Ok so you’ve been asked to operate a camera at church. You might have been thrown in the deep end because hey – sometimes that’s what happens in church life. Here you are going to find some quick tips to get you started.
First off, well done for volunteering. Having run a church production team for a number of years, I realise how essential camera operators are to the whole process. You have a priceless task of helping to bring worship and the word to people who can’t make it to the service. That’s huge.
Tips for Church Camera Operators
These three tips come from experience. I’m assuming you are operating a fixed camera on a good quality tripod. I’m also assuming you are operating your camera for live streaming your service or recording your service to distribute later.
These are often the tips I repeated many times with my team over the years. So here goes.
Frame Singers and Musicians Towards the Top of the Screen
When many volunteers start filming for the first time, they often put the face of the musician or singer right in the middle of the picture.
I don’t blame them. Kind of makes sense to point and shoot and get them in the centre right?
Problem is it leaves this big space void above their heads. All of that dead space could be used to help tell the story to the audience – to capture the emotion of the worshipper, the skill of the musician.
Remember those who are watching at home or on their device are not experiencing the surrounding of their senses in the church auditorium. All they have is the screen they are watching on. So it is critical that the screen is filled with an image to tell the story and communicate what is happening.
Here is a good example. Compare the first shot below to the one beneath it. With the first shot you can clearly see the singer’s expression and emotion as she sings to God:
This second shot is a bit further back and it is harder to capture the expression of the worshipper.
Granted, this shot is from the audience and implies participation from the crowd. It serves a slightly different purpose. And that’s ok.
But in general if you are starting out the general rule is to frame the singer or musician to fit completely within the frame.
Stay A Little Wide If the Preacher Moves Around A Lot
From my experience, most preachers like to move around a lot. They walk up and down the stage, eye balling the audience, engaging and connecting with the church.
In these cases it is best to stay a little wider on the shot. If you are zoomed in too tight you are going to have a hard time keeping up with the preacher as they move around. Not only that, but the fast movement can be a little uneasy for those watching your camera work. The background can become blurry.
I know this seems to be the opposite advice to the first tip. But trust me, you will regret having that tight shot when your preacher start’s moving around. It’s far better to stay a little wide then get caught out from a sudden movement.
Below is a good example of framing. You can see there is plenty of room either side in case he decides to move one way or the other.
Imply but Don’t Focus on the Congregation
There is an art to implying there is an actively participating congregation without focusing on any particular member.
To imply there is a crowd, is to capture a hand raised, or perhaps the back of a head that is looking skyward. To focus on a member is to capture a close shot of their face so that they are recognisable. In most cases it is good to imply a crowd, and not good to focus on a member of the congregation.
For most people, participating in worship is a private thing between them and God. To have them worried about getting caught on camera distracts them from the moment.
Furthermore, if they aren’t aware they are on camera, they could pick their nose or yawn or look at their watch, or check Facebook – you know – all those things we do in church when we think no one is looking.
I can’t tell you the number of times this happens. Just when you think you have that perfect shot of a sincere worshipper with arms raised towards heaven, they’ll stop and check the time. All captured on camera and onto your live feed.
While I completely understand that these things happen during a normal worship service and that is fine (except for a nose pick) it doesn’t communicate well through the screen.
Remember, those watching through a screen are looking for cues as to how the worship is happening, how people are responding to it as they seek to develop their own response and moment with God. The ill timed actions of a particular person may in no way communicate what God is actually doing in the lives of people in that moment.
That’s why its best, as a general rule to not focus in on congregation members. Your team leader may give you different advice and if they do – please go with that. But in my experience, it was best for the flow of the service that we didn’t focus on individual members during the capture.
So there you have it. A few simple tips to be aware of. If you stick to these and follow the communications of your team leader you’ll do great. Remember what you are doing is a vital ministry that can being healing, hope and understanding to many people. Well done for volunteering and enjoy it!