Tips for Effective Use of IMAG

My experience using image magnification (IMAG) in worship began way back in 1994. I started serving that year at one of the largest churches in America, First Baptist Church of Orlando. Two years earlier, the church had purchased a new in-house television system, complete with a rear screen video projector, in its 5,000-seat worship center. The brightest video projector available at the time, a GE “Talaria” was installed.

As I recall, it produced a whopping 2,500 lumens, less than a quarter of the brightness that size room calls for today; and a skilled technician was required to “tweak it” about once a month for it to maintain a decent image. But, despite the primitive nature of the new technology, I was fortunate to have been one of the early adopters of the use of IMAG in worship. There wasn’t a lot of precedent at that time, so we were breaking new ground.

With today’s much brighter and much cheaper video projectors, IMAG has become common in many, if not most, houses of worship. Of course, a minority of churches use projection for the live “re-imaging” of the worship leaders and the preacher with a video camera, the practice for which “image magnification” got its name. But the projection of song lyrics, Scripture, photos, videos, and other supporting graphics is now a staple in the realm of worship technology.

Whether your church is using video projection from a single source for graphics and video, or from multiple sources, including live camera re-imaging, here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years about effective use of IMAG in worship.

Don’t re-image if the room doesn’t call for it.

Even though you may have a single camera routed into your projector through a switcher of some kind, I’ve found that putting the camera on the screens should not be done just because you can.

If the room is small enough that projecting the pastor on the screen doesn’t significantly help the people in the back to see his facial expressions better, then just don’t do it. It can become more of a distraction than a help, especially if your camera is not equipped with “studio configuration,” that is, the tools to make panning, zooming, and focusing simple and smooth from a set of rear tripod handle controls. Nothing is worse than an unnecessary live video image from a camera that’s awkwardly trying to follow the subject.

IMAG can become more of a distraction than a help.

By the way, I’m sure there are industry-standard ratios for when live re-imaging should be employed; but a simple rule-of-thumb is that if, from the back of the room, the image on the screen does not significantly improve your ability to see the pastor’s facial expressions, it’s probably not needed. If it is needed, avoid framing it so wide that it doesn’t look much closer than the person on the stage. Make sure you can zoom in to a good chest, shoulders, and head shot. If you can see the pastor’s knees, it’s too wide for IMAG.

Keep live camera shots simple.

If your room is large enough and if you have a multi-camera system, I suggest keeping the camera switching to a minimum. Each church will develop its own IMAG standards, which can actually become part of your worship culture; but my philosophy is that if the activity on the screens becomes a distraction, you’re switching too much. Like many types of technology, it’s most effective when it’s virtually “invisible.”

At our church, we believe in this approach so much that we don’t re-image the music portion of the service, only speech. We use full-screen lyrics graphics during congregational singing and presentational music. Our long-time worship minister believes this keeps the focus on the words of the songs and not the personalities delivering them. It would seem the only reason to re-image the singing is to give the congregation a more “TV-like” experience. But, I would argue that’s not the goal of video projection in a worship experience. The purpose of IMAG is to improve communication, not to entertain or even to “keep it interesting.”

The purpose of IMAG is to improve communication.

So, if the goal of worship is participation, I think making the words of the music the focus rather than those singing them is the way to go. I do believe an exception to this is when a solo is being delivered, in which case the soloist, as a worship leader, can convey the spirit of worship through facial expressions, which can be supported by IMAG. A solo is like a sermon delivered through music, so focusing on the person delivering that message would be appropriate.

Now to the preacher. I’ve always used the philosophy of a single-camera shot of the pastor during the sermon. That’s right, no switching cameras during the sermon. I know this may not be typical; but if you have a center-line camera, and if your pastor is not constantly turning to an extreme profile view, then a single, head-on shot is sufficient. Changing cameras every few seconds, I believe, is a distraction.

You have to remember that you don’t need to switch IMAG like a television show. The viewers are in the room, and they can see the action on the stage and the environment in the room. They don’t have to see head-to-toe shots of the pastor or cut-aways to other parts of the room. They are already there. All they need is to have the subject brought closer to them.

Now, you do want to change cameras if you’re producing your video for television or online streaming, and maybe even for an overflow room. So, if you only have one output from your switcher that must serve both broadcast and IMAG, you may want to consider taking the next step in production value by dividing the sources. The alternative is to stick with the tight shot of the pastor during the sermon, even if that means the external viewer will only see that one shot. I think in that case, the priority is the in-house experience.

Treat the graphics computer like an instrument.

What I mean by this is that the lyrics operator should be sensitive to the timing and pace of advancing to the next slide when projecting music lyrics. I know every worship leader is terrified that the operator will be late advancing to the next slide and that they, and the congregation, will be left hanging while the instrumentalists have moved on. Yes, it’s important to stay ahead; but I believe too early an advance is as bad as one that’s too late. It’s like an instrument playing the wrong note at the wrong time. Just like there’s a rhythm to the music, there’s a rhythm that must be found with the lyrics changing to the next slide.

It’s hard to describe exactly what that rhythm is, but it’s like the saying goes, “you know it when you see it.” I believe there’s a “sweet spot” to be found that advances the slide just early enough for everyone to move on to the next line, but late enough that it doesn’t feel that you’re trying to finish singing a phrase while your mind is being forced on to the next set of words.

There’s a rhythm that must be found with lyrics changes.
By the way, to mitigate the “too late” factor for the worship leaders, many lyrics software packages now allow for a second output in which the confidence monitors (the screens the worship leaders are looking at) can include the next slide’s first line at the bottom of their screen.

Similarly to the rhythm idea, I think the way you end a song or go into a transition with a musical interlude is important. In these cases, where the song has ended or the next lyric is not being sung immediately, there’s absolutely no need to advance before the musical cut-off.  To me, this feels like an instrument has just decided to stop playing before the song is over. Just hold that last slide until the cut-off, then a nice fade to black or dissolve to a blank slide during an interlude will feel just right.

Use cuts and dissolves appropriately.

This is one of the simplest, yet most misused techniques I’ve seen. Most quality switchers have the ability to dissolve between sources or just make a hard “cut” between them. Same with graphics software; they can dissolve from one slide to the next, or just cut.

For song lyrics, follow the tempo of the music. If it’s a fast-paced, up-tempo song, use cuts between slides. If it’s a slow-tempo song, use dissolves. Nothing’s worse than an upbeat song with slow dissolves between the slides. And, by the way, a fast dissolve is not a substitute for a cut. It just looks awkward. If you’re tempted to use a fast dissolve, just use a cut.

Nothing’s worse than an upbeat song with slow dissolves.

For cameras, the same is true. I already mentioned that for IMAG, camera changes should be minimal. But they are necessary, for example, when two or more people are on stage at the same time. This may happen in an interview situation, or when you need to make an immediate transition from one person or scene to another. In these cases, when it’s basic speech, use only cuts. Dissolves should only be used when a mood or tone is changing, say from a prayer time to a baptism. If it’s simply the worship leader pitching to the pastor, or the pastor interviewing a missionary, never dissolve between the camera shots; use cuts!

Conclusion

As I mentioned earlier in the post, your standards for IMAG use will decidedly become part of your worship culture. Most of these standards I’ve outlined are subjective. I do believe there are some basic, industry-standard dos and don’ts; but ultimately you need to do what fits your church’s worship culture. These things I’ve listed are what I’ve found to be most effective, but they’re not absolutes. Work with your worship leaders and your pastor, keeping in mind what the options are, and make an informed decision on how to best support your worship experience with IMAG.

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