Whether you're a seasoned audio professional, a newcomer, or an extra body on a film set, you may be tasked with operating the boom pole and microphone. Boom mics are excellent for capturing sound for video without being included in the frame. Holding a boom pole properly will maximize the effectiveness of a boom microphone and dramatically increase the quality of the production!
So how do we properly hold a boom pole and microphone? Holding the boom pole comfortably, over your head, and with minimal movement is ideal. When holding a boom pole/mic, you must keep them out of the shot; point the mic at the subject; keep handling noise and movement to a minimum, and keep yourself out of the way as much as possible.
As you've probably gathered from the brief answer above, there's no one perfect way to hold a boom pole. There are, however, general guidelines to follow that will improve your boom operating skills (and get you hired again)! Let's dive into these guidelines in this article.
To learn about my recommended boom microphones, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
• Best Boom Microphones For Film
• Top 11 Best Microphone Boom Pole Brands On The Market
How To Properly Hold A Boom Pole And Microphone
There's no one perfect way to hold up a boom pole when recording. Different situations call for different techniques. However, there are plenty of ways to hold a microphone boom pole effectively.
So long as the microphone captures the audio properly and doesn't lead to pain and injury for the boom operator, it can be considered “proper”. Remember that it's ultimately about getting the best-sounding results in the safest manner possible.
Boom microphones are typically used in film and video recording. The purpose of the boom pole/mic is to get a microphone as close to the subject as possible without the mic or pole showing up in the video frame.
Lavaliers are often utilized along with boom mics to capture sound. Lavalier microphones usually need to be hidden in clothing and can pick up a lot of movement noise. Boom microphones are relatively free of handling noise.
To learn more about lavalier microphones, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
• How And Where To Attach A Lavalier/Lapel Microphone
• Best Lavalier Microphones For
• Best Lavalier Microphones For Actors
To hold a microphone boom pole effectively, boom operators must not only position their booms in the right spot but also position themselves correctly. The boom pole is almost always held overhead, with the mic pointing at the subject as close as possible. The boom operator shouldn't be too far in front of the camera operator to avoid being in the shot themselves.
The basic steps to holding a microphone boom pole are as follows:
First, extend the boom pole so that you can stand up straight and still reach the subject without being on camera.
Holding The Boom Overhead In H-Position
Hold the boom pole straight over your head with both arms extended upward, hands slightly shoulder-width apart. Stand up straight if possible. The boom pole's length should be left to right according to your stance. If the microphone end of the boom is to your left, turn your head to the left direction to see exactly how you're pointing the mic. If the mic is to the right, turn your head to the right.
The grip can be either straight (both palms facing away from you), or you can utilize a switch grip. I prefer a straight grip.
If space allows, holding the boom pole closer to the center of its length (with the excess pole to the rear) may make the boom seem lighter and more balanced. If space doesn't allow, hold the pole near the end.
To change the direction of where the microphone is pointing, roll the wrist of your rear hand. Alter the direction of the microphone without changing your grip if at all possible.
The front hand should be close to your head and not have as strong a grip, acting as support rather than the main steering hand.
Crucifix position is where you rest the boom pole on your shoulders move the microphone by twisting or otherwise moving your body. This position is useful during scenes where the talent have to be far away for a long period of time.
The extended length of the pole makes subtler movements more impactful on the mic position, so care must be taken. Resting the pole on our shoulders can give extra stability to the microphone.
Furthermore, so long as the camera angle isn't too wide, the boom pole can remain out-of-frame even if it's not held way up overhead.
Flagpole position is a one-arm technique that comes in handy if the boom operator is also operating the field recorder.
This technique involves holding the boom with one hand and having the lower end of the pole rest against the underneath of the forearm for stability. This is a relatively poor technique for keeping the boom high out of frame but can be used in certain situations.
Underhead Position & Others
The “underhead” position, as the name suggests, is when the boom mic is positioned below the talents' heads rather than above. There are all sorts of situations (tight spaces or wide camera angles) where more creative techniques are appropriate. Hold the boom in a comfortable and effective way.
Managing The XLR Cable
Typically, the boom mic will be connected to some length of XLR cable (even if it's ultimately being connected to a transmitter for wireless transmission). Oftentimes, an XLR cable will carry the microphone signal along the length of the boom pole and to the input of the recorder, transmitter, etc. Obviously, we don't want the cable to droop from the microphone casing into the video frame, so we need to manage the cable somehow.
Oftentimes, we'll see an XLR cable wrapped tightly around the pole in a spiral along the pole's length. This is a standard way of managing an XLR cable on a boom.
During rushed shoots, I've quickly tied the XLR cable at the end of the boom pole with a velcro loop, pulled the cable tight, and held the cable and pole toward the middle with my other hand. This works in a rush but has the potential to slowly slip away from the pole.
I wouldn't suggest doing the above without securing the cable to, at least, the end of the pole.
It's best practice to keep the XLR cable against the pole. Allowing the cable to roll along or hit the pole will cause unwanted handling noise.
Alternatively, there are boom poles that have coiled XLR cable inside the pole itself. The coiled cable stretches out to fit the variable length of the boom pole. In this case, we don't have to worry about the XLR along the length of the boom pole.
At the end of the pole, the XLR most likely goes to a standalone audio recorder or a camera.
Standalone recorders can be carried on your person. This minimizes trip hazards and allows for more freedom from the camera operators.
If the XLR is running into a camera, caution must be taken not to cause unnecessary trip hazards. Caution must also be taken not to run out of cable length, causing pulling between you and your teammates!
Additional Tips For Holding A Boom Pole
Here is a checklist to help you effectively hold a boom pole/microphone:
- Keep the boom pole/mic out of frame
- Minimize handling noise
- Point the mic at the subject
- Minimize tripping hazards
- Don't be in the way. Go with the flow!
Let's discuss each of these in a bit more detail, shall we?
Keep The Boom Pole/Mic Out Of Frame
This may seem obviously critical because it is. Takes that would otherwise be perfect can be ruined if the boom microphone dips into the frame.
Boom microphones are nearly always positioned overhead to capture the best sound. Overhead allows us to get close to the subject without invading too much of their immediate space. Unless the talent will be jumping or throwing their arms in the air, it's usually safe to hover the boom mic right above their heads.
Keep the boom pole and mic close to the subject but not so close that they appear in the frame.
Minimize Handling Noise
Though most boom mics are hosted in an insulated shock mount, they are not completely immune to boom pole handing noise.
Examples of handling noise include:
- XLR cable tapping the pole.
- Switching of grip.
- Boom pole bumping into something.
- Repositioning the boom pole.
Holding up a boom pole can be extremely tiring on the shoulders. Oftentimes, ops will periodically move the boom pole to rest on their heads or shoulders.
Caution should be exercised any time you move the boom pole. Try to avoid the above points as much as possible to minimize handling noise.
For more information on microphone noise and methods to reduce it, check out my article 15 Ways To Effectively Reduce Microphone Noise.
Point The Mic At The Subject
Typical boom mics are “shotgun” mics. The shotgun polar pattern is an extension of the hypercardioid pattern. The pattern is extremely directional, meaning it picks up what it points at a rejects most of the other sounds. For this reason, it's crucial to point the microphone at the subject.
Alternatively, other unidirectional pencil-style mics are sometimes used in tighter spaces. Cardioids are often chosen thanks to their rear null-point, which helps reject reflections from the rear.
If we're recording a person, I tend to point the mic at the person's lips.
If you're tasked with recording multiple people, try to keep up with who's talking and make an effort to move the mic to best capture the speaker's voice. Move the mic as little as possible and try to keep each speaker consistent!
Minimize Tripping Hazards
Tripping hazards aren't much of an issue if you're recording into your own kit. However, they should be taken seriously if you're running the XLR directly to a camera.
The camera may be moving throughout a scene. The camera op will often be intently focused on what he or she is capturing. As a boom op, you'll have to not only pay attention to the action but also follow the camera operator. If you're connected via an XLR cable, that's not only a tripping hazard for you and the camera op but everyone else as well!
Stay Out Of The Way
Be sure to physically position your body out of the frame and out of the way of the actors if they're moving. Unless the shoot is aiming to break the fourth wall, you should never be in the shot! The same goes for your equipment.
So the goal as a boom operator is to stay out of everyone's way: the camera op(s) and the talent.
But the same goes for making noise. Try to stay as silent as possible during shoots and even between takes (unless it has to do specifically with the job). You're there to capture the action, not to be the action.
Choosing A Boom Pole
Now that you know how to hold a boom pole properly, it's time to talk about choosing one that's right for you (or for those you're working with). Boom poles range from under $100 to over $1,000. That's quite a big price range. Let's look at the variables.
If you're going to be holding a boom pole above your head all day, you'll want it to be as light as possible.
Of course, shorter poles are typically lighter than their longer counterparts. So there's a balancing game to play there.
Carbon fibre poles are typically lighter than aluminum or plastic.
Length is an obvious dimension to factor in. Longer poles are more versatile (since virtually all boom poles are extendable).
Flex is something to look out for when looking for boom poles. The longer a boom pole is extended, the more it will flex, which isn't necessarily a good thing.
Handling noise has the potential to ruin otherwise perfect audio takes. Certain boom poles are more prone to handling noise than others.
Try to find a cabled boom pole (with an interior built-in XLR cable) if possible. Also, try to avoid plastic, as it tends to be more prone to handling noise than carbon fibre and aluminum.
Overall quality goes without saying. The above specs are worthless if the boom pole is not going to work properly, to begin with.
One important factor to look out for is the extension locks. Read reviews on how well they hold up. The last thing you want in a boom pole is an extension lock to let go, causing the pole to shorten on itself or, even worse, slide into two parts.
To learn about my recommended boom poles, check out My New Microphone's Best Microphone Boom Poles.
A Note On Choosing The Best Boom Microphone
Shotgun microphones are nearly always the best choice when choosing a boom microphone. They are highly directional and will pinpoint the sound source, capturing audio in the direction they point while rejecting most other noises.
However, if you'll be booming in tight spaces, low ceilings, or any other situation where the boom mic must be held close to a surface, cardioid pencil microphones will likely yield better audio.
This is because sound waves reflect off surfaces.
Shotgun microphones have rear lobes of sensitivity, which means that they will capture sound to the rear. When positioned close to a reflective surface (wall, ceiling, etc.), this rear lobe will capture sound reflections along with the intended source. This will cause a comb-filtering effect which will thin out the audio.
For more info on the shotgun polar pattern, check out my article The Lobar/Shotgun Microphone Polar Pattern (With Mic Examples).
On the other hand, Cardioid microphones have a rear null point and will provide better sound quality when positioned near a surface. This is, of course, at the expense of widening the microphone's directionality.
To learn more about the cardioid polar pattern, check out my article What Is A Cardioid Microphone? (Polar Pattern + Mic Examples).
Photo Critique: How NOT To Hold A Boom Pole
A big part of knowing how to do something is knowing how not to do something. Let's critique a photo of myself from a local culinary video shoot back in 2018.
I've learned quite a bit since then, and want to show how wrong I was in the early “take-every-job-you-can” days of my career in audio.
Without further ado, here is the photo:
Before we even begin to discuss posture, where are my headphones? The kit is on the table in the background. We decided to run the boom mic directly into the camera for this shoot, so I'm simply assuming the sound is good. That's questionable.
Second, in terms of gear, is that there's really no need for the fabric windshield here, even though I did eliminate the thicker “dead cat” windsock.
Third, to make another point on gear, is that a cardioid pencil mic would likely have been better in such a closed environment. However, the longer shotgun mic was the only option in the kit.
Now onto the critique of my poor booming technique:
- Hands are spaced way too far apart, making it difficult to react quickly to the action.
- Left arm is more horizontal than vertical, making the pool feel unneccesarily heavy
- Left elbow is locked straight, meaning there's no way to extend past this position by moving my left arm.
- Right hand is at the end of the boom pole, meaning there's no “counterweight” to the back end, making the boom pool feel even heavier.
- The microphone is positioned a bit too far. It should be a bit closer, pointing toward the talent's mouth and nose (the mic looks like it's poiting toward the top of the head).
So, this technique is not proper nor is it maintainable over a lengthy career. Avoid the mistakes mentioned above and you'll have better success.
• What Are Dead Cats And Why Are Outdoor Microphones Furry?
• Best Microphone Windscreens
• Why Do Microphones Use XLR Cables?
• Best Microphone Cables
What is a boom “shotgun” microphone? Shotgun microphones are the most common boom mics. Shotgun mics are designed with a diaphragm at the end of a long slotted tube. The long tube gives them their name. The tube restricts the sound from reaching the diaphragm in specific ways, creating an extremely directional polar pattern.
To learn more about boom microphones, check out my article What Is A Boom Microphone? (Applications + Mic Examples).
Why do boom shotgun microphones have such big windscreens? Shotgun mics on the end of boom poles need plenty of isolation. Shotgun mics are very long and sit in intricately designed shock mounts. Sound enters the tube of the shotgun from the side. The windscreen must be big enough to accommodate the above characteristics and necessities.
Choosing the right microphone(s) for your applications and budget can be a challenging task. For this reason, I've created My New Microphone's Comprehensive Microphone Buyer's Guide. Check it out for help in determining your next microphone purchase.