According to the adage, a picture is worth a thousand words, and in today's image-driven culture, a photograph might be what brings visitors to your church.
If you have shopped for a house online, you probably have noticed the difference between a house advertisement with great photos and one without. Most likely, a house advertised with bad photos will not initially make your list. A house with great photos will get your second and third look and, perhaps eventually, a visit.
A church is the same. People will likely envision themselves within a church, imagining themselves in various church settings. They want to see how they might fit into a congregation's culture. Photos of a church taken without care or consideration of who might look at them could convey a negative message.
Tips and techniques
Here are tips and techniques to take the best photos of your church — photos that will welcome people before they ever set foot in the doors.
1. Choose good equipment.
Access to a nice digital SLR camera will help you to take excellent photos of your church. Knowing how to use the camera, especially when it comes to lighting, is a huge advantage. If you only have a higher-end "point-and-shoot" camera, you may have to do a bit more work to achieve the results you want (either directly from the camera or within a photo-editing software) than with a digital SLR. However, you can still get great results.
Avoid inexpensive point-and-shoot cameras that produce grainy results. If you use a high-quality phone camera, research third-party camera applications that give you access to extra feature options (shutter speed, lighting modes, etc.) not part of the stock phone applications. Learn how to use Instagram for your church.
2. Maximize the lighting.
Poorly lit areas make terrible photos. Dark rooms with flash bursts on the furniture or windows do not please the eye. Before you take a photo, think about lighting. Choose daylight hours when the outdoor light is close to indoor light. This will help you to capture both outside and inside views, giving as close to an eyesight view as possible. Use extra lighting in a room, if needed. Use a camera setting for fluorescent lights (white lighting) as that tends to be the basis of lighting construction in most church buildings.
3. Turn off the flash.
Photos without a flash evoke a more natural, warm feel to a space. A flash can give off harsh-lit elements, destroy natural shadows and ruin a shot with a reflection off windows or furniture. Some cameras allow you to focus the flash in different directions. If you must use a flash, redirect the flash to the ceiling or somewhere else away from the target. This technique dampens the light and keeps some natural tones. However, avoid that as well if you can help it.
4. Choose the right places.
Show off those places that interest people. The sanctuary is a good place to start, but don't forget entrances, welcoming areas, children's rooms, prayer rooms and chapels. Skip rooms with too much clutter.
5. Prep your spaces.
Remove temporary or extra items that clutter a space. Cleaner spaces look great and emphasize the space's intended use. Take some test photos and ask people unfamiliar with your church what stands out to them about the space. Certainly, remove trash cans and seasonal decorations.
6. Shoot low and straight.
Getting a little lower, not standing up, gives a unique artistic look to a space. Do not tilt or turn your camera to get a vertical shot. Standard photo widths and heights work optimally for both Web and print publication. If you need a photo that captures a floor-to-ceiling view, but cannot get it with normal equipment, consider renting a lens.
7. Use a tripod.
This is especially helpful if you adhere to tip #3 to avoid flash. Most cameras in their automatic photo setting try to take flash photos when in low light. Switching off the flash function sets up the camera to open the shutter to allow more light into the photo for a better-lit shot. When holding a camera, any slight movement creates a blurry photo. Place your camera on a tripod to achieve a stabilized camera and give you a clear image.
8. Save images at the highest resolution possible.
If you are going through the trouble of all this prep and time, go the extra step to save at the highest resolution possible. If you use a simple point-and-shoot camera, make sure you save images in a file format that gives the highest resolution. If you can save images in a raw format, do so and convert the files to Web or print-ready images.
9. Stage people.
It would be great just to take photos of our spaces during our regular happenings and get some real winners. However, because of lighting, movement of people and a host of other reasons, this might not be achievable. Invite a handful of church members to come to the church with the intentions of taking photos for and of the church. You can direct people to stand completely still (a good thing when shooting without a flash indoors), look in appropriate directions and give good color contrasts. Using people in a photo adds interest and gives scale to a room.
10. Give attention to individual items with the same care.
If you want to highlight individual items in the church, give care and attention to them. For example, if your church offers space for wedding ceremonies, highlight flower arrangements on the pews with optimal lighting and angles to show how a wedding ceremony in the church can look.
11. Optimize photos for social media.
Facebook timeline photos and profile images are square. Cover photos are 851px by 315px. Check out this Facebook photo size guide to learn the specific dimensions and file sizes needed to optimize your photos.
Taking photos indoors
Certainly, some of the same techniques apply to taking outdoor photos. However, you will need some tweaks to create optimal photos.
1. Be aware of the sun. If the front of your church is directly behind or in front of the sun, take photos when it is a bit cloudy or hazy to reduce the sun's glare or overwhelming light source. As a rule, photograph at dusk or dawn, with all the lights on in a building. This can provide a warm, welcoming feeling in a photo.
2. Give space. Frame your church building with extra space on the edges. This will provide visual scale to the viewer. Extra space can also help when or if you crop the image for Web or print needs.
3. Shoot at angles. While this is not necessarily a rule, it is good to test various angles of your building. Do not assume that straight-on front view is the best view. Think of how many people see your church at an angle as they drive by. Take some welcoming photos with those angles in mind.
4. Use exterior items at their best. If you have a church garden, choose a time when it is in bloom, or after a rain, when the colors and life are optimal. Make sure large pasture or property around the building is mowed or cleaned.
Often, it is hard to capture both light and shadows without compromising in one area. For instance, to capture attractive color tones on a building or landscape, you may have to sacrifice the blue in the sky. How can you, in good conscience, do that? Perhaps you have seen photos of buildings and landscapes with excellent color and tones throughout the entire photo and wondered how they did it. Enter HDR or High Dynamic Range Imaging. Google "HDR photography" to see an amazing array of visual art. Some images are overdone, but if you keep it simple, your shots will not look fake.
HDR imaging is the process of taking two or more shots with different light settings and then using an image editor to lay them on top of each other, creating a greater dynamic range of tones. HDR may seem complicated, but most new smartphones have an HDR camera mode that will take multiple shots and automatically superimpose them together. No ninja photoshop skills required! Keep in mind, that both your camera and the object/s being shot must be still to avoid blurry images. HDR camera mode works great for still-life and nature shots.
Digital Photography School has an extensive tutorial on taking professional HDR photos. Be patient as good HDR has a learning curve.
If you are still not feeling comfortable, consider hiring a professional. Find a few realtors within your congregation or community and ask them who does professional house photos. Check out their work and inquire about hiring them to take photos for your church. It may cost you a few hundred dollars, but the professional results may be worth the money.
Jump into the 21st century by hiring a Google business photographer. A Google business photographer brings in special equipment to your church to take a "street view" styled look to your business. Those images are attached to Google maps and business pages. Someone searching through your community or church through Google can virtually walk from the street right into your church. You can find a local Google business photographer to inquire about prices and the process.
Storytelling through photography is a ministry. United Methodist Communications uses photos and photography instruction to inform, encourage, motivate, inspire and engage followers of Christ--and we are resourcing churches to do the same. These efforts require financial support. If you believe in our mission, consider a tax-deductible donation to the work of United Methodist Communications through its Foundation at ResourceUMC.org/GiveUMCom.