Voice overs for gear reviews

Voice overs, a cheap solution to poor audio

Paul OsbornOne of the hardest things about amateur videography that I’ve faced is problems with audio. Simple point and shoot cameras and basic camcorders have come a very long way in terms of image quality, but they are still very limited in terms of audio, especially when you’re not looking directly at the camera or when there is high winds. When I started reviewing clips from a gear review I did on a mountain top at over 17000 feet and found that most of the audio was just a blur of wind noise I knew I had to do something different.

The odd head turn where the audio quality drops down can sometimes be fixed by simply boosting the levels, but when the words aren’t there to boost you have to do something else. For me, that “Something else” was either get close to a thousand dollars of video and audio equipment down to me in Bolivia, or take a completely different approach for my videos.

My choice was obvious, try voice overs. Now, I’m nowhere near professional videography and this is more of an exploration, but I decided that instead of stumbling through a video review script that wouldn’t be audible and that would require me to pass extra hours on a wind mountain trying to communicate my opinions of a piece of gear, I decided to do the work at home and just have fun outside.

To give you an idea of what I mean, over the past 2 years I’ve recorded at least 4 times a DIY on how to start fire with a fire bow. I gave up and dumped all of the 2 hours of video clips because in all of them my dialog distracted me from focusing on what I was doing or trying to do and I usually messed up something. Next time I’m definitely going to try voice overs for that!

This was a first for me and Tim asked me to share my mindset and he agreed to use this post as an opportunity to get your feedback on the video, the mindset and what you’d do differently or the same.

Know the product

Although this applies in any type of gear review I really had to know what the product was, was capable of and where (and if) it fell short. In this case it was a pair of Hillsound Trail Crampons Pro, a non-technical set of crampons that are excellent for everything short of actual ice climbing. I knew what they could and couldn’t do; the next step was to show that.

Know your terrain

I wanted to do the crampons justice, so I wanted to showcase their abilities on an impressive set. Frankly, hiking through trees for a few minutes isn’t eye candy. To give the right mood for me, I chose what I feel is a pretty awesome backdrop for my shots, a 20000 foot Bolivian peak named Huayna Potosi that I had summited previously. I knew the area, I knew the contours and the variety of views and slopes that it would provide.

Tell a Story

I do have a friend who is a professional videographer and his advice to me was tell a story. For the video I decided to take that tip. I wanted the review to go hand in hand with the story. I didn’t want it complicated. I wanted to tell the story of setting off on a glacier hike, gearing up and then heading off into an adventure. I wanted to emphasize the ease of use, flexibility and traction that the crampons offered that give one the confidence and ability to go off and have an adventure.

Plan your shots

Getting more specific with my plans I returned to the theme of what I wanted to show about the piece of gear. Combining the terrain with the different features I wanted to showcase would allow me to not waste any of my time on the hill and keep me organized. I knew the shots I wanted to get, more or less where and how to do them. For example, to get the concluding thought of the “story” I did a panorama shot of me heading up the mountain as I figured it would give me a chance to summarize my thoughts and at the same time show how comfortable I felt about what these crampons could tackle.

Do a general plan for your script

Although I didn’t want to get too specific, I had to get an idea of key words or phrases that would be later used in editing so I could set up shots to showcase that. In addition, I wanted to make sure I had enough video shots of hiking to fill in the 3 minutes or so of talking and long enough shots to accommodating sections of dialog. Toying around with phrases at home and on the drive up to the mountain allowed me to iron out wrinkles and make me hone in on what would feature the points I was trying to make.

Video or bust

Going out with a goal in mind meant that the actual work was much easier. I hiked up to the high camp in the dark, sat around for an hour while I waited for the sun to rise and the lighting was better. I was able to shoot a bunch of my shots right at the edge of the glacier (putting on the crampons, adjusting them, taking them off) remembering that I needed to slow down a bit for the text and leave space either side that could be later trimmed.

I knew what I wanted to do and all I had to do was think camera angles. My tripod and tripod mount were saviors as I used them not only for getting the shot level on the steep slopes, but for holding the camera to get a nice follow shot of me walking in the shoes. I actually shot the walking shot where the camera is with me upside down and later rotated it in my video editing program.

Reviewing

When I got home I spent some time writing down what each shot was and listed what it showed or showcased. Some shots were dumped and some were used more than once… or at least divided up and spread out into different parts. That allowed me to reorganize the shots according to my final script.

Audio

I knew audio would play a big part in the script so I spent an hour or two at least looking through Kevin Mcleod’s site incompetech. He has a large number of pieces with all sorts of feels to them and all royalty free too! I don’t make enough to warrant asking him to write a custom piece for me so I decided to pull out my guitar and play around with chords and dissonance. I’m not 100% happy with the end result and had to loop a part of it during the piece, but the feel was the closest to what I had in mind. I hid some of the mistakes by just lowering the volume on it… please don’t listen too closely… I mean it.

Script

With all that together and the video clips fresh in mind, I went to work on the script and polished out the script and writing the story. When I was sufficiently happy with the result (How many people are going to watch this and how much time can you afford to spend on it?)

Throw yourself to the wolves

I did a compile, checked it again and then shared it with people I knew I could trust… my wife… She laughed. Mostly because it was so different from my normal style of video and also because my voice over sounds somewhat like a cheesy marketer. Her final opinion was to go for it and that it was fine so I did.

After an upload I wrote the accompanying article, I used the opportunity to add more detail where the video lacked and give a more complete picture.

Conclusions (Cue the closing clip of the man walking away from the camera)

It may seem like a lot of work to prepare for voice overs, and it is… but honestly, the hardest part of a video is always the talking. Add the problem of a bad mic on your camera and your easiest choice is to just get shots of you using the gear and then worry about adding the dialog later. It gives you freedom to have fun with your camera and explore new ideas and then hack apart what you did later. Anyway, here’s my finished result.

I’d love to hear your feedback and ideas. Let me know what you do to improve your videos and how I can improve mine!

(Visited 50 times, 1 visits today)
Get Trail Sherpa posts and insights by email.

Connect with Trail Sherpa
Subscribe via RSS:

Paul is the lead blogger for theOutdoorAdventure.net He grew up next to a big forest and would rather be outside than in. He's currently working on his videography skills and trying new things to make his articles and videos fresher and more interesting.

  • Great look behind the scenes of your first voice over attempt Paul.  It’s reassuring to me that I wasn’t the only one that felt like my audio was coming up short.  To be honest, that is the primary reason I don’t do more video.  I may have to give video another try with voice overs instead of relying on the built in audio mechanisms.  Great post.

  • Thanks Tim. I now have a lapel mic and a gopro, but the volume level is still too low so. One way the voice over method has really helped me is that I now take a larger variety of shots.

    • For my basic videos I do not bother with voice overs, as it is too much work. Happily I have a Rode VideoMic Pro which helps with getting good sound in the first place.

      For my ULAZ series I do voice overs, and have bought a Rode Podcaster mic for that reason. Sound quality is now superb, though it adds another couple of hours to the workflow. 

      • How long did it take you to get comfortable using that setup? Is there still room to shavetime off the edit process?

        • Not that long, maybe till I knew the capabilities of the Mic (even with a Deadcat on it high wind isn’t good for sound, it needs to be pointed at me directly, learn how much ambience sound it does picks up). Once I knew that it was easy to go out and shot videos. 

          I record my voice overs in Garage Band, which goes pretty fast if I say what I want to say =) Then just import to iMovie and throw it over the scene, which is a fast process, too. The only way to speed this up is by getting a faster Mac!In the end @twitter-243256535:disqus says it in one sentence why Voice Overs are so useful: “I decided to do the work at home and just have fun outside.” With voice overs you can have fun without needing to worry, which allows for a different, better mindset when outdoors!

      • What kind of video camera are you using?

        • I have a Panasonic GH2 (which has already a very good Mic) and a Sony NEX-5n. Sadly the NEX-5n has no possibility to connect an external mic (except the Sony Mic).

  • Whitney

    Thanks for sharing Paul! What a great idea, it’s so hard to film video reviews. Andrew and I played around with voice overs in our latest gear review on Outdoor Gear TV. We didn’t go full-blown voice over because we wanted to see how it would go first. The only thing that worries me is that it will feel more like a product video, that you would see on Backcountrycom, then a personal review. If you guys have any thoughts/opinions on the latest review let me know, always interested in trying new things and improving! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DZs1lLNQHI&feature=plcp

    • I think’s that’s a great first attempt.  I don’t have any suggestions Whitney but I would say that I think it flows nicely with the switch from standard to voice over and back.  The volume does change between the two though.  Not sure if that is something that can even be adjusted though.  Looks like a great pack too!

    • I agree about overdoing it. I’m practising for #JMT2013. I want to get a good balance of both for that hike. That and for DIYs.

  • Adventure Strong

    If your camera has a 3.5mm input jack you can get a low-cost lapel mic that will improve your audio. Or a shotgun mic works well.