Framing and lighting tips for professional videos



Get ready for your close-up

By Richard Hong | Presbyterians Today
Man checking photography lights

Aditya Wardhana/Unsplash

As I’ve watched various church livestreams, there are two recurring issues that I’ve noticed in the videos. These issues involve framing — the visual that fills the digital screen of the device a person is viewing from — and lighting. Let’s talk framing first.

When it comes to framing, I see many churches use a shot that is too wide, making the speaker appear like a tiny speck in the frame. Remember that most people attend online worship using a device with a relatively small screen — a laptop, a tablet or a phone. If the speaker doesn’t fill the frame, they appear to be too distant.

Some church leaders choose a wide shot because they want to replicate the field of view that a person has if they are sitting in the sanctuary. But the difference is that when you’re sitting in the sanctuary, the sanctuary fills your field of view. At home, the viewer’s device is occupying only a small portion of the field of view. What will fill the rest of a person’s view is the room that person is in. So, if the image on the device is small, it will be “swallowed up” by the room.

Another reason to use a wide shot is that the speaker moves too much. Unfortunately, the solution is to get the speaker to agree to move less. As a preacher, this was hard for me to adapt to, especially since I do not preach from behind a pulpit. But there are techniques you can use to help your preacher. A church once gave me a tour of their facility, and they explained that they had a hard time keeping their pastor within camera range. They finally took a padded, rubberized kitchen mat and put it on stage. The pastor could feel it under his feet, and he knew that if he was on the mat, he was within camera range. I use a Velcro strip on our church’s platform and keep my left foot on the strip. That keeps me in the frame of a relatively tight shot. And a tight shot is what you want as it gives viewers a greater feeling of eye contact with the speaker and makes them more relatable.

The other common issue I have noticed in digital worship is a poorly lit subject. The basic lighting scheme for photography of any kind is called “three-point lighting.” You always want to position the lights higher than the subject and never directly from the front.

The three-point lighting scheme looks like this: Imagine the speaker standing on a clock dial, facing 6 o’clock (so 12 o’clock is directly behind the speaker). The first light is called the “key light” and is placed either at the 5 o’clock position or the 7 o’clock position. This is the main light for illuminating the subject.

The second light is called the “fill light,” and it is placed at the 4 o’clock position or the 8 o’clock position on the opposite side of the key light. The fill light should be less bright than the key light. Its job is to fill in any shadows created by the key light.

The third light is the “back light,” and it should be at the 1 o’clock or 11 o’clock position, on the same side as the key light, shining on the subject’s hair (it is sometimes called a “hair light”). This light makes the subject “pop” off the background, illuminating the speaker’s contours.

By getting light on a subject from three directions, you get balanced lighting with a minimum of shadows, and the subject doesn’t blend into the background.

A final word about lighting: If you are not able to add lights near the subject, you can often improve the look by illuminating the wall behind the speaker. LED bars are inexpensive (under $100) and can be positioned on the floor shining up on the wall behind the speaker. They are also color-capable, and sometimes a nice pastel color can make a drab background much more interesting, greatly improving the look of your livestream. A visually compelling livestream will capture and hold people’s attention more effectively. And ultimately, that’s what we want our livestreams to achieve.

Richard Hong is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Englewood, New Jersey. If you have questions or a topic you would like him to explore, email him at

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