CTA Classroom - IMAG Essentials

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by Mike Sessler, ChurchTechArts.org

I’ve been thinking about IMAG (Image Magnification) lately. We currently use IMAG at Coast Hills, and I’ve done a ton of it during my career. As I read through the stack of church production type magazines I get each month, it is clear more churches are moving into the IMAG arena. It makes sense, as worship rooms get larger (it seems that 2000+ room are becoming more common), there is a need to help those in the service see those on the platform. I’ve shot 200 some concerts as well as a few dozen other events, and here are few things I learned along the way.

The image on the screen should be bigger than in real life.
Seems obvious, right? But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked up at the screen and noticed that the image of the speaker is smaller than the speaker is in real life. The reason is simple:

Directing for IMAG is different than directing for a tape or broadcast mix. Most directors (and camera ops) are uncomfortable staying as tight as they need to for effective IMAG. There is a tendency to pull out and show the overall scene. But think about this—if you’re seated 150? from the platform, you already see the overall scene; what you want is a close up of the speaker so you can see their facial expressions.

The other challenge with staying as tight as we need to has to do with lenses. Long telephoto lenses are expensive, but they are necessary to getting a useful shot. My rule of thumb is this: A standard IMAG shot needs to be head to waist or closer. Ideally, you should be able to go head and shoulders. If all you can get is a head to foot, you will not have an effective IMAG experience (unless you have mammoth screens).

Shot selection should make sense.
If you’re shooting a speaker who stands at a podium, you really don’t need to keep switching shots. I’ve sat through events shot with 5 cameras, and because there were 5 cameras there, the director felt the need to use all five, all the time. Again, consider the goal of IMAG—to show distant viewers a close up of the speaker. Cutting back and forth between cameras for no reason is distracting.

If the speaker walks the front of the platform, having three cameras, house left, center and right, will allow you the opportunity to cut to the camera that the speaker is facing. But if the speaker pauses at stage left, don’t switch to the house left (stage right) camera just to “change it up.”

If you are shooting a worship team or a band, the focus of the IMAG should be the worship leader or lead singer. Having multiple stationary cameras in the house allow you to highlight different instruments or other vocalists occasionally, and adding a handheld stage camera makes that more effective. However, keep in mind that the people in the congregation didn’t come to see a close up of the bass guitar player’s fingers. That can be a very cool shot—for a second or two between phrases of a song. But please, don’t spend an entire verse there (unless you are using instruments as a background for lyrics, which is a whole different style).

When cutting a worship team, the cuts should follow the music. A soulful rendition of Amazing Grace doesn’t require (or benefit from) 30 cuts a minute. However, an upbeat tune like Dancing Generation could be enhanced by a few extra cuts here and there.

IMAG and broadcast mixes are different and need to be treated as such.
There is a temptation to combine the two functions, IMAG for the worship center and a “broadcast” mix for the in-house CCTV network for cry rooms, or hallway monitors. This is rarely optimal, however. As mentioned previously, IMAG needs to be close up shots. A broadcast mix needs a mix of closeups and establishing shots. For years I was stage camera op for a music festival in Ohio. We were supposed to be there for IMAG—our shots were projected onto huge 30? screens for those at the back of the 10,000 person crowd. However, the director wanted to make live concert videos. They looked great when we watched the tapes at home, but the crowd was gypped. That wide sweeping shot of the crowd that moved up to the stage (using the 30? crane) looked really cool, but the poor folks in the back already had that view. They wanted to see Toby Mac, not the people in the first 15 rows.

It sounds like I’m repeating myself, and I am. It’s important to think of IMAG as IMAG and broadcast as broadcast (regardless of how it’s “broadcast”).

Regardless of what you’re shooting, or how you’re mixing, you need the right equipment. Few things are more frustrating than trying to pull together a good video mix using equipment that was not designed for it. In a future post, I’ll give you some of my thoughts on the equipment you’ll need if you want to get into live video.

To read more of the CTA Classroom series, click here.