Getting By Without a Sound Person – How to Operate a Boompole without a Boompole Operator | B&H Photo Video Pro Video
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Surviving Without Your Sound Man

By Sam Mallery

This is the first installment in an ongoing series of articles dedicated to helping video people solve common audio issues. Audio is a deep subject, and its language can be intimidating, so the ultimate goal of this series is not to eliminate the need for experienced audio professionals in video production. When a knowledgeable audio person isn't at your side, this series will act as a valuable information resource for you.

Did you know that it's possible to utilize a boompole and a shotgun microphone with a video camera even if you're working alone? With the proper equipment and accessories, a solo videographer can incorporate a boom mic into their work and have their hands free to operate the camera.

In order to make this happen, you're first going to need a shotgun microphone and boompole. If you're unfamiliar with shotgun microphones, you can familiarize yourself with this introductory article. Learn more about boompoles with this educational buying guide. Professional shotgun microphones need to connect to a video camera through XLR inputs. To find out how this works, read this informative article.

You will need to assemble a boom stand:

The three basic components needed to mount a boompole are a C-Stand, a Grip head, and a Pole Holder. For those of you who already own a C-Stand and a grip head, you only need to buy a pole holder. If you're just starting out you can get an ATS Ram boompole cradle and use it in the place of the grip head and the pole holder.

Using a boompole stand can benefit you in the following situations:

1) During an audition when multiple people need to speak to the camera, one after the other, and you don't have time to wire each person with a lavalier.

2) When the on-camera talent is not wearing clothing that can comfortably facilitate a lavalier microphone:

Some clothing is difficult to attach a lavalier microphone to.

Another technique that makes this process a lot easier is having a 50 or 100 foot XLR cable to run from the mounted boompole to your camera or mixer. The extra cable length will give you extra leeway to easily create a wider shot. In some instances it's possible to experience radio interference and signal loss when using longer cable lengths. It's important to always have shorter XLR cables handy. It's also vitally important to always have a decent pair of headphones on set. Keep the headphones plugged into the headphone jack on your camera.

Sony's MDR-7506 Headphones
Sony's MDR-7506 Headphones are popular in video production

Using headphones to monitor your camera's audio is crucial in the practice of using a microphone boom stand. You are going to have to position your on-camera talent in the sweet spot underneath the shotgun microphone. You can find the sweet spot by listening on good headphones while your talent maneuvers under the mic. It will be clear in the headphones, and then you will know where exactly to position your subject under the microphone.

Shotgun microphone techniques

Boom microphones typically sound the best when positioned a few inches in front of the subject's head while pointing down diagonally at the middle of their chin. This practice catches the speaker's voice as it emanates from the mouth. It's always a good idea to experiment with microphone positioning and listen on your headphones as you move the mic.

Keeping your on-camera talent in the sweet spot of the microphone is one thing that experienced boompole operators do exceptionally well. Since your microphone is set in a fixed position, your subject is going to have to remain in place and not move around. If you have a wired or a wireless lavalier microphone, you may want to consider using it as well as the mounted shotgun microphone. It may seem like overkill to use both mics at the same time, but doing so will deliver a richer, fuller sound. Also, if your subject moves out of the sweet spot momentarily, the lav mic will keep their dialog from being lost. You can hear for yourself what this combination sounds like because these miking techniques where used in the production of this B&H web video.

Capturing the voices of more than one person

The question often comes up whether it's possible to capture the voices of more than one on-camera subject with a single boom microphone. When you have a boom operator, capturing two people's voices with one microphone is possible, because the operator can point the microphone at the person speaking in an instant.

When using a boom stand it's not advisable to try to capture more than one person's voice. When you listen to a shotgun microphone on a boompole through headphones, you quickly realize how directional shotgun microphones really are. Their sweet spot is relatively small. They really sound best when pointed directly at the sound source. In fact, the closer you can get a microphone to the sound source, the better it will sound. When you set up your shot using a boom stand, it's a good idea to get the mic as close to the frame as possible for optimal audio quality.

If you must use a single boom stand to capture two people's voices, position the two people as close together as possible, and again get the microphone as close to the frame as possible. If you have a shotgun with a less directional pick-up pattern, like the Sennheiser ME64, you will achieve better results.

Should you have any further questions, we encourage you to contact us on the phone, online, or in person at our SuperStore in New York City.


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