Live Streaming: The Basics

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In my last article, I discussed the basics of live streaming worship services.  Now comes the fun part!  It’s time to decide how you will capture your service to share with your audience. Since there are literally thousands of different possibilities,

There are three key factors when making decisions about how you want to capture your service. Lighting— Camera—Sound.

Why are these important? Poor lighting and/or cameras can make it hard for the viewer to see the stream, which can disengage your audience. Poor audio quality will make it difficult for your listeners to hear, which can also cause your audience to disengage. Think of it like the old saying, “If a church does a live stream and no one sees it or hears it… did it really happen?” Audience engagement is key!  We will look at all of these factors and more in our scenario.

(For the sake of clarity, I will not be covering live streaming from a smartphone or tablet.)

Your sound system was installed when Ronald Regan was still president and the only lighting control you have is “Lights on” or Lights off.” While this is probably a little extreme with the minimal starting point, it’s a great place to start.  Let’s look at our three factors.

Factor 1 – Lighting: 

God has given us the best source of light there is—the sun.  Use it.  If you have adequate natural lighting in your worship space, then no additional lights may be needed.  If you do need to add lighting, follow the 45 up 45 out technique.  That means your lights should be placed 45 degrees above and 45 degrees to the right and left of the central focal point.  You can read about more in depth lighting techniques here. The main goal with lighting is to be able to make the speaker clearly visible against the background.

Factor 2 – Sound:

There are several things to consider when it comes to sound, but since we are talking basics in this series, I’m going to boil it down to three things (apparently I like groups of three).

  1. You need to be able to hear the preacher. If you can’t clearly hear the person preaching then you will lose your audience very quickly.
  2. You need to be able to hear the room. If the only sound coming through the stream is from your pastor’s microphone, it creates a very isolated experience watching a service.  When watching/listening to the live feed you want the viewer/listener to be able to feel like as if they are in the room with everyone else. Ambient noise from the room is very important.  But make sure you have the right balance, for the sermon you want around 80% pastor and 20% room.
  3. If you are going to stream the music, make sure you can hear everything clearly in the microphones. The microphone that you use to capture the room sounds should suffice for this but, you will want to make sure.  Also, make sure you have the proper licensing to be able to broadcast your music.  You do not want to break any copyright laws!  CCLI is a common license for contemporary worship, but every church does music a little different so you will need to make sure your music is covered for broadcasting.

Sound can be as complicated or as simple as you want it to be.  I would start simple and then add to it as you become more comfortable.

Factor 3 – Camera:

In keeping with the three main things thread, here are the big three questions for cameras.

  1. Where are you going to put it? You want to be able to clearly see the speaker at all times. The farther away you get, the harder it will be to see.  A lot of lower end HDMI cameras offer both optical and digital zoom.  If you don’t know what that means: Basically, Optical Zoom is how far a camera can zoom with the lens that is in the camera.  Digital Zoom is taking the image that is captured by the lens and making it larger digitally.  You can often get more zoom for you buck with digital, but it creates a very shaky and unstable image when you have to move the camera.  I recommend positioning the camera close enough that you do not need to use the additional digital zoom.
  2. How many do you need? In this scenario one camera mounted on a tripod and operated manually would more than suffice.
  3. Does it have an HDMI or SDI output? You will need at a minimum an HDMI output coming from the camera you are using. This is the standard High Definition cable that will be needed for hooking your camera up to a video mixer and/or encoder.

Final Thoughts

One of the most important things you can do when implementing anything new is research! The Internet is a great tool, but can quickly get unnecessarily technical and narrow in focus. I recommend reaching out to a local university, school, or theatre that utilizes lighting, sound, and/or cameras in a live environment. Visit with them. Ask questions. Ask for help. You may be surprised how willing people are to share their knowledge.

In our next article we will talk about how to get your captured video and audio to your audience.

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Ben Shaw is a musician, designer, writer, and a self-proclaimed techno guru. He works as the modern worship director at First United Methodist Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. He has been leading worship in one way or another for over 20 years and has a passion for the many ways technology can be used in worship environments.

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