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Digital Video Techniques - How to Record a Panel Discussion

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 7/4/2011

Learn the basic techniques for effectively recording a panel discussion or presentation. Great for documentary and news work.

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    Starting Out

    One of the things you will be doing if you are trying to begin a career in digital video production is videotaping academic panel discussions or press releases, especially if you go into a non-fiction arena like documentary or news. These can be very dry and low quality if you do not appropriately prepare for how you want to record the video and, more importantly, the audio.

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    Microphones and Live Sound Mixing

    A panel tends to be three to five people, usually keeping the number odd because then there is the ability to have two sides of an issue presented plus one in the middle. If it is a large room that the panel is being presented in it is likely that they will have live sound mixing available. If this is the case then you simply plug all of the microphones into the soundboard and then use an XLR cord to plug into one of the soundboard's available output jacks. If there is no live sound mixing then you will have to plug all of the microphones directly into your camera. You are going to want to use a microphone for each person so you are going to have to get a consolidator that will allow you to plug all of the microphones together, connecting to the camera with only one XLR cord. You are going to want to use Cardioid microphones, similar to the ones they use in news, on a stand so it sits directly in front of the person speaking. The great thing about these microphones is that they pick up sound all around pretty well so you can get the person’s voice even from a distance and you can still get sounds from the crowd to add extra dimension to the final video. Keep the microphone about one to two feet away from the person speaking on the table. Always keep each of the microphones three times the distance away from each other as there is between the speaker and their microphone. If this is not observed then it is likely that there will be interference between the microphones.

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    Multi-Camera or Single Camera Set-Up

    The best way to do this panel presentation is with a multi-camera set-up, at least using three cameras. This way you will be able to get the master shot of the panel consistently with the camera that is recording the microphone pick-up. A second camera will be positioned close to whoever is speaking and will be focused in on their face. The third camera will hover and will get different angles of the speakers and the crowd. If you can only have one you are going to have to position the camera where the second camera would be, with the focus being strictly on the person speaking. You are going to have to be extra careful in this situation because you are going to be moving around the camera that has the XLR microphone cord plugged into it.

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    Microphone Choice

    If you do not have the resources or permission to rig up large Cardioid microphones on the table, or if they only have a single microphone, you will have to use a wireless microphone to do the job. If you have one powerful enough, you can just place it in the middle of the table or wrapped around the base of the single microphone they are using. The best way to make this work is to ask them to pass the microphone between them while they are doing the prepared statements then to place the microphone back in the middle of the table during the discussion.

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    Keep It Movin'

    The most important thing to do is always keep the camera rolling so you can sync them together in the editing room. Treat any presentation like this the same way you would a concert.