By now, the majority of churches are doing some sort of video production work. Pastors see value in having creative videos for introducing their sermon topic, or as illustrations of the points they are making as they go along. Church announcements can usually be handled far more effectively and in less time via video, and they can then be used throughout the week on their website or on monitors in the lobby to remind people of what's happening in the life of their church. And more and more churches are streaming their services to the internet and making them available to view during the week.
"At Grace Fellowship here in Kinston, North Carolina," music minister Kent Henderson says, "we've just recently begun to incorporate video production work, and we're currently doing it at a more beginner's level. We range from doing short bumper videos as a transition into the message or a message series, to doing quick videos that our small groups use in their homes to introduce that week's discussion topic."
However, pastors don't always realize what is involved in creating these videos. The purpose of this article is to explain both why videos can be expensive and time consuming to produceand why church videos frequently don't look very good.
How Good Should It Be?
The first question that's worth asking before we get into details is "just how good do my church's videos need to be?" Mark Hanna, a video production professional and video volunteer for Hope Community Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, put forth a great answer to this question.
"Quality should be determined by audience," Hanna comments. "If you’re going to have a lot of guests at your house, you will do your best to make it look as nice and welcoming as possible. If you're just having a few close friends over, you probably aren't going to be as concerned about whether the floors are spotless and the house is completely dusted. Likewise with video, if the intended audience is broad and you want to make the best impression possible, you want your videos to reflect this and be of high quality. If it's intended as something informal for your core church family, the same investment probably isn't necessary."
Henderson agrees with that sentiment. "Sunday morning is the heartbeat of the church. If what you present in your service isn't done with excellence, it sets the tone for how your church is perceived. However, if it’s a quick thing for social media like a little update on what's happening in the life of the church, something quick and of lower quality is fine."
That being said, age plays into this as well. "The youth pastor at our church would frequently shoot a quick video on an inexpensive camera or iPhone for use in his youth program," explains Roger Hobbs, videographer with GrapeCity but also a video production volunteer for Green Level Baptist church in Cary, North Carolina. "These videos are very entertaining, and that style of video is something that kids watch all the time at home. It works fine for this purpose."
Let's start with capturing video. If you use your basic consumer video camera for shooting your subjects, you will frequently get footage that looks like a home video. If you want the videos coming out of your media team to look good, they have to be able to start with video that looks good.
"A pro-sumer grade camera is really the best way to go," states Hanna. "At this point in time, don't bother buying a tape-based camera. Something that records to CF or SD flash memory cards is best and the most convenient."
"In situations where I would not have time to do a proper setup and take time to get a sharp focus with a good camera, I've used a more inexpensive camera (around $1,000), and that can work OK," adds Hobbs. "but it would look terrible in a more studio-like environment where you are video-recording a testimonial or interview as a green-screen shoot."
Equally important is the audio you capture.
"We learned early on to not use the built-in camera microphone," says Henderson. "We try to use a lav mic attached to the person whenever possible."
Cameras are much needier than the human eyeball in terms of how much light they need in order to "see" well. If you're looking for the highest-quality video capture results, it's rare that just using whatever light that exists in a room will give you great video results. Bringing in a lighting kit designed for video work and lighting the "talent" for video capture, as well as lighting what's behind them that the camera will see, makes a world of difference in how good your video looks. The goal is to reduce the contrast and get the room lit evenly, as well as putting backlight on the person you are shooting so that their hair and shoulders (basically their outline) is lit a little brighter and makes the person "pop" off the background.
"It's not just the video and the lighting that makes a difference," comments Henderson. "It's the script writing and planning. When you look at what comes out of churches like Northpoint, that's a big part of the quality."
While you can pull off a video by flying by the seat of your pants, really impactful videos take planning. How do you want the video to look? What message are you conveying? What are the best visuals to communicate that message? For each shot (and even a short video could have dozens of shots), should that shot be from a tripod, handheld, on a dolly to add some side-to-side camera motion, or a camera jib, to get more 3D camera motion? Is it a close up or a wide shot? What should be in the background of the shot? What equipment do you need to pull it off? If you don't have the equipment needed and can't rent it, is there a way to simulate it? Planning out the details can take many hours, if not days, to create a really effective video.
"As a volunteer, I’d like to have a couple of weeks just to write scripts, schedule shoots, work around conflicts in scheduling, getting together with those who asked for the video as well as other creative people to plan out the video concept," comments Hobbs. "If you need to borrow or rent equipment, this also takes time to arrange."
The editing and special-effects part of the project is called Post Production, and that's often even more time consuming than the pre-production work. If you're goal is something simple and plain, no, it doesn't take long. If you are looking for fancy motion graphics and special effects, or you're working with poor quality source material, it's a large time investment.
"The time it takes to edit a video where motion graphics and special effects are desired can vary radically," says Hobbs. "Creating a special effect or graphics, and the amount of time it takes to render just so you can see if it works, can be significant. One short segment could take anywhere from hours to days of work to accomplish."
To pull it all together, let me give you an example from a recent project I did for my church. We do an Upward Soccer program every fall, and the leadership likes to do a wrap-up video at the end. I shot video for three Saturday mornings at the program using two cameras, collecting about 12 hours of footage. The next step was to review the footage and extract interesting clips. That review process took about 10 hours. Selecting some royalty-free music that worked well for the video probably took about 30 minutes. Editing took eight hours, with adding some motion graphics special effects for the intro and ending. Altogether, with the time spent in general overhead of pulling gear together, copying media, etc, it was probably a 36 hour project to produce a five minute wrap-up video; and this project didn't require much for planning or fancy editing skills.
Between cameras, tripod, editing software and computer hardware, $14,000 of equipment was used. If this project was for a paying client instead of my church, it would have been about a $4,000 project.
Bringing it all Together
"If a church is looking to invest money in video equipment," states Hobbs, "you have to get the idea of hundreds of dollars out of your head. It’ll be an investment of thousands of dollars for an initial setup adequate for high-quality testimonial and interview videos."
Hanna concurs. "By the time you get a decent camera, a good tripod, a lighting kit, and microphones, you're likely looking at $8,000-$10,000 in purchases."
"The best way to determine what your investment needs to be is to find someone in your congregation or community that does video at a professional level. Have that person evaluate what you've done to date, discuss your needs and dreams, and help determine what makes sense for your church" says Hobbs and adds, "Each situation is unique."
"Poor production quality can be a big distraction in video," summarizes Henderson. "And your video is only going to be as good as your weakest link. However, there also needs to be a balance. A church that says everything needs to be of the highest quality can unintentionally send the message that only professionals can help out. There does need to be a balance between quality sought for a project and the need to be inclusive and let people help."
Consumer Cameras: Consumer cameras, what you might find in a big-box retail store, are lower cost cameras that typically have poor optics (resulting in a less-sharp image), and a lack of easily-used manual controls. They are designed to obtain video clips by making most decisions automatically, which can provide decent results in ideal circumstances, but often poor results in less than ideal circumstances. They are designed with the assumption that the person running the camera knows little, if anything, about video capture.
Lighting for Video: Lighting for video is different than lighting for live performances in that you try to reduce the contrast in the scenes to get the best results for the video camera.
Post Production: The process of taking the video you've captured during the production part of a project and editing it, adding special effects and graphics, etc. Everything that's involved with turning the footage into a final video product
Professional Cameras: Pro cameras have superior lenses resulting in sharper images, and a plethora of manual controls allowing the videographer to adjust the camera to get the best results in even poor circumstances.
Pro-sumer Cameras: A camera that is on the very low end of professional cameras or high end of consumer cameras. They tend to have a number of professional features, but not enough to bring them up to the professional level. They also don't have the optical clarity of a professional camera.