There are tons of reasons you might find yourself wanting to take your gear outside the studio. Whether you’re a journalist recording an interview, a travel vlogger exploring undiscovered places, a producer looking for interesting soundscapes and ambient noise or just looking to experiment and play with sound, field recording opens up lots of opportunities but requires you to overcome a few obstacles first.
Your reason for recording outdoors will determine what equipment you need and how you should use it.
You’ll need to consider;
- A Field Recorder
- Wind Protection
Table of Contents
Pros of Recording Outdoors
There are many benefits to recording outdoors, so many recordings are done in dead studios it’s important to get adventurous and change up your environment every once in a while. Other benefits include;
+ If you have issues with acoustics at home, there are plenty of open spaces outdoors, free from reflections.
+ Increases visual interest.
+ Being outdoors is generally relaxing, it may help you to talk more freely to the camera whilst some sunlight will boost your energy and vastly improve your content.
+ Most spaces have background noise, swapping out the buzz from your computer and hum from the fan for birds chirping and footsteps crunching through leaves will add ambiance and depth to your recording.
+ An outdoor space might be more relatable to your audience than a treated studio
Cons of Recording Outdoors
Unfortunately, unlike your precisely treated studio, outside is uncontrollable which is where you’ll find most of the challenges lie. Cons generally include;
– There are a huge number of variables to consider, you’ll have to plan meticulously to ensure nothing goes wrong on the day – there’s a much higher risk of needing to start over due to poor audio quality.
– One of the main challenges you’ll face is controlling noise – there are a few different sources you’ll need to consider;
It’s well known that the biggest issue field recorders face is wind noise. Microphones are designed to react to the small amount of air we produce whilst talking – this causes the diaphragm to vibrate and sound energy is converted into an electrical signal – diaphragms are too sensitive to deal with the wind so this is translated to a static noise that can take over your whole recording.
Wind noise is unacceptable in a recording, it makes your audio unintelligible, and it’s incredibly irritating to listen to. You’ll struggle to eliminate it in post-production so it’s best to use preventative measures.
Using a windshield is the easiest way to reduce wind noise, most microphones come with a foam cover which can help but it isn’t usually enough.
Fluffy covers or ‘dead cats’ break up the wind and disperses it away from the mic – they tend to muffle voices a little but generally do a good job of capturing direct sound.
Blimps can also be used, especially in conjunction with a fluffy cover, for moderate wind noise. A blimp is a plastic windscreen used to deflect wind; it also acts as a shock mount to reduce noise from movement. We did some testing to see just how effective a blimp is when faced with extreme wind. You can listen to the audio sample here in our Rode Blimp review piece.
Another method of reducing wind noise is optimizing your mic placement. Placing the mic in the direction of the wind so that wind doesn’t pass the pick-up range can be helpful so long as the wind doesn’t change direction.
You can also find cover near buildings and walls. Plan ahead to find the right spot if you know you’ll be recording in windy conditions.
Worst case, an equalizer might be able to save your recording, so you don’t have to scrap it and start again. Wind occupies 20hz-250hz so a high pass filter will help remove some of the noise, but you might lose some roundness in your recording as the bass won’t be present.
Rain can ruin your recording and equipment. The best way to avoid rain noise is to plan ahead. Check multiple weather reports and look for sunshine.
Weather reports sometimes get it wrong. Be sure to bring rain covers for your electricals in case you get caught out.
This is the noise that will be dependent on your location – it’s a little more controllable as you’ll be able to plan way ahead to avoid busy areas. You should watch out for busy roads, airports nearby, and popular parks. Make a list of potential problems to come prepared for any situation.
Highly directional microphones such as shotgun mics pick up sound from the front and reject noise from the sides and back to help reduce environmental noise and focus on the target sound.
Lastly, use ambient sounds. The point of field recording is to add interest to your recording, as long as your target sound is loud and clear any noise will only create an atmosphere.
Types of Microphones
The best microphones for outdoor interviews are handheld dynamic microphones, shotgun mics, lavalier mics, and digital recorders. A deadcat type of windshield should be used regardless of the type of mic being used to reduce wind noise which can ruin a recording.
+ High Quality
+ Low Expense
– Seen on Camera
– Might Feel a Little Awkward
These are the microphones often seen being used by news reporters. They’re generally held by the speaker making them perfect for interviews and reports. Dynamic microphones, such as the Shure SM58, are generally a lot more robust and suitable for outdoor use whilst choosing a cardioid polar pattern will ensure ambient noise is mostly rejected from the back and sides of the mic.
The benefits of a dynamic mic are that they’re great for recording anywhere, simply plug them into a field recorder and you’re ready to record. Dynamic mics are often known as the swiss army knife of microphones, they’re flexible and can be used in numerous situations.
Sometimes you’ll require a mic activator for the best quality sound however the audio quality won’t disappoint!
+ High Quality
+ Not Seen on Camera
Shotgun mics are designed for capturing recordings in noisy, outdoor settings – not to mention most of the wind noise accessories are made for them.
Shotguns utilize a hyper-cardioid polar pattern making them incredibly directional – a positive for eliminating wind noise if you’re aiming it properly. They produce excellent quality clear sound in tough situations and won’t even be seen on camera – perfect for film making.
The downsides are the expense. The mic itself usually requires a pretty high budget if you go for a professional level XLR model and because they’re so large and directional you may need to hire a boom operator to make sure it’s always positioned correctly.
+ Small and Portable
+ Allows Natural Movement
– Cheaper Models tend to be Bad Quality
Lavaliers are small, portable microphones that work great when attached to the inside of a collar. Not only are they more protected from the wind but they use close-micing to pick up more direct signals and reject ambient noise. Many are even wireless and work with mobile apps.
You’ll need to use extra padding to prevent small bumps causing audio clipping. It may also be important to invest a little as the cheaper models often produce a lot of background noise and distortion.
+ Simple to Use
+ Small and Lightweight
Digital recorders are perfect for starting out! They double up as a microphone and a field recorder, they even store your recordings, so you won’t need to bring a bulky laptop. You simply turn them on and press record.
Despite being so simple, audio quality isn’t lost. A stereo model such as the Zoom H1n or the Tascam DR-05 provides a clear sound. They’re perfect for recording ambient sounds or soundscapes in stereo. You’re also able to set the levels independently for each microphone.
If you’re looking for a more professional setup, recorders are good to keep on hand in case you need a backup or a model with XLR inputs will allow you to upgrade and use external mics.
How to Record Audio Outside
If you don’t invest in a digital recorder with built-in mics, you’ll need an interface to connect external microphones. You should look for recorders with;
- At least 2 XLR Inputs
- 48v Phantom Power
- 96k Sampling Rate
- 24-bit Resolution
- Ability to mount on a mic stand
Generally, larger devices provide higher quality audio due to having space for better components and extra features. The Zoom H8 or MixPre-6 II are incredibly sophisticated choices, they act as a digital workstation as well so you can leave your laptop at home.
Before you start recording, you’ll need to consider microphone placement and levels.
It’s best to keep the microphones you use for your interview close to those speaking as too much distance will increase ambient noise. Close-micing techniques ensure the target sound is captured and ambient sounds are rejected. If the ambient noise is pleasant and there’s little wind, move the mic further away to fill your recording with interesting background noise.
The levels should peak around -12dB, you should watch the level for 30 seconds and set it slightly low to compensate for any unexpected, loud sounds.
If your recorder comes with automatic gain control (AGC), you should switch it off to avoid over-compression. The edit will sound much smoother if you do this manually in post-production.
Finally, record about 30 seconds of ambient noise in any space you’re recording. Not only will you thank yourself in editing when you need to cut out an annoying sound and need something to fill the space, but it’ll help to understand the environment you’re working in. You can learn more about this in our article What is Room Tone and Why is it Important?
Field recording is a tough skill that comes with practice. Spend time listening to your surroundings and taking note of everything you can hear – if you can hear it, chances are it’ll be picked up by a microphone.
Tips and Tricks
Avoid Recording in Compressed Formats
Unless you’re recording for a few hours, your audio quality will thank you for recording in WAV or AIF rather than MP3. Better quality formats create larger files, but you can always compress them in editing if required.
Don’t Leave Loud Noises for Post-Production
Loud noises such as an airplane passing are almost impossible to remove completely from a recording. It’ll be much easier to stop recording and take a break whilst the noise passes.
Like in the studio, you’ll need to wear headphones to monitor your recording to catch problems before they become serious – such as wind noise. This is even more important outside as noise is so unpredictable. You’ll save time in editing and ensure you won’t need to rerecord that almost perfect session.
Bring everything plus the tools you’d need to fix the kitchen sink. The best thing you can do to contradict the unpredictable conditions of recording outside is plan for everything. Pack equipment, backups, and tools to be ready for any issues.
Your toolbox should include duct tape, cable ties, a few different screwdrivers and wrenches, and sharp scissors.
Make a list of the microphones and cables you’ll need along with any other equipment to ensure you don’t forget or lose anything. You should also keep everything in a case to avoid damage.
Choosing lighter equipment will mean you’ll be able to overpack and be ready for more situations without making your bag too heavy.
Field recording is all about the preparation. As long as you’re ready in advance you’ll achieve a clear, full recording that will capture the interest of your audience. Recording outside is full of possibilities, be sure to be ready to capture them.