Sound for Film

When recording sound we need to control the 'Signal to Noise' ratio. The signal being what we want to record (i.e. dialogue) and the noise being everything else that may interfere, ambient background noise, electrical noise.... We need to choose the most suitable microphone(s) for the job and get as close as possible.


A microphone is a transducer that converts acoustical energy into electrical energy.

Operating Principles

The three most common principles of microphone operation are: Dynamic (or moving coil), the ribbon and the Capacitor or condenser. Most of the microphones we use for filming on location are condenser microphones as Dynamic microphones have too low an output level and ribbon microphones are too delicate. Condenser microphones require power, either battery or 'phantom power' usually +48v sent down the XLR cables from the camera or sound mixer.

Polar Pick Ups

Microphones are designed to have specific directional response patterns. The most common being:

Microphone types

Which microphone you choose depends on a few things including what you are recording, how close you can get, what is acceptable to be in view.... It's perfectly acceptable to see a handheld microphone in shot during a 'vox pops' interview for the news but in drama the microphone usually needs to be out of shot.

The three most common types of microphone used in Sound for Film & Video are:

Handheld Mic

Lavalier/ Lapel/ Tie Clip Mic

Usually the mic's are 'Omni directional'

These are often used with a radio transmitter and receiver so the presenter/ actor doesn't have to be 'tied' to the camera/ sound mixer.

Boom Microphones

'Boom' microphone is a microphone on a boom pole, this could be any polar pattern, often a rifle/ shot gun microphone is used with a highly directional pick up pattern. It is vital that the boom op follows the action and dialogue to ensure the desired sound remains 'on axis'.

Wild track/ Ambience

Often ambient sounds are recorded separately to allow more flexibility in the edit and mix. Record the dialogue as close and as clear as possible. Then record the ambiance as wild tracks. This is very useful in the edit as it can be laid under neath all dialogue edits to give the impression of continuity.

“The dialogue is the most important thing"

At Encounters 2014: NFTS Sound Masterclass with Dean Humphries, he argued “The dialogue is the most important thing in a film, drama or documentary,”  “It is the backbone of the soundtrack. Everything else, the music, sound effects, the Foley and the sound design has to work around the dialogue.”

Sound Recorders/ Sound Mixers/ Sync

Microphones can often be plugged direct into the camera, however Sound recordists often prefer to balance mic levels with a Sound mixer such as SQN-4S, a mix from this can be given to the camera or recorded separately onto a sound recorder, such as Zoom H4n. If recording sound separately from camera/ image then a clapper board and/ or time code sync is required.


Sound Recording Mixers/ Sound Designers/ Sound Editors

Alan Splet - Sound Designer with David Lynch. Article

Walter Murch - Godfather, Apocalypse Now, English Patient

Ben Burt - Sound Design Star Wars

Gerry Humphreys - Blade Runner, Gandhi, A Bridge Too Far, Cry Freedom

Dean Humphreys - NFTS - The Pianist, Sirens, The Ghost Writer, Taken2

Sound Post Production Studios

Films @59, Bristol

SkyWalker Sound, CA, USA

Further Reading:

Sound and Recording: An Introduction (Music Technology) by Francis Rumsey (Author), Tim Mccormick (Author). Available in our Library.  Amazon

Sound and Recording: Applications and Theory Paperback – 18 Feb 2014 by Francis Rumsey (Author), Tim McCormick (Author). Amazon


You are to record a short news 'vox pops' feature about a topic of your choice.

Walk and Talk - Do a 'walk and talk' intro to this 'feature'. A presenter walks towards camera introducing the theme...

Try this scene first with the camera mic then repeat with Boom and finally with Lavier microphone.

Vox Pops - Using a Boom and/ or Handheld microphone record a series of 'Vox Pops' interviews about a current topic of your choice.

Wild track - Record 2-5 mins of ambient wild track to use in edit