Using a Shotgun Microphone for Video Interviewing

Rode NTG-3For my video interviews I have always preferred lapel microphones for capturing the audio.  In my short article “Microphone Strategies for Recording Video for Oral Histories” published on Oral History in the Digital Age my bias for the lapel microphones is clear.  In fact, I did not own a shotgun microphone at the time, so I did not have one to test.  Lapel microphones are small, super reliable and discreet.  That said, they have been known to cause some problems.  For example, if the interviewee is wearing a heavily starched shirt, or loose jewelry that comes in contact with the microphone, overwhelmingly distracting noise will be unavoidable.  Additionally, the “lapel” microphone seems really designed for men’s fashion.  I often have to awkwardly position the lapel microphone on a woman’s blouse or sweater.  It sounds silly, and probably is, but the challenge is ongoing and real.  On the big movie sets and some television programs, they will often use overhead shotgun microphones mounted on a boom, alleviating the need for the visually distracting lapel microphone.  The question I have is, how does it do on an oral history interview?

The general rule with microphones has always been that the closer the mic, the better the recording.  Shotgun microphones are designed to be extremely directional, focusing on the subject over some distance and minimizing noise pollution.  Many of these microphones do this job so well that the slightest move of the head, left or right, will detract from the recording signal.  Also, it has always been clear to me that the shotgun microphones weren’t “magic,” performing like microphones in spy movies, and that the older adages still held…the further away the microphone, noisier the result.  However,  I recently bought a Rode NTG-3 shotgun microphone (originally purchased to record nature sounds with my kids)  and I thought I would try it out on interviewing.  That said, I did not have any video interviews lined up at the time.  To completely digress, my wife’s birthday was coming up (no I wasn’t going to give her a shotgun microphone for her birthday), however, she made it clear that this year she did not want us to buy her anything as we are trying to save money (possibly because I recently purchased a super nice shotgun microphone).  So my daughters and I hatched a plan to create a video birthday card for mom.  Not wanting to mess with swapping out a lapel microphone between three kids on a thrown together video shoot in our basement, I placed an overhead shotgun microphone just out of the video frame.  Acknowledging that you are seeing the final project containing sweet music and gushing sentiments, here is the video we did40 Things We Love About Mommy.

Here is the audio, without the music:

I was blown away by the result.  DSLR cameras shoot great looking video but are known to (out of the box), in general, capture substandard audio.  To capture quality audio when doing video oral histories with a DSLR camera, I definitely recommend recording with dual-source audio or using an external, tripod mounted preamp especially designed for DSLR cameras.  My setup for this thrown-together basement video shoot, shot while mommy was at the store, included:

  • Canon T4i DSLR camera on a tripod
  • Beachtek DXA-SLR Pro (Since my DSLR camera does not have XLR microphone inputs)
  • Rode NTG-3 Shotgun microphone mounted on a boom stand about 12-14 inches above the speaker
  • Basic flourescent light kit (soft box)

What I like about the shotgun microphone mounted above the subject (out of frame) is the freedom and consistency.  The kids were moving all around and there is very little loss of recording signal.  This basement was a tremendously noisy environment–furnace in the other room, dog, 2 other kids waiting for their turn to go on camera.  The Rode NTG-3 did a fantastic job isolating the signal, and the kids did not look at the microphone hanging over their heads once.

I think the Rode NTG-3 will make an excellent microphone for oral history interviewing, especially in somewhat noisy environments, and it pairs well with an external preamp such as the  Beachtek DXA-SLR-Pro when shooting an oral history interview with a DSLR camera.  I recommend a second microphone for recording the interviewer, maybe a lavaliere microphone or even the microphone on board the camera (I use the Rode Video Mic Pro on my DSLR).  No doubt I will be using the Rode NTG-3 microphone for future video oral history interviews and definitely experimenting with it for standard audio interviews as well.

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  • Reply
    November 20, 2015 at 4:23 am

    Hey this is a great result from the NTG-3! + super cute happy birthday video. The team at AirLinc and I were wondering if you have ever used an iPhone app + lapel mic type situation and if not, would you? We\’ve developed an app that allows you to remotely monitor and control your audio much like a bodypack system using two iOS devices and we\’re currently working on multichannel recording. It\’s called AirLinc – we\’d love to know what you think!Luke

    • Reply
      Douglas A. Boyd
      January 13, 2016 at 8:34 pm

      Sounds like a great idea! I have not moved toward lapel / iphone solutions because what I have seen only provide 1 lapel mic. Oral History has two sources. As soon as a 2-lapel mic solution is provided for the iPhone I will be testing it.

  • Reply
    Tips for Better Sounding Interviews - Sportscaster Life
    December 11, 2015 at 6:37 am

    […] Also worth a look is Digitalomnium’s view on using shotgun microphones for interviews, although this pieces is more tailored to sit-down style setups, as opposed to quick pre or post game situations. You can read that here. […]

  • Reply
    Microphones, Oral History, and that “Radio” Sound in the Field: Lavalier or Lapel Microphones – Digital Omnium
    March 31, 2019 at 9:35 am

    […] the Nunn Center has begun using shotgun microphones for video recorded interviews (see my post Using a Shotgun Microphone for Video Interviewing.) However we commonly still use lavalier microphones for video interviews recorded in the field. […]

  • Reply
    Microphones, Oral History, and that “Radio” Sound in the Field: Shotgun Microphones – Digital Omnium
    June 17, 2019 at 3:37 pm

    […] microphone was positioned about 18-24 inches from my lips. A few years ago I wrote a post called Using a Shotgun Microphone for Video Interviewing that featured a video I produced with my daughters that utilized the Rode NTG-3 shotgun microphone […]

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