4 Ideas to Improve Your Online Video

Of all the things I get to do as a church technical leader, directing live video is one of my favorites. I love the opportunity I have to connect people to what God is doing  on Sunday morning at the church. And I like the pressure and pace of working in live video.

The thought that this may be our first connection with someone looking for a church, or a traveller needing to feel connected to his church family, or a shut-in wanting to join in worship, or a family who just needs a break from the busyness of life; all these, to me, are reasons that drive me towards creating the best online experience I can. I am sure you can come up with additional great reasons.

Here are 4 ideas to improve your live video to make it the best that it can be:

1. Prepare like your life depends on it.

To have a great directed service, you have to know what’s going to happen and be ready for it. If there is a guitar solo after the bridge, you have to have your cameras positioned before it starts. If the pastor is going to bring up 2 volunteers from the audience for an illustration, you need to know ahead of time how you are going to show that to the online viewer. But don’t stop there. Create a shot list for a song and communicate and practice that with your team. For big events at least, you should  rehearse the live stream just like the worship and front of house team rehearse. Shoot, record, and review your practice and make adjustments if necessary.

Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.

First prepare your equipment by setting up your switcher and white balancing your cameras.
Secondly prepare yourself by listening to the music during the week, making notes, being familiar with the sermon outline.
Finally, prepare your team with a preservice huddle if possible, and keep them informed of what is about to happen during the service.

There is no excuse for lack of preparation. Preparation is the real work.

Your directing will only ever be as good as your preparation. Period.

2. Pretend you are sitting in the congregation

In order to make the online service engaging and feel as live as possible, it is important to capture just about everything you would observe as a person sitting in the room. If a guest speaker introduces her spouse, for example, the congregation will turn and look at them as they stand up and wave (or whatever). The online audience needs to see that as well. Just as if they were in the room. If the lights change during the service, make sure your online audience feels that change and the reason for it. Sometimes that means showing what is happening. Or sometimes that means mirroring what is happening through a comparable technique.

If the online viewer feels like they were in the room, like they didn’t miss anything, you are doing it right.

3. Recognize you aren’t sitting in the congregation

While the previous point is valid, it should never be seen as limiting. This principle is one of the reasons we shoot the service with more than one camera. If you are using only one camera you don’t have many more options than a person sitting in one seat. But with 3, 4, or more cameras, now you have options that a person in the room does not have.

While a person attending an event can take in the experience in a way the viewer cannot, they also cannot see everything that you can show through video. They cannot get a closeup of the drums or guitar. They can’t see a reverse angle shot of the crowd. They cannot see a close up of another section in the Sanctuary and how those people are laughing at the pastor’s joke, or an extreme wide shot from the back corner of the Sanctuary during a standing ovation.

Think of a sporting event. Being there is great. The energy of the crowd never translates quite the same way on video. That’s true. That’s why we love going to live events. But when you watch from home, you can see more than an attender. I’m not only talking about the graphics, which add to the viewing experience, but I’m thinking of things like close ups and replays of the action. This is so good, and we enjoy it so much, venues have large screens to duplicate this for the live attenders.

You can do more, and show more. So do it.

4. Be a copy cat

There is no value in recreating the wheel with your video. Think of it this way, Hollywood has taught people how to watch TV. If people are watching your video stream, they already have a preconceived idea of how it should look. Even if they cannot articulate exactly what that is.

Granted, a sitcom or movie is very different than a live event. So watch the Grammys or any award show. See how they shoot the presenters verses the audience verses the special music. Make note of the pacing of the shots and how they capture the action of what is happening in the room. I bet you’ll discover a couple of things:

  1. They repeat shots as much as they have to if the action itself is repeating.
  2. They show a head-to-toe or a whole body shot as people walk across the stage.
  3. They stay on a close shot of the presenter, unless they need to cut to a wider shot to capture body language as part of what is happening.
  4. They mix in almost as may audience shots as host shots since the people there are part of the story of the event.
  5. They bridge the action on the stage with a wide shot or camera move (jib shot, for example).

This principle is simple yet valuable and often missed —mimic the style and philosophy of the best of the best and take advantage of the way people are already used to watching TV.


The longer you direct video, the more you will develop your unique style and technique. I’m all for that. Using these 4 simple filters will allow you to develop that style in a way that has the greatest impact on your viewing audience.

Happy directing!

Interested in more directing ideas, check out additional articles at my Video Directing 101 page.


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