|Introduction to the Use of Boompoles
written by Fred
Ginsburg C.A.S. Ph.D.
published by & courtesy of Emporium
Why use a boompole?
Camera-mounted mics may be adequate for general ambiance and background
effects, but they lack the reach and versatility of boom mounted mics. Placing
the microphone where the lens is may be convenient but it certainly does
nothing to assist in picking up good sound.
For one thing, on-camera mics tend to hear zoom motors and other camera
Mounting the mic parallel to the ground is not a good practice, either.
Shotgun mics are similar to telephoto lenses in that they both compress
planes of action so that very little distance appears to separate
foreground and background action. If you point a mic horizontally towards
a person, you will pick up the sound of that person as well as the background
sound directly behind that person.
The best way to isolate the person from the background is to boom them
from above, so that the line of sight of the mic runs towards the person’s
mouth and then towards the ground. (It is safe to assume that the ground
or floor is not as noise producing as the background.)
Finally, the camera lens has the ability to SEE much further than even
the best shotgun microphones can HEAR. A long lens can easily frame a tight
close-up of a person’s face from 50 feet away; but the only thing that a
mic would pick up at that same distance would be general background ambiance
of everything in the entire wide scene. To achieve good sound, you have
to get the mic as close as possible to the action!
Boom it from above if you can.
Overhead miking from a fishpole or studio boom is the most favored technique
in the feature/TV/commercial industry. It is probably the best choice 90%
of the time.
Generally, overhead miking will yield the most natural sounding dialogue
with the least amount of mixing and editing effort.
It provides a pleasant blend when there are multiple actors involved. Two,
three, even a small group of people interacting can all be recorded from
a single mic.
A mic on a fishpole or boom allows for a fair amount of physical activity
and movement by the talent. Actors are free to enter and exit a scene, move
around, jump around, climb around, etc. There are no trailing mic cables
to inhibit their range of motion. Nor are there the frustrations of dealing
with finicky wireless mic systems with their inherent problems of environmental
An overhead mic will pick up sufficient sound effects, footsteps, and hand-prop
noise to give the soundtrack a full texture. Because the faces are closer
to the mic, dialogue will dominate the track, but other sound effects will
still be audible.
Audio perspective is easier to maintain with an overhead mic. On a wide
master shot, the mic tends to be higher so that the resulting dialogue seems
thinner and more "distant". On close-ups, the mic can be lowered giving
the sound much greater presence and "nearness" to the screen.
But what if there are physical obstructions in the set that prevent deploying
a microphone from overhead?
That brings us to the next option: Boom miking from underneath. The boom
mic can be aimed upwards at the talent from knee, thigh, or waist level
with good results. The sound will be slightly more bassy than miking from
overhead, but still quite usable and acceptable. Note that a mic aimed up
at a person tends to pick up more of the chest cavity, thus accounting for
the increase in bass.
Sometimes it is much more difficult to boom from below, due to the presence
of set furniture or the choreography of foreground persons. Camera operators
also have to be much more careful, since it is more likely to widen the
frame to show more of an actor’s torso than to show more empty headroom
above. Never-the-less, there will be many shots where miking from below
is the simplest solution.
Tips on using your boompole
Amount of extension
How long a boompole you will need really depends on the type of production
you will be doing. Feature films, commercials, and episodic television calls
for a long reach, around 12 to 15 feet, in order to cover the set. News
gathering and "run & gun" documentary style traditionally requires
a shorter reach, around 5 to 8 feet, since the camera crew is more mobile
and working close-in.
Whenever you extend a boompole, do not lock the pole sections extended
all the way to the safety stops. The proper technique for achieving maximum
reach is to slide the pole section to the stop, and then back it in a couple
of inches. A slight overlap will make the pole sturdier (no wilting
at the locking collars) and quieter.
Another good practice is to extend the pole further than what you need
for the shot so that you can grip the boompole closer to its center of gravity
(think of a circus tightrope walker’s balance pole). By letting the pole
counterbalance itself in your hands, your muscles will not be exerting to
Preventing cable noise
Cable noise in a boompole can originate from three problems: conductance,
percussion, and loose connections.
Conductance is noise or rumble (physical vibrations) that travel
along the sheath of the cable. To prevent this, the inside tube section
of the boompole should be foam dampened. For instance, in the RoboPole®
the cable is fully enveloped in compressed foam rubber for the entire length
of the inside section.
To maintain the pliability and cleanliness of the mic cable, routinely
wipe it down with a restorative solution such as Armor All™.
Percussion is noise created by the cable banging against the remaining
tube sections of the boompole. Since the pole telescopes, it is impossible
to foam dampen any but the innermost tube.
The best technique for controlling cable percussion is to keep the cable
taut while holding the boom. As the cable exits from the pole, loop it
around the little finger or thumb of your supporting hand and keep the line
snug. Do not allow the cable to merely exit the pole and drop to the
The final cause of cable noise can be the mic connection.. XLR connectors
on mics as well as cables have been known to loosen from continuous usage.
Place a strip of cloth camera tape over the junction where the microphone
connects to the boom cable to protect against intermittent connection occurring
when the mic is moved around.
Always maintain some slack in the cable connection between boompole and
microphone. A taut cable will conduct handling noise.
On the same token, excess cable can flap around and cause noise.
This excess can simply be wrapped once or twice around the pole beneath
The cable on the RoboPole® is cable-tied in a small loop where it
exits the tip of the pole in order to reduce conductance as well as to serve
as a strain relief.
Another useful trick is to use a short jumper cable inside of your blimp
windscreens. This cable should terminate at the handle of your shockmount,
and be permanently attached with cable ties or tape. It will simplify the
process of mounting your shockmount to the pole, because it will no longer
be necessary to open up the windscreen and dress the cable every time you
need to use the mic.
Holding the boom
To reduce handling noise, grip the pole firmly but not tightly with
your fingertips and avoid excess hand or finger movement such as tapping
or drumming. Some boom operators wear white editing gloves to reduce finger
sticking on excessively cold or hot days.
Hold the boom parallel to the floor and high above your head with
both arms. If you support the boom underhanded like a flagpole, the boom
will enter the scene at a steep angle. Although the mic may be high enough
to clear the frame line, the body of the pole may cut across the corner
of the frame.
Keep your arms close to your head, sort of like a capital "H".
When your arm is vertical with the elbow locked, all you are doing is supporting
a couple pounds of weight in a straight line with your body.
If your arms are extended in a wide "V", your muscles will fatigue quickly.
Also, when your arms start from a true vertical, it is possible to quickly
reach in or out with the boom to follow the action.
Use your front arm as a fulcrum to support the pole above your body.
If the situation permits, grip it towards the natural balance point of the
boom. Use the rear arm to steer (pan/tilt) the boom, as well as to
rotate the pole in order to cue (aim) the microphone.
Try to position the mic as close to the action as possible. Depending
on the situation and the characteristics of each particular microphone,
your mic may be several inches to a few feet overhead of talent.
Be aggressive in your mic placement. Ten feet overhead may be very
convenient for the camera and lighting crew, but your dialogue will be poor.
Remind the director that a wide angle lens can always be tilted downward
so that the frame is not filled with ceiling or sky at the cost of his soundtrack!
Professional boom operators often place a strip of white tape on the
tip of the windscreen so that the camera operator can readily spot if
the mic has dipped into the shot. Better to see the mic in the viewfinder
than to wait until it shows up on the big screen.
To establish a working frame line, dip the mic completely into the shot
and slowly raise it up until the camera operator tells you that you’re
just barely clear. If you start the boom up high and gradually lower it
towards the frame, the camera operator will usually play it very conservative
and tell you to stay higher than necessary.
Last update : June 29, 1999