9 Tips for Preaching Into a Camera

While not the master of video preaching by any stretch, I have learned some things over the past eight weeks that I thought I’d share in case you are looking for some tips. They are born from my own experience and will not apply to every situation. So feel free to pick and choose. Let me know what helps and how you could help me improve this list.

1) Use an external USB HD Camera. 

This is probably not a big revelation, but I recommend not using the camera on your computer because most computer cameras do not record in HD. Some default to VGA (640×480), which is fine for watching on a mobile phone or tablet. But to get decent video quality on a computer or larger screen, you’ll want a camera that records in HD (1280×720). Some newer laptops can broadcast in FHD (1920×1080), which is great quality but may create video lag due to the bandwidth it will require. The sweet spot for a live feed seems to be standard HD.

External USB HD cameras like this one are relatively inexpensive and just plug into the USB port on a laptop. 

NOTE: Be sure to set up your Zoom or FB live feed using the external camera. You’ll need to choose it from the options.

2) Place the camera at eye level. 

You don’t want to be looking down or up into the camera, but straight on, as if having coffee with a friend. This face to face angle may be accomplished by raising the computer on a stack of books or using a small tripod that you may set behind the computer to get the straight-on effect. Most “plug and clip” HD cameras are adjustable, helping you frame yourself in the picture without depending on the angle of the computer screen.

3) Use an external USB microphone.

Ideally, you could use the mic that is embedded into your external HD video camera, but from my experience, that doesn’t work much better than using the built-in computer microphone. If at all possible, you want a mic that is close enough to your mouth that it doesn’t sound like you are in an empty room. I’m not saying that you need to sound professional, but you want to do what you can to avoid being as unprofessional as possible. In other words, don’t let poor sound quality be the stumbling block to your message. Reserve that for the cross. 

External mics can range widely in quality and cost. A simple plugin lavalier mic will do. But if you want to step it up, a good USB condenser mic like this one is a solid choice.

4) Lighting matters. 

Just like preaching behind a pulpit on stage, you want the lighting to work for you not against you. By the way, lighting is not about highlighting yourself in importancebut is about helping someone see and focus. Eye strain is unconscious. Rarely do we thing, “My eyes are having to strain to see the speaker.” Although sometimes we do, like when the brightness is down on our computer and we can’t see the details in a particular movie scene. If it is too dark, eventually we will turn up the brightness. For those “watching” a sermon, eye strain could unconsciously reduce their ability to concentrate on the spoken words. This is why TV and movie directors pay so much attention to lighting. For preaching into a camera, you’ll want to position lights not directly in front of you but to the sides (ideally one brighter or more direct than the other). I’m not talking a spotlight but a gentle illumination that makes your face “stand out” from the background.

While you may use a household lamp (maybe put a white sheet over it to mute the intensity), you may want to consider an inexpensive lamp like this set

5) Background matters.

Concerning background, a simple, warm, inviting living-room feel may be preferable to standing or sitting two feet in front of a bookcase. Not only do you not want the background too close but you’ll want to avoid distracting clutter. People may start reading the titles on the shelves instead of listening to the message. 🙂 

If you are broadcasting from your church sanctuary, maybe you could bring the camera in closer. Maybe bring in some plants to give the room some life, too. Just an idea. 

6) Sit vs stand (if possible). 

This isn’t a huge deal, but it is something I’ve discovered along the way. When I use a stool, I am more relaxed in front of the camera. I’m not as tempted to “perform,” but feel more relaxed and conversational. I think it is totally fine to stand behind a pulpit if you still are able to get the camera close enough for the viewer to feel personally connected. This is where preaching to a camera is different than in an auditorium. At least in a face to face setting, you can see faces and they feel connected through eye contact. 

7) Look into the camera. 

This is hard, especially if you are using notes. Looking straight into a camera is a uniquely vulnerable feeling. You don’t know who is watching or how they are responding. There is no human feedback taking place like there is in live preaching. But I think looking directly into the camera (vs just at the screen) is one of the best ways to make the experience feel

8) Smile. 

Unless the moment calls for the honesty of raw lament, smile as much as possible. This will not be natural for many of us, especially with the awkward medium of video communication. You may need to tape a yellow sticky on your screen with a reminder, “Smile!” 🙂  One of the only direct exhortations I remember my preaching professor telling me after an in-class sermon is this, “McKay, you have a great smile. Use it.” I thought I was special. Only later did I find out that he said that to every student! Thing is, you have a great smile, too. Use it. 

9) Be warm and personal. 

Remember, you are speaking to people in their pajamas. They are drinking coffee out of ceramic mugs. Eating cereal. Some are on the sofa. Others on the floor. They are comfy. This is not a time to be stuffy. Be warm. Be personal. Like you are in their living room. Because you are.

Since you probably wouldn’t yell in their house, it may be wise to avoid excessive volume. Be passionate but with a “controlled” passion. After all, the message of the crucified and risen Jesus is reason to get fired up and celebrate. Just be mindful of the context, and preach the glorious gospel with all your heart, mind, and soul. 

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