Subtitles or voice narration?

Discussion in 'Professional Video Production' started by Mxsmanic, Jul 27, 2011.

  1. Mxsmanic

    Mxsmanic Guest

    When is it better to use subtitles rather than voice narration? I notice that
    some documentaries seem to use subtitles, for example, but it's hard to tell
    exactly in which circumstances they are preferable to a voiceover.
    Mxsmanic, Jul 27, 2011
    1. Advertisements

  2. Mxsmanic

    Mike Kujbida Guest

    The only times I've ever used subtitles is when my projects are destined
    for the 'hard of hearing' community.

    Mike Kujbida, Jul 27, 2011
    1. Advertisements

  3. Mxsmanic

    Mxsmanic Guest

    Not even for things like locations or dates, e.g., "New York, 2010"?
    Mxsmanic, Jul 27, 2011
  4. It depends on the country, well I assume you use subtitles for translation.
    For example in Germany it is all voice,
    while in the Netherlands they use subtitles for foreign language material.
    Subtitles may be easier in some cases.
    I have made DVDs with 8 languages plus subtitles (that you can switch off).
    I have also made DVDs with embedded subs, that you cannot switch off,
    but look a lot better than the DVD overlays.
    Jan Panteltje, Jul 27, 2011
  5. Mxsmanic

    mike Guest

    You didn't say what kind of videos this was for so I gave you an
    answer based on what I produce for my day job.
    I think you're confusing subtitling with ordinary titling.
    Subtitling is used either for the hard of hearing community or, as Jan
    described, for language translation.
    I use titles all the time in my videos, depending on what the need is.
    If it's a video on how to do a specific procedure, I will use anything
    from a full screen of titles to a title of a specific procedure or
    piece of equipment.
    If I'm doing videos for personal use, I'll put up titles as I think
    they're needed.
    For example, I just finished editing and posting a video about my
    daughter's 16th birthday celebration.
    I added a few titles where I thought an on screen comment was
    Does this answer your question any better?

    mike, Jul 27, 2011
  6. Mxsmanic

    Mxsmanic Guest

    I meant subtitles for the actual narration of the video, as opposed to a

    If you use voice, nobody has to read, but you lose the independent ambient
    sound, because the voice is constantly heard over it. If you use subtitles,
    you preserve the original sound, but people have to read the subtitles.

    I've seen and heard both of these used, but I'm not clear on how one decides
    which is best. Often in movies you see text on the screen providing some
    exposition, especially at the beginning of the movie (like the first Star Wars
    movie), but at other times you hear a voice instead. So which is better, and
    in which circumstances?

    This is all in the same language, separate from any subtitling that might be
    used to translate the original into other languages.
    Mxsmanic, Jul 28, 2011
  7. Mxsmanic

    Mxsmanic Guest

    Documentary-style videos, mostly. I've been making tiny videos that show
    touristy areas, and I don't know if it's better to put titles or use voice. My
    original version for not using voice was that I can't stand the sound of my
    voice and I can't afford voice talent, but it occurred to me that subtitling
    might not be such a bad thing, as I've seen it used elsewhere. In my case it
    is subtitling because the text appears at the bottom of the screen so as not
    to obscure the visuals too much.
    And why do you choose titles in these cases over voice narration?
    Well, my main question was how to decide which to use, titles or voice.
    Sometimes I see the two mixed even in the same video or movie.
    Mxsmanic, Jul 28, 2011
  8. Mxsmanic

    Brian Guest

    Why not do both and the viewer has a choice of viewing subtitles or
    listening to a voice like they do for commercial video DVD's.

    It depends on what software you have. DVD Architect Pro allows you to
    add subtitles that can be turned on and off and also you can have
    several sound tracks that the user can switch between.

    If you need to choose between one or the other than for documentaries
    I would choose voice.
    Rather than overdubbing someone's voice I would describe to the
    audience what the person on the video is saying such as "This man told
    us that he has the best fish for sale in the village" and the audience
    can still hear the person talking in his own language"
    If I were to use subtitles then it would be more for location names or
    people's occupations.

    Regards Brian
    Brian, Jul 28, 2011
  9. Mxsmanic

    Steve King Guest

    Choosing whether to use on-screen text or narration is an artistic choice.
    How to decide? That's like asking why Picasso chose blue for his paintings
    between 1901 and 1904. It is up to the artist to choose the proper
    technique for the story being told. There is no reason for this being an
    either/or issue. In my productions I typically use both on-screen text and
    narration, each chosen for its appropriateness according the scene, and
    often both used together. If you need only identify something in the
    picture, "St. James Cathedral. Built 1753 - 1806" on the screen for a few
    seconds might suffice followed by various views of the cathedral, its
    architectural details, the crowds who have come to see it, etc. (Don't
    forget close-ups;-) If you want to tell the story of how Friar Bertram had
    a dream about a new cathedral built on the hill overlooking the town, how
    150 people died in a terrible accident, when a wall fell, and how difficult
    it was to finance the rebuilding, then I would say that narration would be a
    better choice --- or appropriate additional choice. Does that help?

    Steve King
    Steve King, Jul 28, 2011
  10. Mxsmanic

    Scubajam Guest

    This is a creative decision made by you, the writer/director/
    producer. I have not heard a "rule" or even strong recommendation
    either way. They are just different presentations. You decide. Use
    titles (not subtitles), or narration, or both. With titles there's
    decisions on fonts, color, animation, etc. Have them scroll up, down,
    or across. Put them in one corner, etc. The rule is to use the same
    font and color throughout, just as you would with writing, or making a
    poster. OK, you can use a couple different fonts on a poster, but not
    too many. If you choose narration, then please get a quality mic. I
    use a Zoom H4, now H4n, and run the video portion after editing, with
    speakers off, and record narration. I'm not too careful about timing,
    and often re-record when I err without stopping the video; then add
    the narration track and cut out the mistakes and move the sound clips
    over to time with the video. You can even add 3 dimensions - titles,
    narration, and music (lower during narration, bring it up for dramatic
    effect) as well as keeping the ambient sound. Totally your call. But
    remember, the sound track is actually about 70% of a "video"
    production. You'll buy a commercial movie soundtrack without video,
    as in CD, but you would never buy a video without any sountrack.
    Tells you how important sound is. It may be just me, but I'm finding
    that while narration was very popular 10 to 40 years ago, it has
    fallen a bit out of favor lately, leaning more towards interviews than
    a single narrator (but both are still used today). If your subject is
    something like meercats that require a lot of explanation, then
    narration is more appropriate than a lot of titles running around. If
    a travelogue or city video, then titles are very important to orient
    the audience. If the video and ambient sound don't tell a story, add
    narration to explain, as well as occasional titles; but don't just
    narrate and repeat the title - that sort of insults your audience,
    implying they can't read. Be careful of fancy script fonts that are
    difficult to read; the audience generally only has a few seconds to
    read the title and it competes with other visuals - make it easy.
    (Then use same font and color on the DVD case and label.) While you
    can cut to a black screen with white font in the middle of production,
    generally the titles are put over the video as it runs. Once in a
    while, if you are moving locations, or changing time, then a fade to
    black (or other color, but be consistent) with title is good. Fade
    out and in implies a change of time or location. If it's a city video
    then just put up a static title such as "XYZ Market" or "Government
    Courthouse" in one sector of the screen to let your audience know what
    they are watching. Edit the basic visual part of your video, then
    either watch yourself with an attitude you are the audience-then
    answer any questions you might think of via title or narration. Or
    ask someone else to watch and suggest either title or narration. Then
    finish your production. It's all your call, but should all be in the
    interest of entertaining and/or educating your audience. Grab and
    hold their interest either way. I can say it much better than I can
    do it; it ain't easy!
    Jim McGauhey
    Washington State
    Scubajam, Jul 28, 2011
  11. Mxsmanic

    mike Guest

    mike, Jul 28, 2011
  12. Mxsmanic

    Ty Ford Guest

    There are no more rules! hardly...


    Ty Ford

    --Audio Equipment Reviews Audio Production Services
    Acting and Voiceover Demos
    Guitar player?:
    Ty Ford, Jul 28, 2011
  13. Mxsmanic

    Mxsmanic Guest

    So it's a question of volume?

    Originally I put no voice narration in my touristy videos because I have a
    terrible-sounding voice and I couldn't afford voice talent. But it has also
    occurred to me that voice is something you cannot turn off once it is burned
    into the video. Some viewers might not want narration. Currently I use closed
    captions for narration when I upload to YouTube, but there are some cases
    where the video makes less sense if the captions are turned off. It's hard to
    shoot and edit a video that works both with and without narration. It's
    tempting to try a video with voice narration, but if my voice irritates people
    they might not want to watch it.

    So I'm in a bit of a quandry. I think narration potentially adds to my videos,
    but I don't know if I should risk an unremovable and potentially irritating
    voice narration, or depend on a removable closed caption that viewers can
    suppress but which might affect the video if people don't read it.
    Mxsmanic, Jul 29, 2011
  14. Mxsmanic

    Mxsmanic Guest

    It's nicely done. I like the camera ride on the tomato box. You must have
    plenty of resources if you can afford to risk a camera like that.

    Did your subject talk spontaneously or did you ask questions and then edit
    them out?
    I couldn't watch it. I don't have the right plug-in (whatever plug-in it
    Mxsmanic, Jul 29, 2011
  15. Mxsmanic

    Mxsmanic Guest

    In this case, I'm uploading the videos to YouTube. You can turn closed
    captions on and off, and I do use those, but you only have one audio track.

    It seems that I have to shoot and edit differently for voice vs. text
    narration (as well as for narrated vs. no narration), so I want to make good
    That came with Sony Vegas, but I haven't installed it so far. Does it install
    rootkits or weird copy protection software?

    I haven't actually tried to burn a DVD, although I might do it eventually in
    order to give DVDs to friends or relatives. Or maybe Blu-ray, if they have
    Would you include an interviewer's questions in the voice track, or edit them
    out and show only the on-screen subject's replies?
    Mxsmanic, Jul 29, 2011
  16. Mxsmanic

    Mxsmanic Guest

    How do you mean?
    That's the situation I'm in. I make tiny travelogues and it's hard to decide
    whether I should provide narration or not, and in what form.

    For example, I sometimes make videos that are uninterrupted traveling shots
    down a street. The idea is to immerse the viewer in the sights and sounds of
    the place being shown. In these cases it seems natural to use only source
    sound and no music or narration, but maybe I'm wrong on that. In other cases,
    I make videos that are edited in the usual way, without the long traveling
    shots, and here it seems that some exposition or explanation might help, but I
    don't know how much, or whether it should be on the screen or by voice.

    Is it important to use someone with a trained or pleasant voice for voice
    narration? I can't afford voice talent, and my voice is nasal and unpleasant,
    and that has made me hesitate about doing any voice narration so far.
    I usually use Helvetica or Franklin Gothic exclusively. They are both clean
    and easy to read. At most, I change the weight of the font sometimes, but not
    the typeface.

    For brief stuff like place names, I just fade in a band of color with text on
    it on the lower third, then fade it back out. It seems to work okay, although
    perhaps there are other ways of doing this that are better (?). For a while I
    had the text scroll in from the right and then scroll off to the left, but
    then I thought that maybe that's too distracting. I hate crowded lower thirds
    on TV, and I didn't want to get stuck on that.
    I've used white text over a black background once, to emphasize a change in
    the subject of a video, but otherwise I've put it over the video, although
    sometimes it's a frozen frame of video. I think in at least one case I went
    overboard with too many titles at the beginning.
    I've used a fade-to-black (or some other color) followed by a page curl or
    some other fancier transition to try to show a significant time or location
    change. There are so many transitions to choose from that it's hard to find
    something that is enough but not excessive. Some transitions are productions
    in themselves and I wonder how anyone finds a legitimate use for them.
    All of my videos currently are city videos. I've been doing this for changes
    in street location. Much more rarely to identify a structure. Here again, it's
    hard to know what's enough and what is too much.
    That I am discovering. I'm not satisfied with any of the videos I've made so
    far, but I like to think that maybe they are gradually improving.
    Mxsmanic, Jul 29, 2011
  17. Mxsmanic

    Steve King Guest

    Then, write a script and record a friend reading it. Plus, you need to
    watch some documentaries. Copy what you like. Avoid what you don't.
    Because the answer to all of your questions is, "It depends." You talk
    about the risk of viewers not liking your voice, the risk of not liking your
    on-screen text. Just how many hits are you getting for these YouTube
    videos. What, really, is the risk? Videos that take no chances, that don't
    strive to be as close to what people see on their televisions as possible
    usually aren't very interesting to watch.

    Steve King
    Steve King, Jul 29, 2011
  18. Subtitles tend to stop people from watching the images, while
    narration allows them to remain visually focused. Most of what you're
    talking about isn't technically subtitles, which usually refers to a
    reproduction of spoken words as text at the bottom of the screen. If
    there's a narrator talking, AND you've got the same text running along
    the bottom, that'd be subtitles (in common usage). If it's text
    INSTEAD of narration, that'd be just an odd use of titles.

    No one really does it that way, and there are some pretty good reasons
    for that.
    Steven J. Weller, Jul 30, 2011
  19. Check out (or something fairly close to that). There
    are other similar sites as well, where you can get very cheap (or
    free) voice talent for your material.
    Steven J. Weller, Jul 30, 2011
  20. Mxsmanic

    Mike Kujbida Guest

    I wish I could take the credit for that and a few other shots in the
    video but the owner hired an outside company the previous year to do a
    trade show video.
    He kept the copyright on it so I was free to use whatever footage I needed.

    We asked him several questions (the interview ran approx. 40 min.) and
    then edited it as needed for the banquet it was shown at.

    Too bad as that's one that I got a lot of very positive comments on.
    It made extensive use of chromakey and custom animated backgrounds.
    It was edited on a lowly P4 3.4 GHz machine and the 10 min. video took
    over 3 hours to render (MPEG-2 for DVD) due to all the FX in it.
    When I got a quad core, the render time dropped to 30 min. :)

    Mike Kujbida, Jul 30, 2011
    1. Advertisements

Ask a Question

Want to reply to this thread or ask your own question?

You'll need to choose a username for the site, which only take a couple of moments (here). After that, you can post your question and our members will help you out.