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KnowHOW: Tips for directing dynamic live video

KnowHOW: Tips for directing dynamic live video
Image courtesy of Action Church

KnowHOW: Tips for directing dynamic live video

First things first, make sure your camera operators have removed their lens caps …

When cameras employed in houses of worship were used purely for image magnification (IMAG) purposes, you could almost get away with presenting video from a static, single-camera setup. After all, a live audience has the benefit of being able to switch between the big screen and their own, live view of the service at will. However, with the dawn of online streaming allowing houses of worship of all shapes and sizes to begin broadcasting their services to the masses at home, a multi-camera setup becomes pretty much essential, as a single shot will begin to bore those tuning in. When eyes start to wander, camera cuts keep attention. It’s why all live television shows employ several cameras, each offering a new angle and with various zoom distances.

When moving to a multi-camera setup, a member of the AV team will need to step up to the plate as director. Here are some tips to get started.


Bring your team together – camera operators, vision mixers and anyone else involved – to make sure everybody is on the same page. That includes agreeing a set of commands and what they mean, so that everyone knows exactly what to do when the director issues an instruction during the production. Everyone should also be made aware of what their roles and responsibilities are – for camera operators in particular, this should include a list of shots and angles within each of their remits, to both ensure you get everything you want from the shoot and that nobody is doubling up, getting more or less the same shot.


Once everybody has a clear idea of what they’re doing, it’s time to get some practice in. Just as those appearing in front of the lens will rehearse, whether it's a worship leader going over a sermon or a praise band running through their set, those of you behind the camera also need to practise. Rehearsals not only provide your crew with the opportunity to get to grips with the plan laid out, but also expose any of said plan’s shortcomings. For instance, you may realise if a particular shot has been missed during the run-through. You may also discover that it is physically impossible for Camera Operator A to be able to pull off shots X and Y during the production, and that it actually make more sense for Operator B to take over shot X.

Image courtesy of Action Church
Image courtesy of Action Church

If possible, try to schedule your rehearsals to coincide with run-throughs of the service or event that your subjects – the worship leaders, band, etc. – will be conducting. This way, you can get the idea of what is possible and make any tweaks necessary to capture the performance onstage.

Rehearsing also allows the crew to get familiar with their equipment.


Equipment of a higher standard will typically result in video of a higher standard. What’s more important is making sure that everything, particularly the cameras, are of the same level of quality. That means if you’re running an HD programme, be certain that everything is capable of handling HD. There’s nothing more painfully obvious than when one camera in the fleet is not up to the same standards as the others. Imagine switching between various crystal-clear shots from around your house of worship, only to cut to that old PTZ at the back that adds an awfully grainy filter. Its poor quality will be all the more noticeable in contrast to the other cameras. Another tip to help ensure the same level of quality is to try to stick to cameras from the same manufacturer and, where possible, try to keep to the same models for complete consistency.


Communication is key throughout the entire process, from planning to production. Adopt a good comms system so that operators and other team members will be able to receive your instructions loud and clear. But communication shouldn’t just be limited to the video crew. Establish a strong link between the worship team onstage, the lighting technicians, the audio engineers and anyone else involved in the service so that every aspect of the production runs smoothly. Incorporate this into your planning.

Final tip

Always have a camera set up to provide a long shot of the entire sanctuary. Not only does this work as an establishing shot, setting the scene for those watching at home, it also serves as a fallback shot when the rest of the camera operators find themselves scrambling to frame and zoom into their next shots simultaneously. Just make sure the lens cap has been taken off.

Manchester Christian Church's Bill Mitchell provides camera direction during rehearsals
Manchester Christian Church's Bill Mitchell provides camera direction during rehearsals

Q&A with Bill Mitchell, technical director at Manchester Christian Church

How would you, personally, describe high-performance live video?

It’s about assisting the stage performance that’s happening, whether you are doing IMAG for the venue or streaming to the internet. Live video is designed to show what’s happening and transmit the energy from the stage to the screen.

What sets Manchester Christian’s video apart?

We produce high-quality video with a volunteer team. Most of our camera operators are under 18 and all but me are volunteers at every position. We have created a culture of ‘no fear of failure’ so that we can experiment and try new things.

How many cameras do you use?

We operate four Panasonic HPX floor cameras, one roving Canon XA35 camera and one Marshall POV camera. It’s important to match for colour and image consistency.

Do cameras need to be top-of-the-range?

The camera can be new, old, top-of-the-line or used. It only matters on operation. There will always be new stuff. And you’ll never stay at the leading edge of the wave. Every camera has trade-offs.

How often does your camera crew rehearse?

We rehearse weekly. And we plan every song and work on being intentional on many of our shot plans.

How do you communicate with the crew during production?

Headsets, yelling, sign-language! Anything to make sure they know what’s coming.

This article was first published in the May-June 2019 edition of Worship AVL. Subscribe at

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