. However, it is easy to download a smaller version of any image file from the database. 

How to Downsize on Download:  When you click Downloaduse the “Image Format” pulldown to select alternate sizes. 

  •  “Original file”: Best for extra large prints, banners, or large-scale media.
  • JPEG – original size”: Same as above. 
  •  “JPEG– XL (4800 px)”: Best for 8×10 prints and double-truck print treatments.
  •  “JPEG– L (2400 px)”: Best for print sizes smaller than 8×10.
  •  “JPEG – M (1200 px): Best size for social media, Powerpoint, and web pages.
  •  “JPEG – S (600 px): Best for thumbnail images for web, email, and blogs.

Crop on Download 

PhotoShelter provides an option to crop images upon download. 

How to crop on download:  

  •  Click the Download photo “arrow” icon underneath a single image.
  •  Select the “Crop” button at the bottom right corner of the dialogue.
  • Original” will keep the original aspect ratio consistent when cropped tighter. 
  • Custom” will allow cropping the image to a new shape without constraints. 
  • 1:1” will create a square crop. 

Social Media Crop

Use this powerful tool to automate your crop to standard social media shapes. 

  • After clicking the “Download” arrow, click the “Crop” box again.
  • Use the “Social Media Sizes” pulldown at the top of the dialogue.
  • Once you’ve chosen a setting, adjust the crop boundaries using the crop box.

Contact 

Photography Services, Strategic Communications and Marketing, photography@illinois.edu