Originally Published June 6th, 2018
For nearly 2 years I’ve had the opportunity to serve as a photographer for my local church. I’ve had a blast documenting and sharing images as the congregation and it’s people have grown. If you’re interested in serving as a church photographer—here are 12 tips to keep in mind when documenting a worship service or church event.
1. Know Your Camera
It seems obvious but knowing your camera is a crucial part of event photography. You should be able to change settings like shutter speed, aperture, and ISO without thinking about it—it should be fluid. First, I recommend reading your camera’s manual and familiarizing yourself with it’s functions. Second, find a small ministry group or church meeting to attend and practice there. Practice as much as possible. Practice making adjustments on the fly—you’ll be a much more effective photographer once you harness this skill.
2. Silence Your Camera
Nobody wants to hear your camera beeping over their shoulder when they’re getting their praise on. Most cameras have the option to turn off the sound. You’ll often still be able to hear the shutter but that’s way less intrusive than an alarm clock going off in your hands.
3. Don’t Use Flash
Yes, people go to church to see the light—but not your camera flash! (sorry bad joke) But seriously, don’t use flash during service. Flash is a huge distraction (which you’re trying to avoid) and unless you are shooting portraits, it’s typically not going to improve your shots.
4. Use A Zoom Lens
Use a zoom lens and work your way around the flanks of the stage. This will make it easy to grab close up shots without being a distraction.
5. Don’t Bring Attention To Yourself
Noticing a trend? Try your best not to be a distraction. Its your job as a photographer to be professional and courteous during these often intimate moments. Dress appropriately and wear dark clothing in order to blend into the shadows. Move slowly around the building—never run to get a shot. Be respectful of others—worship can be an emotional experience and people generally don’t like being photographed when they’re vulnerable. Make being quiet and sneaky a game—you’re a ninja now, have fun with it!
6. Use A High ISO
One tip for shooting in low light situations without flash is to use a higher ISO. This is completely subjective and depends on which camera you’re using. Some cameras are terrible after ISO 400—still other cameras can go all the way up to ISO 3200 without showing much grain or loss in detail. Test your camera and see how high you can push the ISO.
7. Shoot RAW
You should always shoot in RAW mode when possible. This is the digital equivalent of a film negative. RAW files store all the information from your camera—that way you have more creative control in post processing. RAW files are generally much larger than JPEGs, which is also beneficial in post and overall image quality.
8. Capture Natural Moments & Expressions
This is a hard one. It’s simply a matter of preparation on your part—followed by timing and luck. Some days you’ll grab a handful of great natural moments & expressions. Other days you’ll walk away with a memory card full of derp faces. Be ready for anything and capture what you can.
9. Arrive Early & Capture Behind The Scenes Shots
Arrive early and capture members of the service teams setting up, handing out coffee, doing sound check. It takes a lot of people to make a church service happen. Its important to highlight these individuals and tell their story. Bonus: You get to drink more coffee.
10. Shoot Wide
Wide angle shots invite the viewer to see the church as a whole. Its a great way to illustrate the church’s worship style and sense of community. Don’t leave home without your wide lens!
11. Make Your Photos Interesting By Adding Perspective & Details
A great way to place your viewer in a congregation seat is by shooting interesting perspectives and detail shots. Frame your subjects in a unique way by shooting through lights or raised hands.
12. Have Fun & Don’t Take Things Too Seriously
As a church photographer, you’re creating a visual representation of your church to publish online. The goal is to tell the story of your church, the emotions, the people, the community—ultimately to bring folks to God. If you immerse yourself in the service and have fun—it will show in your images. The cool thing about a church service is that they happen every Sunday. So if you miss a shot there’s always next week. I try my best to have fun, create interesting images, and push myself to grow as a photographer. Its been a very rewarding experience and I hope this list helps you along your journey as a church photographer!