A live stream with interesting graphics presented on-screen is a great way to keep your audience informed and engaged. Displaying useful information on the screen makes your live stream look professional. It also enhances the viewer experience by providing information they may need. By applying lower thirds to your church live stream you can increase engagement with helpful details such as lyrics, prayers, and Bible passages.

Without getting too technical, this article will show you how you can, before your next live stream, create professional text overlays, better known as lower thirds. We’ll also share tips on how church live streamers can make use of lower thirds, the different elements of a lower third, and when to use them. 

What are Lower Thirds?

Whether it’s a YouTube video, a sports broadcast, documentary, or a live news stream, you most likely have seen a lower third appear on your screen. A term popularised within the TV industry refers to the non-intrusive graphics that display in the bottom third of the screen. 

Commonly broadcasts use lower thirds to describe information such as the on-screen person’s name. It can also include details like titles, logos, locations, or even a brief sentence or image to describe what the viewer is watching. 

In its basic form, a lower third is a simple text placed over a video. When you watch an interview and a caption pops up with the name of the person, that’s a lower third. The lower third can also contain graphical elements such as boxes, images or shading. Others have animated backgrounds and text.

While the name “lower third” comes from the area that it usually is placed on the screen, in practice the graphic overlay may not necessarily cover just the lower third of the screen. The importance of using the lower part of the screen is because it is generally a safe area that won’t be on the presenter’s face. 

Sample of lyrics on an image to show how to use lower thirds

How do Lower Thirds Work?

Adding a lower thirds text overlay is different from a regular video text caption, due to the fact that it is an “on-air” graphic – overlaid to appear on top of live video content. So displaying of lower thirds in a live stream is actually a two step process of creating the text or image graphic and then displaying it on screen during a live broadcast.

Step 1: Create the graphic

To start you will need to create an image or video file of that you want to display on screen. You can create lower thirds using basic video editing software or professional-level video production systems. For an easy primer on how to create beautiful graphics for digital worship using free web-based tools, read our guide on Church Online

Step 2: Upload graphics to your platform

If you are using multiple graphics, make sure to use a naming convention that is easy to identify. This way, when you upload the graphics to your platform, you can readily find what you need. Preparation in advance is the key to this step.

Step 3: Add the graphic as an overlay

There are multiple ways to overlay graphics, depending on your software solution. This can range from very simple solutions to complex live video production hardware and equipment. In live streaming, the task of adding lower thirds to your live video stream is generally done at the encoder level. In other words, by using the live streaming app.

Fortunately, many modern streaming software encoders have this feature built-in. Typically you can create, add, and manage lower thirds using methods like layering or additional inputs. The software app or equipment is able to determine what parts of the graphic or text should be transparent, allowing the video in the background to show through.

Using Lower Thirds the Right Way

When to Use a Lower Third

In many church streams a lower third is very useful, maybe even necessary to identify a speaker, the name of the passage or song.  It’s especially useful to present your church name or logo on live streams. Church streamers regularly use lower thirds to identify scripture readings and lyrics, announcing donations, phone services and upcoming events. 

Of course, you can use text to communicate nearly any information, but the art lies in deciding whether the information is worth including via a lower third or not.  You want to be sure you do this in a way that is visually appealing but does not distract from the live actions. Start with defining the purpose of the lower third. 

Different Types of Lower Thirds

Different types of lower thirds are often called tiers to define how much information is contained in a lower third.

  • One-tier lower thirds: Usually used to identify a story that is being shown, or to show a presenter’s name. A common example is to list the name of the presenter or cite the source of something, like if a news broadcast shows a sourced clip.
  • Two-tier lower thirds: Used most often to identify a person on screen. Often, the person’s name appears on the first line, with their place of residence or a description below that in a smaller font. Two-tier lower thirds may also be used as “locators” to identify where a story is taking place.
  • Three-tier lower thirds: These lower thirds add more information which can be related or even unrelated to the story. For example, a scrolling feed can show a long body of text or stories, as is common in news programs, to relay longer information on the screen not related to the actual broadcast.

How Long Should Lower Thirds Last?

Standard practice recommends displaying lower thirds for 3 to 6 seconds. This should give the viewer enough time to process what they’re seeing. It’s a good idea to make sure you allow enough time for even the slowest reader to digest the words once they are on screen and before they disappear. 

Keep in mind that the duration would also depend on other factors like the amount of text and the type of event being broadcast. How long a graphic lasts might change based on the content of the shot, and whether the text is part of the spoken word (as a hymn or other passage)

What Should Lower Thirds Look Like?

Although the primary objective of your lower third is to convey information clearly, looking attractive and easy to read is definitely a plus. Let’s run through the main graphical elements that go into a lower third.

Resolution

First thing to know when you get started on creating overlay graphics is the resolution you will be using for your live stream – regular HD quality live streams generally use 1920×1080 resolution so a lower third should be one third of your screen resolution size in height. It’s a good practice to create the graphics in high resolution and then scale it down for when you are using it in your stream. 

Colour

Usually a lower third makes use of white text over a coloured background to enhance readability. Avoid distracting colours and using too many colours in a single graphic or scene. If our church already has a logo, try and stick with the colour scheme of the logo and aim for just one or two colours.  Use contrasting colours between the background graphics and the text. This helps the text stand out. You might want to create templates of colour combinations for ease of use.

Readability

Font choice and character layout are elements where you can really see the difference between a professionally designed lower third, and an amateur effort. Readability is incredibly important for excellent lower thirds, so it’s essential to choose a good font that can be easily read. Avoid the use of loopy, connected and overly ornate fonts. Pay attention also, that the spacing between characters is consistent and readable.

Use a modern sans-serif font like Helvetica Neue, Butler, Kirvy, or Avenir, and if you have a good eye for these things, you can pair two different fonts together. Typeface pairing makes the text highly readable and you may want to refer to some excellent resources online for choosing the right type pair for your project.

Size and Position

While it is the most common way to do it, you don’t have to place your text in the lower third. Be mindful of the situation and position of your subject on the screen. Keeping the rule of thirds symmetry in mind helps with this decision. If you’re interviewing someone and their eye-line is in the upper third, it would be a good idea to place their name in the lower third. The number one consideration is that the overlay should never block something that the viewer needs to see.

Animation

An animated lower third certainly shows the mark of a professional. Professional lower thirds have very smooth movements where the animator has purposefully created smooth movements. But try not to overdo this as you don’t want to distract the viewer.

You can animate any of the elements above — text, logo, words, but always ask yourself if your designs are distracting from the content. Lower thirds that use shapes, typically a thin rectangle, work well with some form of simple animation instead of fading in and out like a text line.

Using a tool like Canva you can add streaming text across animated lower thirds in various styles.

Execution

Executing on a lower third can vary, although many software apps contain built-in ways to add them to your live stream. This includes simple tools to directly add text into an encoder, or more advanced visual options such as bringing in an animated element or an image. Done correctly, live streams with lower thirds look professional and give your congregation more ways to engage with your live stream. 

Now that you know why lower thirds are useful in your live streams, you are ready to make your own! Adding professional lower third text overlays to your church streaming event using a comprehensive solution like Faith Online with built in live streaming lower thirds capability makes lower thirds a breeze to execute.