A Practical Guide to Field Recording Part 1

adapted from: Designing Sound: A Practical Guide to Field Recording, Part 1

Part 2 of A Practical Guide to Field Recording

Aaron Marks CC BY NC SA 3.0

Field recording is defined as any recording made outside of a controlled studio environment. So, pretty much any audio recording you make whether it’s in a garage, your backyard or out in the middle of nowhere is considered field recording. Recording inside a studio is already challenging enough, but add in portable equipment, wind noise, airplanes, birds and all of those unpredictable annoyances and you’ve got yourself a real challenge! 

The purposes of field recording

There is quite a variety of reasons for sending recordists and their gear into the ‘field’. Film and TV productions, newscasts, sound effects libraries, games and even music production all have dedicated professionals who’s task is to capture clean audio no matter what the situation. Working as a field recordist can put you in a wide range of situations and all with some definite challenges.

Field Microphones

Microphones come in all shapes and sizes and having the right one

pointed at the sound can make a huge difference.  The most expensive one isn’t always the best choice and the one that is perfect won’t always be practical. Field recording can often be a bit of compromise as you evaluate the conditions, sounds and equipment, the microphone you pick for any given situation can either solve prevalent issues or make them worse. Remember, sometimes microphones are chosen specifically for what they can’t hear rather than what they do.

Let’s face it, there are so many types of microphones to choose from that it becomes a real effort to find the right one for each situation. Most field recordists have their ‘go to’ mics, the ones they grab first whether it’s because they like the way it colors the sound or because they always have good luck with it. But, until your experience guides you, there are more scientific ways of choosing a useable mic for a given challenge.

Microphone types

There are basically two distinctions of microphones – ‘type’ and ‘polarity pattern’. ‘Type’ refers to the physical construction and characteristics of the mic, ‘polarity pattern’ describes how the microphone hears sound. Both have equal influence when deciding what is best for a given situation and should be given close consideration when making your choices.


Polarity patterns

Use omni-directional:

Use cardioids:

Use hyper- and super-cardioids:

Use short shotguns:

The most often used boom microphone.

Use long shotguns:

Microphone selection factors

Unfortunately, it takes much more than simply picking a type and polarity pattern for the perfect mic to stand out – although it is a good start. How do you plan to mount the mic? What are conditions like on location? Are there any weather extremes which might be a concern? Answering appropriate questions which are specific to your mission will help you close in on the right equipment.

More coming up! Part 2 will continue with recorder choices, field

recording accessories and recording techniques.

Adapted from Aaron Marks' A Practical Guide to Field Recording, Part 1 for Designing Sound.


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