“Ready….Take!” The Basics of Directing IMAG for Worship

Directing is an art.  Most of us directing IMAG in a house of worship application don’t have the luxury of having professional camera operators.  Instead we have lots of volunteers that come around once or two times a month and we do the best we can to direct to a high standard.  I want to go over some tips and procedures that I follow when directing.

First lets go over why we do IMAG.  IMAG is used to connect, energize and enhance.

Connect: As directors we want to connect everyone in our auditorium with what is going on.  This will allow everyone to have the best seats in the house, to know exactly what is going on and to see everything as if they were sitting in the front row.  People in the back will have just as good of seat as the people in the front.  There is an old saying in the production world, “ You don’t design production for the cheap seats!”  IMAG should allow the people in the cheep seats to have just as good of an experience as those with the best seats.

Energize: During worship we want people to get excited and help them get into worship.  When directing IMAG you want build energy.  Musicians that are getting into the songs and worshiping with their movements help people to also get into worship.  Fast songs that have fast cuts will get people excited.  A good director should be able to energize an entire room of people just through cutting cameras.

Enhance: Most of the people in your auditorium are watching the screens, this may because this is also where all the content is such as scripture and song lyrics; or this could be because of their seats. Either way we as directors should strive to enhance the experience of every attendee in our auditoriums.  If people don’t have a better experience watching IMAG than they do by not having it then you should re-evaluate how and why you do IMAG.

Directing Worship:

Directing music can be a challenge.  Especially when you are trying to connect, energize and enhance.  Now there is a pattern to directing that is pretty accurate for most situations and songs.

The first is when cutting from one camera to another, be sure the shots are different.  Don’t cut from a wide shot to another wide shot, or a mid shot to another mid shot.  You want to go from wide to tight, mid to tight and so on.   You want there to be a change.  When cutting from one camera to the next and you are on the same subject, the more extreme the better.  A mid shot to mid tight won’t look good, but a Mid to a tight will.  If you have different subjects, then you can get away with cutting to from a mid to a mid tight, or less extreme changes.  Different angles also help, but the same principle applies.  I do recommend trying to cut different angles if possible.

The second part of the formula is to cut either every or every-other line, preferably on the beat.  This sets a pace for the tune.  When I was first learning how to direct I noticed myself doing this almost automatically, I thinks this was natural instinct from when I used to play drums in my youth group worship band in high school.  Overall I have found that this makes for a pretty solid show.  If you are on a vocalist singing and you cut off them in the middle of a line it looks kind of strange, but if you do it at the end of the line, you can’t go wrong.

Find the energy.  Energetic shots build energy, non-energetic shots don’t.  It sounds kind of mean but if a musician or vocalist isn’t giving much energy, don’t take a shot of them.  They aren’t helping your mission as a director, and they won’t help to connect, energize or enhance your attendees either.

Know your limits.  IMAG is of course image magnification.  Know how far you can pull out.  I recommend for most situations only going as wide as a head to toe.  Depending on how far your farthest seat away is and how big your screens are you may even need to stay closer in than that.  The worst thing you could do is to give people a worse shot on the screens as they have by just looking at the stage from their seat.  Remember to connect and to enhance.  Make it better for them to be watching the screens.

Your worship leader is your main focus.  The worship leader is leading your attendees in worship so let them lead.  They should be on the screens more than anyone else.  I recommend starting verses and chorus on your worship leaders as a general rule of thumb; once in a while if it is a familiar song you could go to an energetic vocalist but try and stick with the worship leader to really draw a connection with the attendees as they start songs and sections of songs.

One subject, or at least focus on one.  This is more of a personal strategy that I have.  For IMAG I’m not a huge fan of two shots.   Always have one person that you want to highlight with a camera shot.  As a director you are telling people where to look, having more than one person in a shot is a little distracting, people don’t know who to watch.  Stick with one person, your camera shots will be better, and it will draw people in more.  If you are on a wide shot and you can see more than one person in the shot, be sure to push or pull in a way that says this person is the main focus.  To do this have the camera operator keep the subject stuck on a certain part of the screen, obviously they will get bigger or smaller, but their position in the frame should stay in the same spot. Every once in a while, on a slash a camera, an operator will be pushing in and one person will be the focus.  Then half way through, the other person in the shot will become the focus.  Focus on the first person until they are done with their part then have the operator pan and adjust to the other person using the same idea of having them be stuck in the frame.  By watching the screens viewers should know whom to watch, even if there are multiple people in the frame.  Stick to one.

Lots of movement.  Standard pushes and pulls make a huge difference.   They add a lot to the look and feel of a production.  Be sure the pushes and pulls match the feel of the songs. Also, know that for IMAG your pushes and pulls will be slower than if you were directing for broadcast.

It’s ok to stay on a good shot.  Now you want to energize but you also want to connect.   If you have a good shot, it is ok to stay on it if it will keep the viewer engaged.  Sometimes we tend to switch a shot just to switch a shot, stick with the good ones and maybe spend an extra second or two making the next one better.

Directing the Message:

I am a firm believer that Message IMAG is a mid shot of the speaker and that is it (Elbows to head).  No camera switching unless necessary.  Again the goal is to connect and enhance.  I find that cutting cameras can be distracting and people really connect when it is just one shot.  Now we put lower thirds over the shot and transition to full screen graphics, but we don’t cut to different camera angles.  Some people try to track with the pastor.  I always tell the speakers that when they talk to their left or right they talk to a specific section, but when the talk to the camera they talk to everyone.  Now too much strait on can be a little in personable so a good balance is good.  With that said, some stages require tracking, my encouragement would be to cut as little as possible to avoid distracting people.

So those are some of the things I have learned about directing.  The last thing I’m going to leave you with is my simple philosophy about directing.  The quality of the show is all on the director.  I have directed some shows with volunteer camera crews where most of the operators are running for their first time.  I never blame a bad production on my volunteers, instead I make the adjustments needed in my directing style to work with them in order to get the quality of product I need.  Because at the end of the day I still need to connect, energize and enhance; it’s not my camera operators’ faults if I can’t do that.  Maybe I will talk more about this in another post.

On my three ring binder that I put my scripts in I put this on the cover, “Directing Cameras, Directing Focus, Directing people towards Christ.”

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About brhoda

I freelance doing a few different thing in the video and live production market. I worked for a church for 5 years directing services and designing control rooms.
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3 Responses to “Ready….Take!” The Basics of Directing IMAG for Worship

  1. Robert Ansley says:

    This is awesome – thanks! I’ve been directing IMAG for a very large church in Austin, TX for 12 years. We always have nothing but volunteers…..in fact I’m a volunteer as well. You might have seasoned camera ops, or first timers, but the buck stops with the Director. It would be nice if the camera operators could attend the practices, but a Director MUST attend. For example, during a bridge or instrumental part, to keep the emotion high I like to cut to the dominant instrument – drums, guitar, etc and the only way to grab that perfect shot is to KNOW your songs. Equally important is to know your Music Director – they might become filled with the Holy Spirit and start changing up verses, etc. I have so many tips, but I’ll leave you with one other. We have four to five cameras. I always say the camera number FIRST, then give the instruction. If I were to say “start a pan to your right camera 4”, ALL of the cameras start panning before they hear the number! Great job, thanks!

  2. Darren Niesley says:

    Lots of good info here. I’m glad to see resources like this for church tech leaders who are working hard from week to week (sometimes in addition to a separate career) to help draw people into worship and God’s word. Keep up the good work!

  3. Tracey says:

    Thanks for the advice. Appreciate it!

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