More kids ministry leaders than ever find themselves making simple videos to communicate with kids and families as they quarantine at home during the COVID-19 crisis. The quality of these videos is all over the map, ranging from outstanding to downright awful. As a video veteran, I wanted to share some simple tips that I have learned from my 25+ years as a video professional to help kids ministry leaders make better media. Whether you record your videos to post online or email out, livestream your messages and teaching times, or just want to have the best looking shot in your next Zoom meeting, these five tips will help you set up your shots like a pro.
Tip #1 – Quality Counts: The first question one might ask is whether the aesthetic quality of our videos even matters. Content is certainly king, and even a poor quality video can be effective in communicating a message to our audience. While this is true to a degree, aspiring to improve the look of our videos is a worthwhile endeavor. When videos are poorly lit, poorly framed, out of focus, with distracting backgrounds and hard-to-hear audio, the recipient has to overcome a lot of distraction in order to receive the message. You do not need to create Hollywood level productions, but we should take some basic steps to allow our valuable messages to be delivered in a way that is clean and clear. Quality in this instance is about minimizing distractions, and when we are communicating to kids, we need to eliminate as many distractions as possible.
Tip #2 – Hold Steady: While we have all seen a plethora of handheld cell phone videos on YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook. There are a few reasons that shaky handheld footage is not the best idea for video communication. Shaky shots are visually chaotic. They draw the viewer’s attention away from the on-camera speaker and onto what the camera is doing; really really shaky shots can cause mental motion sickness! From a technical point of view, shaky shots require more image processing than static ones. Web videos use compression algorithms that only redraw the portions of the shot that change from frame to frame. When your camera is locked down, there’s less data for the computer to process, and your videos play more smoothly. You can stabilize your shots in a couple of ways. If you shoot from a laptop, place it on a desk or counter (not on your lap). If you are shooting with a cell phone or video camera, consider mounting it to a tripod, or propping it up on a countertop, a step ladder, or a stack of books or boxes. You just need the ability to tilt the camera into the right position to frame your shot well, and to start and stop recording.
Tip #3 – Frame Yourself: Whether you are recording your video with a cell phone, your laptop, or a video camera, shot composition is an easy improvement you can make. Professional producers frame their shots using what’s known as the Rule of Thirds. Using it is easy and it will make your shots look and feel better in an instant. Imagine a tic-tac-toe grid laid over your screen. When you frame your shot, place your eyes on the top horizontal ⅓ line of the grid. When you are talking straight to the lens it is okay to center your face on the screen, but you can add a bit more visual interest by sliding to the side so that your face is also centered on the right or left vertical third. Once you are aware of this rule you will notice it as you watch TV. In nearly every instance the on-camera talent’s eyes are on the top third line, and their body is often on a left or right vertical. This is especially noticeable with newscasters when a graphic is positioned over their shoulder.
Tip #4 – Get the Height Right: Many computer shooters make the mistake of simply plopping their laptops down on their desks and tilting their screens back until they see themselves. This results in two unfavorable outcomes. 1) The viewer’s perspective is from a low angle, looking up under your chin and into your nostrils. This angle is flattering to no one. 2) The low perspective gives your viewers an unusual and distracting view of your ceiling, light fixtures and ceiling fan behind your head. Instead of settling for an awkward low-angle look at life, lift your laptop by placing it on top of a small box, or a stack of books to raise the camera lens to eye level. This will be more flattering on your face, and provide a more natural view of your space. Be careful not to go too far, however. Raising your camera too high can also be awkward; causing viewers to peer down at the top of your head. Raising your laptop just 5 or 6 inches makes a world of difference.
Tip #5 – Look at Lighting: One of the simplest and biggest-impact things you can do to make your videos look better is to be mindful of the angle of impact of your lighting. The three primary considerations in lighting quality are height, angle, and intensity. We all know that a light positioned low under the chin creates a scary campfire-story look. Similarly, sitting directly under a bright ceiling fixture causes a harsh down-lighting that casts harsh shadows under your eyes and chin, making you look like you are being interrogated. The most flattering light comes from a height that is slightly higher than your head, but not directly over your head. The angle of lighting is also important. If you position yourself with a window or brightly lit wall behind you, your camera will adjust for the bright background lighting and your face will be dark; possibly even silhouetted. If you point your nose directly at the light source, the result will be flat lighting. While this is better than a silhouetted situation, flat lighting is generally not the most flattering, as it can make a person appear like a deer caught in the headlights. Instead, rotate your seat in orientation to the light source, in this case the window, so that the light strikes your face at about a 45-degree angle. This will cause one side of your face to be fully lit, and create shadows on the opposite side of your face. This ‘modeling’ is an appealing look on camera. Lastly, look at light intensity. Lighting is identified as hard or soft based on the sharpness of the shadow edge that it creates on a subject. Diffused light, like from a lamp with a lamp shade, or daylight on an overcast day, creates a soft and appealing shadow on the face, with a broad shadow edge transfer. Hard lighting, like from a bare lightbulb, floodlight, or outdoors on a clear day at noontime, casts darker shadows with a narrow or hard shadow edge. Soft light at the right height and angle of impact will result in flattering and appealing lighting on your face to help you look your best.
These five simple tips can help you create more professional looking media when you record videos for your ministry, and make you the best looking person in any Zoom meeting you attend.
Chuck Peters is Director of Operations for Lifeway Kids. Before his role at Lifeway, Chuck had an extensive career in television and video production. He is a 3-time Emmy Award Winning producer, director, writer and host. A graduate of Columbia Bible College, Chuck, and his wife, Cris, have served vocationally & voluntarily in Student and Children’s Ministry for many years. They have four amazing children: Tally (21), Tristen (20), Tyson (14) and Tate (11).