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Video On A Budget: Account for Strengths, Weaknesses of Gear

Video On A Budget: Account for Strengths, Weaknesses of Gear

A mentor once told me that it's not hard to get Hollywood results on a Hollywood budget. It's much harder to deliver on limited resources, but it is not impossible.

I've been selling professional video services for almost 16 years, and when I'm dealing with a customer new to media production, I sometimes hear a comment like, "I just need it really simple and cheap; just 60 seconds. How expensive can that be?"

For many churches, a new camera or editing computer needs to last several years.

If I'm feeling playful, I'll turn my head toward them in a moment of thoughtful reflection, thinking hard for just a moment, before saying "$8 million."

Sometimes they laugh, sometimes it's a pause and a shocked look, but they almost always respond, "You can't be serious?"

"$8 million is what the most expensive 60-second Super Bowl ad cost this year. I understand you don't want to spend that much, but a lot can go into 60 seconds of finished video." (That ad was for Jaguar, by the way.)

As I told my pastor long ago, a media budget can be a pit without a bottom. As soon as you think you have finally achieved state-of-the-art, the state-of-the-art changes, and you suddenly find that you have what now seems like old junk, that needs to be replaced.

Unless you really are working with Hollywood budgets, it's just not possible to get the new, hot camera every year.

For many churches, a new camera or editing computer needs to last several years. And yes, sometimes we must make do for a while with what might be seen as an old system.

In my church, Crossroads Community Church, new camera equipment has been an ongoing discussion item over the past four years. Our current camera is nearing 10 years old. It's a DV tape camera and is HD, but was released in that awkward phase before HDMI had become standard.

Practically, that camera has always been a good camera, but the workflow has become increasingly challenging as the years have gone by. Also, it has good optics and looks great when the lighting is under control, but if used in either sunlit or low light conditions, it doesn't translate color very well, at least compared to current standards.

But we do have a great video program, despite this being our only camera. You can return great results on a budget.

There is a three-phase process that can refocus your thinking on results. It mirrors the normal production process of writing, shooting and editing.

Let's call it CAM: Care, Aim and Maximize.

Careful Planning

When coming up with your video, before considering the appropriate technology, you should first figure out what needs to be achieved. That can be done either through checking your script and storyboards or understanding what you need to do to show your service in a live video. Knowing that gives you a goal and criteria for success.

Once that is established, you can then consider maximizing the strengths of your tech and minimizing its weaknesses. As I mentioned, my camera functions well under ideal lighting conditions, but not as well outside or in low light. A good first step in careful planning, therefore, is to avoid shooting in those conditions, if it can at all be prevented. If the script calls for shooting outside, then I need to ask my team if the shot is totally necessary, or if there is something else we can do.

Aim For Your Target

A plan is great, but as any seasoned hand will tell you, once you get in the field, the plan needs to adapt.

As you adapt, keep your aim firmly on the goals you set. Remember, however challenging, you are not aiming for a moving target. The goals you set before the shoot, are still the goals you are trying to achieve.

For example, another opportunity to maximize strengths on a shoot is with camera placement. Don't be inhibited by the way you've always done it. For instance, at many churches, the quality of the zoom lens can really determine the quality of the end product. Especially with consumer grade cameras, digital zoom can really harm the overall quality of the video.

Placing the camera at an appropriate focal length from the subject to avoid digital zoom can really improve the overall picture. Just moving the camera to a different angle or depth can really minimize a weakness.

Here is an opportunity to adjust your aim: What works better to suit your needs, the direct angle that forces you to use digital zoom, or the closer side angle that changes what you see, but keeps the picture quality?

Back in your planning meeting, did you ask what was most important? Both have positives and negatives. Don't fear trying it out, and then asking for opinions.

Maximize the Results

We have an annual community cleanup project called, "We Love Our City," that necessitates shooting video outside. It's a big event, and requires more than one camera team to catch everything. While we do borrow a camera from our local public access station, we still need to use our old camera. It just doesn't deliver the color or intensity a more modern camera can, in those settings. Even though it has more limited capabilities and a less impressive lens, it's five years more modern, and it gets the colors to sing in a way only a modern camera can.

When editing, how do we maximize every shot regardless of the camera that is used? In this case, we incorporate a lot of filters and a rough, gritty editing aesthetic. We are an urban church, and the project itself deals with things like graffiti, the cleanup of areas known for drug abuse and homeless camps, and the needs of kids growing up in a city with some challenges.

We employ a lot of color filters, which add a colorful and thematic orange tone to the footage. These filters also conceal the color problems on our in-house camera. In addition, we style the videos with quick cuts, dutch angles, and filters that emulate old TV scan lines. Like a magician, we want the audience looking at one thing while we do another; focused on the message, and less so on the actual footage.

If you don't have a theme that lends itself to this style, is there another type of filter that helps your footage? It doesn't have to be super obvious and garish. Maybe a subtle saturation boost or a soft contrast might be all you need. The editing provides a way to both reinforce our theme and maximize our footage.


A mentor once told me that it's not hard to get Hollywood results on a Hollywood budget. They can afford the best gear, the best talent, the best technicians. When you have all those things, all you really need to do is keep out of the way and not screw it up.

It's much harder to deliver on limited resources, but neither is it impossible.

Conceal flaws. Emphasize positives. Change lives.

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