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10 Steps to Building a Photo Team at Your Church

10 Steps to Building a Photo Team at Your Church

My desire is to help you create and capture moving and memorable moments. Today I want to give you 10 steps to build a photo team at your church. Now you might not work in the church or non-profit world but don’t worry, if you lead or work with volunteer and professional photographers, these steps will apply to you. The reason we want to build a photo team is because the church has the most important message to communicate – that everyone is unfathomably loved by God. So the church needs the best communication tools to convey that message. And great photos are one of those communication tools.

1. Form & Understand Your Team

If you don’t you will get burned out. A team will also allow you to capture multiple events at the same time or multiple angles at the same event. So form a team of volunteer photographers. If you’re a gifted photographer, then feel free to shoot alongside your team but don’t feel compelled too. Your leadership of the team is more important than your participation with the team. Both are ideal, but if you have to pick one, then pick leadership. After you have formed your team, get to know them. I like to divide photographers into two broad categories – photographers that like to take pictures of people or things. If you need architectural photos of your building then line up a “things” photographer. If you need to capture guests at an event, then get your “people” photographer. Since the majority of church photography involves guests, you will want more “people” photographers on your team. A good way to know which categories your photographer are in is to check out their Instagram feed. I once had a photographer say he loved to shoot people, but when I check out his feed, it was all cars. So form a volunteer team and get to know them.

2. Prepare Your Team

Once you’ve formed your team make sure they know their gear and your expectations. Create a document for team members that includes a basic job description, best practices and camera settings (shutter). Then take the next step and have them prepare each other. Invite the team to share their pictures with one another and offer insights and tips for enhancing and improving skills. If you have potential team members that can’t join then consider purchasing a church camera. A low investment in a basic DSLR with a kit lens can have a high return. The church camera can be used to onboard new photographers. After they have learned the basics they will naturally want to purchase their own higher end camera. At which point, after which you can start the process all over again with another new photographer.

3. Plan Your Shots

Look at your event’s agenda and think about the must have photos. Then lead and direct your photographers by giving them a shot list of must have photos. This will give them confidence that they are capturing the photos you need. For example, if your church is doing a Christmas tree lighting ceremony you’ll want to capture the tree dark, the tree illuminated (hallelujah), and reactions to the lighting. Provide at least 10 ideas on your shot list and encourage your photographers to look for additional shots as well.

Look at your event’s agenda and think about the must have photos. Then lead and direct your photographers by giving them a shot list of must have photos. This will give them confidence that they are capturing the photos you need. For example, if your church is doing a Christmas tree lighting ceremony you’ll want to capture the tree dark, the tree illuminated (hallelujah), and reactions to the lighting. Provide at least 10 ideas on your shot list and encourage your photographers to look for additional shots as well.

4. Tell Linear Storylines

The most natural storyline when posting photos to social media or a website is straightforward. So make sure your photos tell a basic story with a beginning, middle and end. This chronological approach might feel formulaic, but it works, especially for people that didn’t attend the event. The time to deviate from this basic three act story structure would be for events that don’t have a structure, like a pool party (splash). So if the event is organized, then organize your photos. If it is free flowing then loosen your album structure. Either way, the framework of your album should reflect the framework of your event.

5. Establishing & Concluding Shots

Remember to get establishing and concluding shots to frame the event. The only way to get these photos is to show up early and leave late. These photos answer two important questions – what did the event look like when it started and what did it look like when it stopped. These shots also place the event in a storyline when you post them in an album on Facebook or your church website. Without these establishing and concluding shots the viewer will either feel like they came to the party late or left early (ahh).

6. Get A Range Of Compositions & Perspectives

Make sure to capture a range of compositions. Get close-up, medium & wide shots. When you see an intimate moment, move closer to capture that intimacy. Moving closer highlights the subject matter of your photo and eliminates distracting background elements. Also, capture a range of perspectives. Get under, over, behind, beside & close to your subject. If the subject seems boring from your current perspective then change it to make it more dynamic. Photograph the same scene horizontally and vertically. Changing your camera from the horizontal to the vertical position depicts the same scene with a fresh perspective. Our eyes are drawn to images and angles that we don’t normally see, so capture those unique perspectives by incorporating a range of compositions & perspectives.

7. Get A Range Of People

Capturing a range of people helps you avoid shooting just the photogenic people. And in turn, it helps you showcase that your church is for everybody. Not just the young, hip and beautiful. So try to capture the widest range of people present at your events. Capture couples, singles, young, old, men, women, even babies (crying). If your photographer doesn’t capture a range of people, you can quickly tell who their friends are, or even worst, who their secret crush is. So if you’re gonna use the camera as a flirtation device, try to be subtle.

8. Candid Not Posed

Make sure to take candid and not posed photos. This is a pet peeve so allow me to get on my soapbox. Candid photos also are more interesting and lively that posed photos. Posed photos focus on how the individual looks. Candid photos focus on what the individual is doing. We want more photos of what God is doing than how we are looking (amen). The other big downside of posed photos is the comment section. If you post posed photos then the comments on social media can digress into a back-and-forth of who looks more adorable. Taking candid photos can be tricky because people might think you want them to pose. If they do, I like to tell them “keep doing their thing and pretend I’m not here”. In a minute they will go back to being themselves and you can go back to taking great candid photos.

9. Shoot For Emotion

Most of the photos a church will use will be ones that demonstrate the life-changing power of Christ. So try to capture that emotion and power. If you want to capture joy, take photos of baptisms. When people come out of the water they are smiling from cheek to cheek. If you want to capture peace, take photos of your candlelight service. Seeing a darkened room full of worship eliminated by candlelight evokes unity. If you want to capture boredom, take photos of the annual church meeting (crickets). The best way to shoot for emotions is to be observant. Be observant for key moments that are loaded with emotion like surprise, happiness, and peace. Or better yet, anticipate moments that are about to happen so that you can position yourself to capture them. This anticipation means that you need to think through upcoming shots even as you’re taking your current shot. This is a difficult skill to master but once you do, you’ll be able to capture key emotions.

10. Find Faces Fast

Not only do you have to find someone’s face, you need to capture it in a flattering expression. Notice that I didn’t same natural expression. Often times our natural expression is not flattering. Mine included. It usually defaults to a frown. Trying to capture a speaker when their face looks right is a unique challenge. The best time to do this is at the end of a sentence. Most people freeze their face at the end of a sentence to convey the emotional tone of what they’ve just said, before moving onto the next sentence. This frozen moment is about a quarter of a second so I usually like to shoot on burst mode to try and capture it.

So those are 10 steps to build a photo team at your church. Hopefully, these steps will help you showcase what God is doing in and through you. Send an email to benstapley@gmail.com and let me know what steps I missed. I would love to hear from you and learn from you. I would also love to connect on social media so look me up. Starting a photo team takes a little bit of effort but the impact it will have is huge. So start your team, or grow your team, today.

About The Author

Ben Stapley

Ben has a passion to create and capture memorable moments and media for individuals, non-profits, and corporations. He has a background in television production and Sunday service creation. He currently oversees a team of staff and volunteers to design and delivery incredible videos and photos for Liquid Church in NJ. He lives in beautiful Hunter-don County, NJ, with his wife, Rose, and their daughters, Violet and Scarlet.

3 Comments

  1. Taylor Clyde

    This is gold. Thanks for sharing, Ben! I have been on the verge of establishing a team to help keep my one lonely photographer from dying. Really practical stuff, too!

    Reply
  2. Dale Best

    Great stuff, Ben! I’m definitely sharing with my team of photographers. I would add a few things:

    1. Since some of our photogs touch up their photos before sending them to me, that can add several hours on to their serving. I give the expectation for one Sunday and one non-Sunday event per month. If they’re open to do more, that’s great. But I want to prevent burnout.

    2. I would create a system to share photos easily. From photog to me (Comm. Director) to staff. I put all our photos on Google Drive which makes it accessible for our entire staff to use whenever on their social media.

    3. I would also make sure your photogs know how and where their photos are being used. Social media, print design, website, etc. If they never see their work used, having them serve can feel pointless on their end.

    Reply
  3. Ben Stapley

    Love these 3 suggestions Dale

    Reply

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