Tips for preaching to a camera

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As I write this, we are closing in on two weeks since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. As a result, many of you have moved to virtual meetings of your congregation’s worship services and Bible classes.

While many of you are successfully embracing the technology needed to communicate, I have discovered that very little has been said about preaching or speaking to a camera. You are skilled at preaching to people sitting in an auditorium, but best practices for engaging a faceless device requires some adjustments.

Camera placement and framing

The location of the camera is extremely critical to the success of your video.

  • Too close can make you appear nervous, invasive and distorted
  • Too far away can disconnect you from your audience
  • Too high can make you appear weak
  • Too low can make you appear dominating (or show off those nose hairs you’ve been growing)

When speaking to someone through a camera lens, the camera should be:

  • Eye-level
  • A minimum of 3-5 feet away (maybe more depending on the lens)

An eye-level camera puts you and your viewers on equal footing. It subconciously tells the them “we are equally important.” If you want your viewer to feel inferior to you, lower your camera and stare down at them. If you want your viewer to feel more powerful than you, raise your camera and look up at them.

In similar fashion, a camera too close to your face amplifies your eye movements, making you look nervous. To test this, record a selfie video with your smartphone about 1 foot away. Stare at the camera for five seconds, then look at all four corners of the smartphone.

Now, go back and watch yourself. Notice how “shifty” your eyes look? That subconsciously tells the viewer you are nervous, unsure of what you are saying, etc. Ultimately, the viewer can lose trust in you because they don’t believe you are confident in what you are saying.

Close-up cameras can also make viewers feel like you are invading their personal space.

Cameras too close can also distort your face. In this great article by Fstoppers, the author demonstrates the effects of lens compression and distortion.

To avoid this, back the camera away from you at least 3-5 feet, then zoom in until the shot is what I call a chest-high shot.

At this distance, your eye movements are much less distracting, but the camera is zoomed in tight enough to where the viewer still connects with you.

[RELATED: How to Frame Your Webcam Video Like a Pro]

Also notice the small amount of headroom in the photo above. Keep the headroom above your hair to a minimum.

Speaking of zoomed-in camera shots, a camera too far away and zoomed out too wide can ruin an opportunity to connect with your viewers. Remember: many of these folks are watching you on a 3″ TV in the palm of their hand. If you are the size of a postage stamp, they can’t see you well enough to see the emotion in your eyes when you’re delivering the passion points of your sermon.

A few other points:

Don’t stare. Look at the camera, then look down at your Bible and notes, then look back up at the camera. Don’t look wildly around the empty room.

Cutaway camera and graphics – talking directly to a camera for 25-30 minutes can be exhausting to watch. Regardless of whether you are doing this live or pre-recorded, I would encourage you to sprinkle in a mixture of camera cutaways and/or graphic slides. If you are reading a Bible verse, display the Bible verse on the screen (it’s also useful for people who can’t look at their Bible because they’re holding a baby or a physical ailment.) If you have a second camera, focus it on the side of your face, then every 60 seconds, display that camera for 5 seconds.

Lighting – the light on your face needs to be brighter than the light behind you. Don’t stand in front of windows or doors. Instead, let the light from those windows or doors light your face. You can also use lamps on both sides of your camera or, if you’re looking for more professional lighting, a couple of lights like this:

Audio – If I can’t hear what you are saying, I won’t watch. Use a wired or wireless mic to your camera. If you’re using a smartphone, you can also use the bluetooth earbuds.

Bottom line: embracing these best practices in your live or pre-recorded videos will help you establish, maintain and grow connections with your viewers.