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Shooting Live Services


When doing better church media one of the important things to tackle is shooting live services for broadcast or online viewing. I have been shooting live services for over 10 years. One of my current jobs for my church Victory Orlando is to produce an online video of the church service. You can see past services here.

Why is this important? Service’s viewable online are one more hook to reach people. People spend a lot of time online and the internet is one of the number one ways people research and learn about new things, people or places. Therefore when people run across your site it will be a convenient way for potential visitors to learn about the church and see what the sermons are like. This is also a great way for the flock to graze on the Word and grow. You can stop a video and listen something again; which is something you can’t do at a live service.


There is no right or wrong way to shoot live services and record a sermon. I’ve shot sermons with 1 camera and kept it on a wide shot before. As my skill grew, a a tight shot was more necessary and I was able to do it. Learning to be smooth when you follow your pastor is a major step when producing a sermon video. Practice and muscle memory of the zoom tool and the ease of the tripod will help you get that smooth shot. If you only have one camera to begin with, as you learn and become more experienced you can move to a tight shot.

I’ve also shot with security cameras before! I controlled the cameras from a switcher board with a joy stick in the back of the auditorium. I set up the four cameras as follows: one wide shot, one head to toe, one tight and one ceiling shot from the right. When directing it is important to keep a variety of shots to keep the audience interested and entertained. Remember the saying that variety is the spice of life.  At the same time be patient in your usage of you shots, you don’t want to have a program that looks like dicing an onion. You don’t want the whole onion but you don’t want diced onion either. You want onion strips. What does that mean? It means keep your shots varied but don’t be choppy and all over the place. If you have the resources three to six cameras can create nice variety of shots and visual pleasantness.

Right now I produce the sermon video with a simple but effective 2 camera shoot. I set a wide shot up at center stage. My wide shot is really a head to toe shot. A good head to toe shot leaves a little room above the head and leaves a little room below the feet. My second camera is a medium tight shot. I set the shot from the stomach to just above the head. Some times to spice up the production I’ll shoot a tighter shot. But before you try that; know that  the tighter the shot the harder it is to follow your pastor or speaker. It’s just hard to follow a moving object when your camera is tightly focused on it. The belly shot or a hip shot is tight be still gives some breathing room for your camera operator and viewing audience.

I repeat, camera shots are important to vary. You don’t want any shots to look too similar. You should almost always have a wide establishing shot. Your wide shot needs to cover the stage and establish the audience to where the location is. If you want yo can even shoot a pan of  the building or auditorium to get a bigger presence. It can also be nice to even have some crowd in the scene. Be careful though, make sure that your crowd is clustered together and not scattered. You want the auditorium to look full and inviting. It’s important to have a camera positioned for crowd shots. This camera will likely be propped on stage to give adequate views of crowd clusters and individuals. It’s great to show people being attentive, laughing, crying, showing emotion to the message.Be careful though,you don’t want to shoot a crowd shot that has a large amount of empty seats or excessive “wall” footage. Next be sure to have a head to toe shot. The head to toe was described above. Again I insert that it is imperative to keep head room, other wise you can crop your pastors head! No one wants that. I also described above the stomach up or hip up shot. It’s a nice tight shot but still gives some breathing room. Another necessary shot is the head and shoulder shot. This is great for getting across a major point in the sermon. But don’t put to much of this shot in the mix it can be very intense. It works better for film than it does for live shooting. Also have a profile or some kind of an angle shot. A good three quarter view may be just right. This is a great shot for spice and liven the mix up. I stress again that spice is great but to much spice can make the dish to strong and undesirable.

Let’s review the basic shooting instructions now that we’ve covered the shot list.

  • Push: A push is a zoom in. You would use this to tighten in on the subject.
  • Pull: A pull is to widen the shot back. Think, pull back. This would be used to reveal more of the scene or event.
  • Pan: This means to move the camera from left to right or vise versa. Usually you do this when following the subject on screen while they play or speak.
  • Tilt: Tilt is to move the camera up or down vertically. Another good motion to lead the eye of the audience.
  • Truck: To truck the camera means to physically dolly the camera across the floor to acquire a better shot often while live.
  • Boom: A boom is a piece of equipment like a crane. The camera set on the head or the end of the pole. The boom shot is meant to arc or swoop in on the subject. The operator can even operate the camera at he same time if the camera is fitted with a remote control.

Pan means to move from side to side. Smooth motion is imperative to a great online broadcast or video. The audience should not even realize that the camera is moving. Then you know that your skills are honed. Be sure to practice your skills of slowly pushing in on the subject and slowly pulling out. On the note of the boom, to get some real motion and flavor with your camera shots you must get a boom. With an experienced and skilled boom operator you can bring some real sparkle to your live production. Advanced videographers can give you motion through trucking. Trucking is when you move the whole camera and tripod rig on a wheel dolly. Trucking can take your live production to a whole other level. Here is a great video on a good basic live production shoot.

When shooting live services, if you’re using the proper hand tools it makes pushing or zooming in and our easier. Your hand control will have a switch on it that you will operate with your thumb. Moving the switch to one side will push your shot in and to the other side will push the shot out. Again, real mastery comes when you can push that switch while live and zoom in or out slowly and with precision. On the other hand control will be the oval ring or some kind of dial to focus on your subject. Another handy tool on your camera is to turn on the focal assist. This tool found in your menu will outline your subjects that are in focus in a blue or maybe red thin line. This is a tool that I use when shooting live services and I use it every week. It just assures the operator that the subject is indeed in focus. To manually focus you need to zoom in on the subjects eyes or as close as you can, and then focus on them. That way everything in the picture, up to the eyes will be in focus.

Now lets’s look at some great options for shooting live services with some specific broadcast cameras. The first two will be for the church on a smaller more realistic budget. I think you know who you are. 🙂 The first is not a real studio camera but more of a all around work camera. I still think you’ll enjoy it.

      • Sony HXR-NX100 Full HD NXCAM Camcorder: This looks like a great camcorder. I love shooting with Sony camcorders. I’ve had good experiences with them. Several good professionals that I have worked with use Sony cameras. I like this one because it is affordable, and gives a lot of manual control. There is a focus ring, aperture ring, and zoom ring. There are 4 ND (Neutral Density) filters on it. ND’s are used and important when it’s a bright day out, they help shield some of that sun.  The fixed lens starts at an average 35mm wide. The camera also records audio straight to the SD card. This is great so you don’t have to match up audio in post production. There are 2 XLR line inputs for your convenience. The LCD screen is positioned right on top for your convenience. All in all it looks like a great camera.
      • This camera review covers all that you may need to know.

  • Blackmagic Design Studio Camera HD: This is the one I’m most excited about! Black magic makes some great products. I have a good friend who uses them and he loves them. The studio camera is really designed super well. The camera body is not huge and bulky. It is light but durable for field use. Instead it’s more like an iPad or tablet with a small camera body and lens attached to it. The LCD screen is 10 inches, making it wonderfully useable! No need for an external monitor with this giant screen. The control panel is convenient and easy to use and understand. The camera has 2 XLR inputs to capture quality audio right to your footage. No post production audio matching! It also has a SDI video input and output and HDMI connections. The lens mount is micro four thirds so you’ll have to buy an adaptor for you lenses. That’s about the only downside.

For churches with a higher budget. Sony again come through with two super studio cameras.

  • Sony HXC-D70

  • Sony HSC-100

I like both of these because they come with the lens already attached. Some of the others I looked at and researched are the same price but they lack the lens which may cost as much as the camera body. If you’re going to pay $16,000-$18,000 I’d much prefer to have the lens attached already. Of coarse the main difference with these cameras is the better sensor chip. The better the chip the better it will pick up detail and get a higher resolution in dimly lit settings. Honestly that’s the bottom line. All cameras produce in well lit areas or outside on a bright day. But when you start to shell out thousands of dollars for a camera, it better be able to shoot in dimly lit areas. These two have a nice selection of  higher shutter speeds they can shoot at. They have multiple and varied audio recording options to them. Their built and designed for TV broadcast production. Side fact: Maybe an interesting feature that may or may not ever come into play is that each can operate in extreme conditions.

I believe that this article will give you some instruction and information about shooting live services and I hope that it was informative enough to help you choose your studio camera. As always let me know your thoughts and experiences. Enjoy!

For further review please see some of these articles: here, and here.