Photo Phun 2022

Let’s polish off the year with another post of stills from my photography hobby. These stills were taken during this fall and Christmas season, plus a few oldies from other posts about Firstlight and Optics. As before, all of these images were captured with my iPhone SE using Firstlight, FiLMiC’s still photo companion to their FiLMiC Pro video capture app. Aside from the extra features, Firstlight enhances the phone with camera raw recording. This isn’t otherwise possible on the SE using the native camera application.

The workflow to “develop” these images started in Adobe Bridge, where it was easy to make the basic raw adjustments using the camera raw module. Bridge offers Lightroom-style control and quick processing for a folder of images. These images then went to Photoshop for cropping and resizing.

Boris FX Optics functions as both a Photoshop plug-in and a standalone application. It’s one of my favorite tools for creating looks with still photos. It goes far beyond the filters, adjustments, and effects included in applications like Photoshop alone. Nearly all image manipulation was done by roundtripping each file from Photoshop to Optics (via the plug-in) and then back. The last step in the workflow was to use the TinyJPG website to optimize the file sizes of these JPEG images. Click any image below to peruse a gallery of these stills.

Enjoy the images and the rest of the holiday season. I’ll be back after we flip the page to a new year. Look for a 4-part interview in January with legendary film editor, Walter Murch.

©2022 Oliver Peters

Audio Plug-ins for the Holidays

You wanted to spruce up your audio toolkit, but already blew the budget on presents for the family and friends. Fear not, because here’s another list of free (or close to it) audio plug-ins that are worth getting excited about. Last year I wrote about excellent free tools from TBProAudio and Tokyo Dawn Records/Labs. These are still worth checking out and I use some of these on nearly every mix. However, since that post, I’ve run into a few more that are worth highlighting.

Focusrite Hitmaker Expansion bundle

OK, this first selection isn’t technically free on its own. It comes as a bonus offering if you purchased a Focusrite Scarlett, Clarett, or Red interface after Oct. 1, 2022. I don’t know whether the details will change or if this offer is time-sensitive. Nevertheless, if you need an audio interface, then it’s worth checking these out. (I personally use the Scarlett 2i2 interface with several different workstations.) This bundle includes some “free” plug-ins, some instrument packs, and some extended trials for subscription services. My personal favorite in this group is the Focusrite RED 2 & 3 Plug-in Suite.

Analog Obsession

If you want that vintage sound across a wide range of plug-in types, then Analog Obsession offers some of the best, regardless of price. These are free, however, a Patreon subscription is recommended, mainly to help further the development effort. New products are routinely added. These are AU/VST/VST3 plug-ins, but now AAX is also being added, starting with the newest Comper plug-in. The developer plans to make all of his existing plug-ins compatible with Pro Tools in soon-to-come updates.

There are two things I really find attractive about these tools. First, the developer builds in unique features that not even the most expensive competitors offer. For example, Comper is really two compressors, which can be used in series. Each offers VCA, FET, and Opto modeling that can be switched or blended. (Tip – on most Analog Obsession tools, click on the logo – it turns red – to enable oversampling.)

Second, there is no need for some separate licensing application. This is often the case with other companies, even when the plug-ins are free. You can quickly end up with half a dozen different licensing applications on your system, simply to manage a variety of plug-ins.

iZotope

Many other companies often include a handful of free plug-ins within their otherwise paid portfolio. You have to look, but they are out there. For instance, iZotope, which is known for RX, Ozone, and other high-end sets, also offers a few freebees. These include Vinyl, Ozone Imager, and Vocal Doubler. Vinyl is designed to purposefully degrade your mix with analog artifacts, like scratches, dust, warping, and more. The Stereo Imager module is part of Ozone, but is also offered for free as a separate plug-in. As the name implies, Vocal Doubler is there to enhance vocal recordings with a doubling effect.

KiiveAudio

Amongst Kiive’s range of plug-ins is the free Warmy EP1A Tube EQ. This is a 3-band equalizer modeled in a vintage fashion. The classic difference is that the low end has both a boost and an attenuation (cut) control. The allows you to simultaneously boost and cut low frequencies at slightly different points, enabling a punchier bottom end.

Klanghelm

Manley Labs introduced its legendary Variable Mu® Limiter-Compressor in 1994, which remains an analog mastering standard to this day. Klanghelm’s MJUC is a tip-of-the-hat to this hardware. But sticking with our free theme, you can also get the simplified MJUC jr. version. It’s designed as a master bus compressor for smooth leveling without pumping effects. Klanghelm offers two other freeware products: IVGI and DC1A. The first is designed for saturation and distortion. The latter is a compressor to use if you want a bit of analog color to your sound.

Klevgrand

I pointed out Klevgrand’s excellent noise reduction filter, Brusfri, in last year’s holiday post. However, Klevgrand also features a free plug-in tucked away on their site. FreeAmp is a free, stripped down version of their REAMP filter. Both are designed to model different instrument amps. FreeAMP combines all the profiles into a single universal profile so you can quickly dial in a desired amount of overdrive saturation.

Sonimus

Like Kiive, Sonimus offers a single free, vintage-style equalizer, the Sonimus SonEQ Free. It features similar controls to Warmy; however, with even a few more tricks. Given the two, I’d opt for SonEQ. An added benefit is the detailed manual from Sonimus, which spells out exactly how each control alters the sound.

VahallaDSP

Valhalla is one of the most-respected reverb/echo software developers. SuperMassive is their free plug-in for delays and reverbs. As the name implies, you can go from standard ambiences all the way up to very large and spacey effects.

So that’s a short list of free audio plug-ins that are great additions to your toolkit. Regardless of whether you mix music or cut videos, be sure to check out and see how these might enhance your workflow.

©2022 Oliver Peters

NLE Tips – Audio Track FX

I’ve written quite a few blog posts and articles about audio mixing methods in Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro. But over time, methods evolve, change, or become more streamlined, so it’s time to revisit the subject. When you boil down most commercials and short-subject videos (excluding trailers), the essence of the soundtrack is just voice against a music bed with some sound effects. While I’ll be the first to say you’ll get the best results sending even a simple mix to a professional mixer, often budget and timeframe don’t allow for that. And so, like most editors, I do a lot of my own mixes.

My approach to these mixes is straightforward and rather systematic. I’m going to use Premiere Pro examples, but track-based mixing techniques can be universally applied to all NLEs. Even FCP works with track-based mixing if you properly use its audio roles function. I will almost never apply audio effects at the individual clip level, unless it something special, like simulated phone call voice processing.

All dialogue clips usually end up on A1 with crossfades between to smooth the edits. Add room tone between for consistency. This also helps the processing of the track effects, especially noise reduction. If I have more than one voice or character, then each goes onto a separate track. I will use clip volume adjustments in order to get the track to sound even across the length of the video. With this done, it’s time to move to the track mixer.

In this example from a recent product video, the reviewer’s voice is on A1. There’s a motor start-up sound that I’ve isolated and placed on A2. Music is on A3 and then the master mix bus. These audio plug-in effects are the ones I use on almost every video in a pretty systematic fashion. I have a nice collection of paid and free, third-party audio plug-ins, but I often stick to only the stock effects that come with a given NLE. That’s because I frequently work with other editors on the same project and I know that if I stick with the standard effects, then they won’t have any compatibility issues due to missing plug-ins. The best stock plug-in set can be found in Logic Pro and many of those are available in FCP. However, the stock audio effects available in Premiere are solid options for most projects.

Audio track 1 – Dialogue – Step 1 – noise reduction. Regardless of how clean the mic recording is, I will apply noise reduction to nearly every voice track recorded on location. My default is the light noise reduction preset, where I normally tweak only the percentage. If you have a really noisy recording, I suggest using Audition first (if you are a Creative Cloud subscriber). It includes several noise reduction routines and a spectral repair function. Process the audio, bounce out an export, and bring the cleaned-up track into your timeline. However, that’s going to be the exception. The new dialogue isolation feature in Resolve 18.1 (and later) as well as iZotope RX are also good options.

Step 2 – equalization. I apply a parametric EQ effect after the noise reduction stage. This is just to brighten the voice and cut any unnecessary low end. Adobe’s voice enhancer preset is fine for most male and female voices. EQ is very subjective, so feel free to tweak the settings to taste.

Step 3 – compressor. I prefer the tube-modeled compressor set to the voice leveling preset for this first compression stage. This squashes any of the loudest points. I typically adjust the threshold level. You can also use this filter to boost the gain of the voice as you see in the screenshot. You really need to listen to how the audio sounds and work interactively. Play this compressor off against the audio levels of the clip itself. Don’t just squash peaks using the filter. Duck any really loud sections and/or boost low areas within the clip for an even sound without it becoming overly compressed.

Audio track 2 – Sound FX – Step 1 – equalization. Many of my videos are just voice and music, but in this case, the reviewer powers up a boat motor and cruises off at the end of the piece. I wanted to emphasis the motor rumble, so I split that part of the clip’s audio and moved it down to A2. This let me apply different effects than the A1 track effects. Since I wanted a lot of bottom end, I used parametric EQ at full reset and boosted the low end to really get a roaring sound.

Step 2 – compressor. I once again applied the tube-modeled compressor in order to keep the level tame with the boosted EQ settings.

Audio track 3 – Music – Step 1 – equalization. Production music helps set the mood and provides a bed under the voice. But you don’t want it to compete. Before applying any effects, get the volume down to an acceptable level and adjust any really loud or quiet parts in the track. Then, apply a parametric equalizer in the track mixer panel. Pull down the level of the midrange in the frequencies closest to the voice. I will also adjust the Q (range and tightness of the bell curve at that frequency). In addition, I often boost the low and high ends. In this example, the track included a bright hi-hat, which I felt was a bit distracting. And so in this example, I also pulled down some of the high end.

Step 2 – stereo expander. This step is optional, but it helps many mixes. The stereo expander effect pushes the stereo image out to the left and right, leaving more of the center open for voice. However, don’t get carried away, because stereo expander plug-ins also alter the phase of the track. This can potentially throw some of the music out of phase when listened to in mono, which could cause your project to be rejected. If you are mixing for the web, then this is less of an issue, since most modern computers, tablets, smart phones, not to mention ear buds, etc are all set up for stereo. However, if you mix is for broadcast, then be sure to check your mix for proper phase correlation.

Mix bus – Step 1 – multi-band compression. The mix bus (aka master bus or output bus) is your chance to “glue” the mix together. There are different approaches, but for these types of projects, I like to use Adobe’s multi-band compressor set to the classical master preset. I adjust the threshold of the first three bands to -20 and a compression ratio of 4 across the board. This lightly knocks down any overshoots without being heavy-handed. The frequency ranges usually don’t need to be adjusted. Altering the output gain drives the volume hitting the limiter in the next step. You may of may not need to adjust this depending on your target level for the whole mix.

Step 2 – hard limiter. The limiter is the last plug-in that controls output volume. This is your control to absolutely stay below a certain level. I use the -3 or -6 preset (depending on the loudness level I’m trying achieve) and reduce the input boost back to 0. I also change it to read true peaks instead of only peak levels. 

Step 3 – loudness meter. The loudness meter keeps you honest. Don’t just go by the NLE’s default audio meters. If you have been mixing to a level of just below 0 on those, then frankly you are mixing the wrong way for this type of content. Really loud mixes close to 0 are fine for music production, but not OK for any video project.

The first step is to find out the target deliverable and use the preset for that. There are different presets for broadcast loudness standards versus web streaming, like YouTube. These presets don’t change the readout of the numbers, though. They change the color indicators slightly. Learn what those mean. 

Broadcast typically requires integrated loudness to be in the -23 to -24 area, whereas YouTube uses -14. I aim for a true peak target of -3 or -6. This tracks with the NLE audio meters at levels peaking in the -9 to -6 range. Adjusting the gain levels of the multi-band compressor and/or limiter help you get to those target levels.

©2022 Oliver Peters