Generally speaking audio is more important than the picture. Audiences will forgive imperfect picture quality, but if the sound is crap they'll switch off.
The biggest issue recording sound outdoors is the wind. Make sure your microphone has a windshield, but also make sure you shelter it from the wind. Any dialogue with wind noise will be unuseable. Unless, of course you are in some kind of storm so you want to capture the noises- just don’t expect to record good dialogue.
Always try and record dialogue away from any background noise. If there’s lots of talking/traffic/music in the background, it probably can’t be used. If the background noise is totally unavoidable, make sure the source of the noise is shown on camera, behind your subject. This makes it better for the audience, as it is weird when they can’t see where the noise is coming from. This video is a good example- the background noise of people talking is okay because we can see the people. If the people weren’t in shot, it would be much more distracting.
Check your levels
If you’re on a DSLR or camcorder you should be able to check your sound levels on your screen and then adjust them. The bars move when sound is being picked up. They should stay around the three-quarter mark and should never ‘peak’- this means when the bars hit the top or the red part of their range.
Where possible you should check your levels by listening with headphones, you will be able to keep an ear out for any interference or peaking.
Types of microphone
Lavalier/ Lapel mic: These are the small microphones that can be attached to your clothing. These are good as it means you get the microphone close to your subject without it being too visible. They can, however, pick up a lot of unwanted sound from the wind and the person’s clothing. Make sure the foam windbreaker is on the microphone and if it is windy them to shelter the microphone with their body. Be aware of their clothing as noisy things like kagools can really interfere with the sound. It is better to have the mic visible outside the clothing than hidden under rustling clothes- just make sure you hide the wire.
Shotgun mic: These are the most common microphones found on film sets. Shotgun mics are directional, meaning they pick up the sound that they are pointing at and not all the other surrounding sounds. This is really useful for interviews as you want to pick up the person talking and not all the other stuff around them. If your mic is attached to the top of the camera, make sure you are close to your subject- if you are on a DSLR or camcorder you should be able to check the levels. Alternatively, if the cable is long enough you could get your subject to hold the mic close to their face, just make sure it’s out of shot. Make sure you have good wind protection, the foam cover your mic comes with is rubbish so invest in a better one.
Your camera may have no socket for a microphone, so an alternative would be to have an external sound recorder. These recorders have built in microphones, but these record all the ambient sound so you’d be better off plugging in an external mic, especially for interviews.
These external recorders can make things a little trickier as you will need to remember to hit record on both your camera and the recorder. This can be made easier as sometimes you are able to mount the recorder on top of the camera. You also need to remember that using this method means the video and audio have to be synced up in post production- clap on screen at the beginning of each clip to make this easier, also, make sure you organise and label your files well- having two lots of content means it can get a lot more complicated.
A good reason for using an external recorder is that you can often get better sound quality- when you record using an external mic plugged into your camera, the sound is often compressed. It’s also easier to check that you are picking up good audio.
Dialogue editing does weird things to the sound. When the dialogue is cut up it is obvious where the cuts are due to the ambient sound. To cover this up the editor will use an ambient track to smooth out all the cracks. It is always a good idea to take a fairly long recording of the noise of the environment you are in with no interference or background sound. Just make sure there’s no background noise, music or talking and record for a minute or so.
As with any of your equipment, it is very important to test your kit before you set off. It is also a good idea to test it before you shoot. Take a short recording and play it back- there’s nothing worse than recording something really important, playing it back and the sound is terrible- all you need to do is test it first and make any adjustments if it needs them.
Make sure you turn any music off when filming- we may not be able to use it because of copyright, but also, it ruins continuity as it means the editor can’t cut it into a sequence.
If you are filming live music, get written permission.