The depths at which audio can increase the impact of a photo story being shown is without question. The trick is for the photographer to learn how to bring audio to the story in a way that is a compelling, natural component of the story itself.
I come from the old school of photojournalism – shoot compelling images, add your captions and you’re done.
As much as the traditional hard line photo-j types want to rebel, the reality is you better learn how to manage and produce compelling audio to go with your photo stories. Otherwise, you’re going the way of the DoDo in my opinion.
It requires effort to add the audio component to your skill set, but I can tell you first hand once you understand the concepts of producing audio, you’ll realize the value it has in telling your subjects story.
Here’s a story I shot originally as a still photo documentary project back in 1991-92. I resurrected it and added my own audio narrative for how the experience affected my life.
One important trick is keeping your gear at a simple level so that you’re not so overwhelmed by the additional equipment that it prevents you from shooting those compelling images to go with the audio narrative.
Putting together the right audio kit can seem daunting, but the reality is, the gear is pretty straightforward. A quality digital audio recorder with built in mics, a secondary handheld mic and a wired lavaliere and you are more or less in business.
I’ve become a huge fan of Tascam’s audio recorders after having dealt with the inadequacies of the Zoom H1 and H2. I specifically went with the Tascam DR-05 which can be had for less than the Zoom H1, and has more features – at the expense of being slightly larger than the Zoom H1.
I already have a wired lavaliere, an Audio-Technica lav. The audio quality is ok, but not great. Lastly, I’m building my hand held mics to include the Audio Technica AT8004 omni directional and debating the purchase of either the Rode M3 or AKG C1000 – both of these latter two mics are small diaphragm condenser mics that have the ability to be powered either by phantom or a 9 volt user replaceable battery – something I want to have for on location field recording used in conjunction with the Tascam DR-05. Some have recommended using a shotgun mic such as the Rode NTG-2, but I personally felt I didn’t’ want to purchase one until I determined whether I actually needed it or not. The last bit is getting a 1/8” to XLR adapter cable since the DR-05 has no native XLR ports. And don’t forget some sort of foam windscreen at the bare minimum, and preferably, a wind cutting fuzzy for your mics.
There are those who say spend the money and get something like the Tascam DR-40 or Zoom H4N which has native XLR plugs on the device. The issue is one of size. They are substantially larger, and if you’re a one man band shooter you begin to look at the size and weight of the gear you’re having to carry.
Learning to edit audio to include with your images is much like learning to edit video – without all the overhead associated with it.
I’m not going into the specifics on this but needless to say, the software to produce your audio slideshows is pretty easy to work with. Apps like iMovie for the MAC, Sony Vegas Studio and other more complete video editing applications can get the job done.
It’s my belief that avoiding the use of applications that produce flash based multimedia audio slideshows is important to understand. The Apple iPad doesn’t play flash based content, and with the ever increasing use of tablets, and Adobe abandoning any further development of Flash for mobile devices is more or less the death knell for the technology. This requires you or the editor to render your finished projects into an MP4 file format and use an HTML5 video player to showcase your stories.
I’ll be touching on this last part in a future blog posting but needless to say, if you’re working with WordPress, you’re halfway there with the ability to embed native HTML5 video content on your site.
Still Photographers should be embracing this technology – not running away from it.
Doing so will redefine your capabilities – and in the process, bring a voice to your projects that have never had one before.