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Old July 15th, 2010, 04:14 AM   #1
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Wildlife sound recording questions

I use a Canon EOS 1D Mark IV camera to shoot stills as well as for filming wildlife. Increasingly, I have got hooked to filming. The reason is I have come across some rare scenes, never before recorded. I am interested in recording the actual sounds during those scenes.

I bought a JuicedLink 454 and attached it at the bottom of my camera and got a Sennheiser MKH 416. The sennheiser picks up good sound when I am close to the subject. For bird sounds, I am trying longer cable to move the microphone closer. However, for recording large mammals (including predators), it is becoming difficult, as I can't get down from the vehicle.

I feel a parabolic microphone like (Lil' ears from Crystal Partners costing about 3000 USD) and Telinga microphones may be the answer. However, I also read online that the Telinga microphones don't sound so great. Any ideas which one is better? I understand that I will have to have a crew to use the parabolic microphone.

Also, I would like to know which mixer/recorder to pick up. I have a low end Tascam DR100. Do you think I need to have a better quality recorder? And do you think I need to upgrade to a good quality mixer? I have the JuicedLink, but I feel it would be better to go for a quality mixer. I checked the Sound Devices series. Do you think those with 5/6 channels will be overkill? I can only buy either a high quality mixer or a good recorder. These are costly items, so I want to buy one at a time in the next couple of months. I would appreciate your response.

Cheers,
Sabyasachi
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Old July 15th, 2010, 07:56 AM   #2
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People who shoot wildlife for a living (and for many years/decades) frequently record sound and video separately. The reason is that the proper location for video is often not optimal for sound. Most of what you hear on wildlife film/video productions was recorded separately on location, and a significant amount of of the sound is "Foley" (where incidental sounds like walking, chewing, etc.) are re-created artificially in a studio. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foley_(filmmaking)

Considering how lousy parabolic mics sound, I can't imagine why anyone would spend thousands of dollars for one. SoundDevices make mixers and recorders of stellar quality, but you may be better off apportioning your budget to getting several microphones of various types to accommodate various recording situations. And if you are limited to staying inside a vehicle, then your expectations about what kind of sound you can get may need adjustment. A $100 microphone in the right location will always outperform a $10000 microphone that is too far away. That is simply the laws of acoustic physics, no way around it.
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Old July 15th, 2010, 08:47 AM   #3
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The best place to look for info is the website of the Wildlife Sound Recording Society - WSRS.
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Old July 15th, 2010, 11:18 AM   #4
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For inspiration you might want to check out this site:
| Chris Watson |
I did a weekend course with Chris and am doing a day with him on Monday.
I'm not an expert on recording wildlife but from what I know I wouldn't bother with a parabolic reflector except for recording birdsong from a distance because it will only capture sounds in the higher frequencies.
Separate recorders are the way to go.

And an interesting mic that I bought after doing the course is the DPA 4061.
Partly after I heard Chris describing how adaptable it is eg
- put two on a clothes hanger and you can record stereo (although some people say this isn't true stereo it sounds like stereo to me)
- he described putting one in between the stones of a dry stone wall to capture the sounds within a wall
- he put one under a zebra carcass so that you could hear the flies buzzing and bones splintering as the lions eat the carcass
I have also used them, very successfully, for micing instruments and for straightforward interviews.
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Old July 15th, 2010, 11:58 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard Crowley View Post
And if you are limited to staying inside a vehicle, then your expectations about what kind of sound you can get may need adjustment. A $100 microphone in the right location will always outperform a $10000 microphone that is too far away. That is simply the laws of acoustic physics, no way around it.
Hi Richard,
Thanks for your response. I agree with you that no one can beat the laws of physics. Once upon a time, I used to be an engineer. :-) I have been trying various methods to move the microphone closer to the source of sound. However, there are situations where you can't move away from your filming position or resort to foley. I am not sure how someone can record a tigress calling her cubs (softly) or record the death cry of a deer or when the prey is counterattacking a predator (Sambar deer to pack of wild dogs). That is the reason I was thinking about parabolic microphones. I found this link about parabolic microphones. Parabolic Stereo

Though I am not a gear head, the Sennheiser 416 won't be the only microphone that I will buy for my use. This bug has bitten me hard. For a different project, which will be primarily executed in the next season (migratory bird), I have conceived a multiple microphone/lavalier setup.

I have talked with a wildlife film maker of repute, and he too uses foley. I guess, I am trying to be over ambitious (as a typical newbie). :-) Lets see where I land.

Hi John,
Thanks for the link to the Wildlife Sound Recording Society. It has brief descriptions for newbies and few interesting articles as well, like the link I pasted here. I wish, I had access to microphones on rent so that I could have done my own experimentations.

Cheers,
Sabyasachi
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Old July 15th, 2010, 12:16 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard Gooderick View Post
For inspiration you might want to check out this site:
| Chris Watson |
I did a weekend course with Chris and am doing a day with him on Monday.
I'm not an expert on recording wildlife but from what I know I wouldn't bother with a parabolic reflector except for recording birdsong from a distance because it will only capture sounds in the higher frequencies.
Separate recorders are the way to go.

And an interesting mic that I bought after doing the course is the DPA 4061.
Partly after I heard Chris describing how adaptable it is eg
- put two on a clothes hanger and you can record stereo (although some people say this isn't true stereo it sounds like stereo to me)
- he described putting one in between the stones of a dry stone wall to capture the sounds within a wall
- he put one under a zebra carcass so that you could hear the flies buzzing and bones splintering as the lions eat the carcass
I have also used them, very successfully, for micing instruments and for straightforward interviews.
Thanks Richard.

Today morning I had stumbled upon Chris Watson's site. It is great that you are able to have a workshop with him.

I was reading Dan's article on lavalier Audio In Close Up - Which Lavalier Should I Use?"

I had noticed the DPA 4061, especially for its colour so that it can blend with the surroundings. I am intrigued by the Sanken COS-22 due to its dual capsule design with wider pickup. I will pickup a lavalier for a ground nesting bird filming project.

I have already decided that I will be using separate recorders and sync later. I have a enty level Tascam DR100 now.

I am sure this is not easy. Will have to so something innovative so that I am able to somehow record unique sounds. Will try to find some recordings with the Lil' ears and Telinga microphones and evaluate myself. Lets see.

Cheers,
Sabyasachi
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Old July 16th, 2010, 12:43 PM   #7
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One thing to remember - the Sennheiser MKH series of microphones are RF condensers and are very reliable under damp and wet conditions unlike other mics.
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Old July 16th, 2010, 05:48 PM   #8
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Hi Saby,
I'm fairly new to the video side and come from a pro stills nature photog background. I'm shooting 1080P nature and wildlife in Florida with a 7D, EF 100-400mm lens and camera mounted mic. I'll go to a 500mm f4 with teleconverters later if needed.

I pick up a lot of traffic and aeroplane noise and bought Adobe Audition to remove these sounds. You can find Youtube videos for instruction and can download a trial version to see if you like it. Knowing how to edit sound may be as important as the mic itself, and may be a better and lower cost way to go. Audacity is also highly thought of and is free.

I'm building a library of "clean" sounds (I take the cars, voices etc out) and may drop several audio sound tracks on one video clip. If I'm doing a pan of a lake for example I might drop in the local bird sounds on one audio track and put frogs or crickets faintly in the background on another. The second track fills in the gaps as the silence in between bird sounds is not normal. I think this is as much of an art form as the video itself and truly makes it a 3D experience.

We'll take our canoe out on the river shortly, more to record the sounds of the water than the actual video.Then I'll use the water sounds as needed. Shot some footage of a kayaker recently, more to record the plop plop of his paddling than the video itself.

I spent a lot of years in Africa and miss the big game and rawness of the continent a lot, so understand fully what you are working to achieve.

Just a few thoughts and best of good fortune with your efforts, I can tell you have the passion and everything else will fall into place.

Regards,
Doug.
www.BaileyNatureGallery.com

Last edited by Doug Bailey; July 16th, 2010 at 05:49 PM. Reason: Spelling
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Old July 18th, 2010, 11:22 AM   #9
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Hi Doug and John,
Good to hear about your experiments. You seem to be on the right track. It takes a lot of time to record the sounds properly. One can always use it later.

The issue I face is some of the sounds can never be recorded later, unless the same scene repeats. For example, once I saw vulture mating Gyps indicus. These are critically endangered and there are no previous records of anyone having seen it in wild. At the peak of mating, they produced a loud sound. I wish, I had been recording sound at that time. Also, the distance was about 45 meters and I am not sure how to record without a parabolic microphone. One is not supposed to climb the cliff to rig it for the fear of disturbing them.

Also, there are some low frequency sounds. I see a tiger snarling, but don't hear even though the tiger is about 15 feet away. If I consider my hearing to be ok, then this sound ought to be less than 20Hz. I found only one microphone Sennheiser MHK 20 which can record from 12Hz to 20KHz. However, I am not sure how close this microphone should be to the subject. Two three feet? I guess I have to find a way out to place it closer. Any feedback about this microphone?

Though the investments in microphones will be a big drain on my wallet, I find placing a headphone on my ear and listening through the microphone, the forest comes alive. Whether I get worldclass recordings or not, I can atleast say that this is a very enriching experience.

Cheers,
Sabyasachi
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Old July 18th, 2010, 04:45 PM   #10
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Quote:
Also, there are some low frequency sounds. I see a tiger snarling, but don't hear even though the tiger is about 15 feet away. ... I am not sure how close this microphone should be to the subject. Two three feet? I guess I have to find a way out to place it closer...
I just had a bizarre vision of trying to rig a wireless lav on that snarling tiger :)
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Old July 22nd, 2010, 06:32 AM   #11
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I quite like the Audio Technica BP4025. Two LD condenser elements in a (sort of) XY position. The LD capsules result in very low noise.

Go here: http://public.me.com/tyreeford

Look for the file: ATBP4025ambi08.wav

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Old July 22nd, 2010, 09:32 AM   #12
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Just as a side note I used to work with Chris Watson when we were both at ITV Tyne Tees TV in the 80's.

A great guy and he really knows his stuff, he used to be in several bands too including Cabaret Voltaire!
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Old July 23rd, 2010, 04:19 AM   #13
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Chris Watson course

I, too, have been on one of Chris's courses as a complete beginner, and certainly learned a lot of useful stuff. He does trips to India with Wildeye which may be of use to you. Sound Recording in India with Chris Watson

Some advice I heard when I started doing video (all my stuff is wildlife) was to listen to the camera soundtrack, then replace it. So, although you can't retake the sound track, you can try to reproduce some sounds later on, as Foley sounds, so that you get cleaner versions of the sound. I've just invested in a shotgun mic, and I'm hearing all sorts of sounds that I didn't hear before, and it's far more portable than the parabolic reflector that is now sitting on top of a cupboard out of the way!

Must be about 20 years ago, but I saw a TV program where someone was recording bird songs, slowing them down to human voice frequencies, recording himself singing those sounds, then speeding up that recording to get back to the bird song frequencies. The result was a very clean birdsong that sounded exactly like the original.
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Old July 23rd, 2010, 05:35 AM   #14
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Gosh Annie that's a wonder I thought the main aim was to present the real sounds of the wildlife, not Foley .. seems to miss the point somehow.

However I notice in the video someone carrying a dish. We used to master stuff from an outfits reflector.. too thin never worked for me.

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Old July 23rd, 2010, 12:08 PM   #15
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Chris teaches all manner of things about recording sound - including how and when to use a dish. On the course I was on, I had the feeling that several participants had bought dishes on the assumption that they provided the only means of recording distant wildlife sounds. Having the opportunity to listen to sounds recorded via different types of microphone, and being given explanations as to why things did or didn't work in certain situations was certainly an eye-opener to me. I did buy a dish at the end of the course, but it feels like its nearly as big as I am, so it's unlikely to get get used much beyond the garden!

That video - which I hadn't seen before - I think provides an excellent example of what happens when you just use the sound recorded at the time of the video whether through the on-board or a camera-mounted microphone. Some of the sound is bad, there is little continuity of sound between clips, and wouldn't it have been nice to hear something from that peacock doing his display?

To go back to Sabyasachi's original question, I think, from my limited experience of sound recording so far, that a good shotgun microphone would make quite a difference to what sounds are recorded. And my experience of the cheaper end of the market says to avoid them like the plague!
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