Sound for self shooters: top mic

Self shooting directors need to be multi skilled in today's TV workplace, and sound can end up being last on a long list of things to consider. The BBC Academy's Helen Hutchinson offers a few simple guidelines to help give you great sound.

The basics
Radio mics and a good quality top mic are usually the basic kit for a self shooting director. Top mics are directional - i.e. they pick up sound coming from one direction only. Having a good quality top mic can be a lifesaver if a radio mic fails, or if you have several people to film in one group.

Noisy environments
The best way to record speech in a noisy environment is to use a personal mic or put a microphone on a boom pole.

In the event that you have to rely on just the top mic - and finding a quiet corner is not an option - try to position your contributor so that your microphone is not pointing directly in the direction of the loudest noise.

"A top mic can be a life saver if a radio mic fails." – Helen Hutchinson

Groups vs individuals
If you are filming a person who isn't moving, you can get good sound by placing the mic on a stand and pointing it at the mouth of the contributor.

When recording groups of people in a room, make sure that the mic is placed centrally. This avoids a fall in recording levels as you pan or move the camera position.

If you are in an environment with a constant background noise, it's better to record on 'manual'. In a group setting, 'auto' works well as it compensates for the people furthest from the mic.

If you are recording crowd scenes where there may be sudden changes in sound levels then the 'auto' setting can be useful, but only if you are not recording speech in this environment.

Don't blow it
Turning the camera on and making sure that your initial recording levels aren't too high beforeyou put on your headphones will protect against harming your ear drums.