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Adjusting levels for recording nature / bird calls


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#1 Patrick Cooper

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Posted 06 June 2010 - 07:50 AM

Some time soon, I'm planning to use an omni directional microphone to record the sounds of nature in a native bush setting (mostly bird calls) for a short film. Recorder will likely be a Mini Disc device. I admit that i am new to audio (and new to the whole concept of manually adjusting levels.) I think this project is going to be particularly challenging. Obviously, there will be times of silence and times where bird calls are quite loud and also times where bird calls will be more distant and fainter. So the sound level will likely be all over the place...very inconsistent. Should I wait for the loudest bird calls and adjust the levels to that particular sound source and just leave it at that setting for the whole recording duration?
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#2 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 06 June 2010 - 08:46 AM

What i'd say do is that you'd want to keep your closest bird sounds at -12db, and not boost the audio up for silence. Silence has a sound and it should be proportional to your loudest sounds. The same can be said for the distant bird calls, by them being quieter they sound, well, more distant. So, whatever is making the most noise, closest, is what you'd want to set your levels for and then ride them as need be (bringing them up and down gently). But you should try to keep things to -12 or -10 DB for the louder/closer things. Now, of course something will go well above that, but so long as it's a brief "peak," then you should be ok.
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#3 Patrick Cooper

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Posted 08 June 2010 - 12:35 AM

Thanks again, Adrian. Though I was just thinking...I may need to rethink my approach. I was going by a previous experience where I was shooting video over a 20 minute period in the morning in the bush. The loudest bird calls (in this case a magpie if I recall correctly) were the least consistent. The majority of the time, I could hear slightly quiter sounding birds singing away more or less regularly. For the whole time, I could probably only hear the louder magpies perhaps once or twice...and there wasn't much prior warning when they would call. Perhaps what I could do is, using the omni mic, adjust the levels to the quieter birds (that I hear more often) and record a large chunk of just that...inbetween loud magpie calls. Then, at a later stage, use a more directional mic to try and get some magpie calls recorded in isolation (adjusting the levels to suit them of course) and then later combine both tracks together and add them to the video. Does that sound like a good plan?
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#4 Daniel Smith

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Posted 14 June 2010 - 07:06 PM

As you're recording digitally you'll have a huge signal to noise ratio and will have a lot of headroom in post when it comes to levels. I'd suggest trying to borrow a compressor to narrow the gap between the loud and quiet sounds however be careful of compressing things too far and picking up ambient hiss from wind or whatever. Be sure to monitor both through a meter and a good pair of headphones.
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#5 Scott Slotterbeck

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Posted 14 August 2010 - 06:54 PM

It really depends on the bird, believe it or not. I've recorded a tree full of scrub jays early in the morning and the sound was just about constant!

I'm getting ready to do the same thing, sort of. Besides getting the birds on the ground, and in the trees, I'm hoping to get them on the wing. That means that they are generally not crying out, but the wings might make enough sound to record.

I'm making my own parabolic reflector/mike outfit because I don't envision doing this many more times (more of a one-of type of thing).

So, it might be hard to get a good sound level for birds that are changing distance (I plan on doing a lot of sitting in the cool evening to get much useful sound), but easy if they are social birds grouped together in the trees.
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Aerial Filmworks

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Rig Wheels Passport

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