Utilizing Cameras

By Anthony D. Coppedge
Contributing Writer
October 11, 2021

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The vast majority of churches in America are using slide projectors and overhead transparencies and haven’t made the jump to video projection. But that is changing...and rapidly.

And in the ranks of those churches that have taken the “digital dive”, there are growing congregations who have started using video cameras in what’s called IMAG – or Image MAGnification or even “Big Picture”.

No matter what you call it, the ability to take a larger-than-life image and project it for all to see has many real benefits or pitfalls, depending upon how it’s used. And so, with the honorable intention of righting the wrongs of bad camera angles, bad lighting or just plain bad video, we tackle this subject.

First off, let’s take away the notion that you must have $50,000 cameras and network- quality lighting and video gear to use cameras for IMAG. Now that’s not to say that three 50-watt light bulbs and a $399 camcorder are going to work well, either. A balance of quality lighting, a decent quality camera ($2,000 - $5,000 for starters) and a good tripod (not your 35mm camera tripod, either) will go a long way towards making good video.

I’ll not tell you which camera to buy, or what brand of lighting to use. You’ll need a qualified consultant or design/build firm to help you with your equipment choices based on your rooms’ design and size. You’ll also need that consultant or firm to train your volunteers on the proper
usage of the equipment once it’s installed.

Today’s topic is focused on production techniques that are now industry-standard in the TV world and apply well to our application. All of these techniques are based on a minimum set of equipment, however, so I will list the basics that are required before continuing:

• At least 2 cameras (1 camera will be monotonous and not allow for any real flexibility)

• A video switcher (can be ‘cuts only’, but one with dissolve is preferred)

• Switcher to camera communication (Director to Camera operator) via headset

• A preview and program monitor for the switcher

• Tripods for the cameras (handheld cameras are rarely used, and are never used for main shots) – with “studio kits” if possible.

In a multi-camera shoot, the Director is in complete control of the screen content for any live action. This person is responsible for giving short, succinct orders that instruct the camera operator to frame the next shot in a timely fashion. The director will need to be someone who is a good communicator, has an excellent eye for the action, thinks quickly and can keep a controlled, even tone when things get ‘busy’ (“hairy” we call it in TV).

The Director

The Director is the Boss. This person is in charge of the technical video staff and must be able to multitask. The Director must also take full responsibility for what goes on with the video crew.

As the Director, get an “Order of Service” and arrive early to watch and listen to any rehearsals or practices. Knowing what is going to happen, who will have a solo, what side of the stage the drama will come from, and other such “mundane” facts are crucial for the Director. Take notes and think of how you’d be calling camera shots, graphics and tape roll-ins while the rehearsals are taking place.

If at all possible, have the entire crew show up early, too. A “free” trial run, even if it’s interrupted and restarted multiple times will be priceless when the time comes for the real moment. Preparation is the most important aspect for the Director.

When calling shots, use a small vocabulary and a limited number of words. Phrases such as “Camera 1, Pastor, waist up” or “Camera 2, wide shot, slow push in” are the clipped phrases that give very specific instructions without necessitating a running dialogue. Use the exact same
words for instructions for consistency. For example, “Ready, 2…2’s hot” or “Woof (stop)”. I know you’re laughing, but I’m being quite serious.

It’s important to note that practices will allow the Director and camera people get to know the “setups” for each of the shots – thereby reducing the need for the Director to explain each shot.

The Camera Operator

The camera operator acts as the eyes of the director. Whenever you’re not “on”, be aware of what’s going on, and try to anticipate where you need to point the camera and what would be the most useful shot for the Director.

If your church uses an “order of service”, consider taping that order on the back of the camera for quick reference. And, like I mentioned above, make it a habit to arrive early to learn what’s going to happen.

If your church doesn’t have rehearsals before service, when do they practice? If the answer is “they don’t”, reconsider the need for cameras to capture the action!

Your Director should have created “zones” for you. These include:

• Wide shot (doesn’t mean zoom ALL the way out...may mean only frame a portion of the stage…but it’s a good ‘go-to’ shot in a crunch)

• Medium shot – such as half zoom in on stage

• Tight shot – Up close and very personal – a face shot or maybe a shoulders up shot

• Head-to-toe shot – just like it sounds…remember to include a bit more than you think you need…some content is lost when it’s displayed.

• Waist-up shot – almost like it sounds…but “cut” the person off slightly below the belt line or slightly above the belt line.

• Close-up shot – typically means as tight as a talking head shot or maybe as loose as an elbow-up shot.

• Pulpit shot – exactly what it sounds like. Good to be prepared and allow the Director to take your shot when speaker comes into view.

• Two-shot – usually two singers side by side or a speaker interviewing someone. Enough room for either of them to move away from the other a bit and not be ‘out of frame’.

There are many other preset “shots” that will be invaluable time-savers. Experiment and find others that you’ll use often based on your service.

Also, as a camera operator, learn the rule of thirds. This is a biggie, so memorize this.

If you divide the picture into equal vertical thirds, you’d have a left third, middle-third and right third. The center camera (you must have a center camera – I’ll not accept an exception to this rule) must keep the subject matter in that middle third at least 80% of the time. Why not 100%?
Because people tend to move.

If you zoomed into a waist up shot and tried to follow every body movement to keep the subject perfectly centered, your camera would ALWAYS be jerking left and right. Stop that! It’s OK for the subject to begin to wander left or right. Don’t move – let them ‘sway’ in that center-third. Only when they begin to get to the edge of the screen do you begin to compensate – smoothly – and then the focus is again on the center-third.

For “side cameras” (off center axis from the center camera by 30 degrees or more), the rule of thirds is slightly different – but your camera also has these same thirds.

From a side perspective, the subject is usually talking towards either the left or right side of your screen. If you perfectly center them, the viewer will wonder why it looks like they’re talking to a wall. You need to lead the area they’re looking towards by maybe 10%-20% of the screen. It will seem more natural that, “Oh, hey, he’s looking at something I can’t see but at least know is there – the audience.”


The need to train your volunteers and practice the camera shots, zooms, pans and overall movement will necessitate doing drills when nothing else is going on. Drills such as:

• Focus on the bottle – rolling a coke bottle away from the camera while staying zoomed in, tracking and focusing (manually – NEVER, EVER auto focusing) on the text label.

• Speed drill – director calls shots in rapid fire – and the camera “op” has only 1-2 seconds to set the shot up correctly.

• Smoothest Operator – who can keep the most consistent zoom, pan and tilt to follow a moving person on the stage – from wide shots all the way into close ups and vise versa.

• Director consistency – audio recording the headset mic of the director onto the videotape of a service/practice – so that the Director can see how far behind the curve he/she is or how consistent their commands are to the cameras.

• Shading – for those cameras that are nice enough to have a CCU – how even can you keep the light level during quick light cue changes? Especially useful when shading multiple cameras simultaneously.

• Watch a program with the crew together – you can critique each other and even laugh at the events the cameras record when you notice slip ups. It’s fun, educational and very good at team building.

With experience, and a few basic concepts, you can make IMAG in service work well.

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