We’ve talked about image culture in the past and we find ourselves revisiting it here to discuss the effect that photographing can have within a certain atmosphere. Both jokingly and non-jokingly, we hear things around us like, “pics or it didn’t happen,” which simply means that if you didn’t take a picture of the things you’re doing, did you even do those things at all? It also implies that something lacks existence if it wasn’t photographed and assumedly, posted somewhere for those around us to see. As a result, image culture is perpetuated by, among many things, the increased expectation to take photos. But what about church photography… is it appropriate and if so, when? People praying, worshipping, and taking communion are a few examples of very intimate moments at church. How do we discern what is capturing the beauty of the Lord in those moments versus tarnishing that beauty by photographing and perhaps, reducing their sacredness? These are the kinds of questions we must continually ask the Lord, ourselves, and those within the Church in order to maintain awareness of the impact of our actions.

Each church and its creative team should consider their objective and ask themselves why they are or aren’t pursuing photography. It can be a difficult conversation to have, but one that is necessary due to the rise of image culture. Further, many churches entertain a social media account in which it has become trendy for churches to post their photographs for the sake of connection and evangelism. Churches are sharing what they’re about and their atmosphere so that others may feel welcome to check it out, share it, and ultimately, meet Jesus. 

Assuming you do belong to a church or creative team that is for the idea of church photography, how do you know when it is or isn’t appropriate to take photos? Why are you taking photos?

When it comes to sacred moments such as prayer, worship, and taking communion, it’s best to include your pastoral staff and lead teams in on the conversation and allow them to weigh in, too—not making the call on your own, unless otherwise told. Should you get the go ahead, capturing those moments requires intuition and self-awareness in order to get a feel for the moment that’s before you and ask yourself things such as,

  1. Will taking this photo invade anyone’s encounter with the Lord, their privacy, or their space?

  2. Will taking this photo take attention away from where it should be/will it be a distraction?

  3. If this moment is captured, could it be edifying and glorifying?

These questions are important to ponder because they help us remain conscientious and respectful of the atmosphere within which we’re photographing. They concern not only us as the photographers but also those around us who aren’t necessarily coming to church (expecting) to be photographed. 

Another hotly debated topic when it comes to the subject matter of church photography is the stage front and worship team. We see lots of these photos on social media. These photos require us to ask the ‘why’s’ and the ‘what’s’ concerning the condition of our hearts as we shoot. What is your purpose behind photographing and by extension, posting said photos of your people on stage? Is it an expression of worship, teaching, leading, and glory or does it have to do with publicity, fame, and pride? These concepts counter one another in that they speak to opposite places of the heart; however, they merit being clarified so that no lines surrounding them are blurred. 

In addition, when we take photos, we must consider how the subject matter feel about having their photograph taken and if the opportunity exists, we must outline to those people, too (not just the creative team or pastoral team), why their photographs are being taken. In a recent instance when photographing a worship team, the team vocalized that they were uncomfortable because it felt as though having photographers was like having paparazzi around. This response only validates the protection that one’s personal encounter and space deserves from people like paparazzi. Their feelings required the explanation from a photographer’s point of view that the mission when taking such photos is to create a visual narrative in which you’re sharing the story of what God is doing in your church to share with people outside of those walls and ultimately, bring glory to God through sharing testimony, rather than glorifying the subject matter on stage. This example only reinforces why communication around the intention behind and consideration for photography at church is of utmost importance. So I challenge you to consider, what is your standpoint with church photography? Have you had these types of conversations? As Christians, not only do we have the responsibility of communicating carefully from the Church outwards but too, we must communicate carefully within the Church, for it is from here that we are able to communicate outwardly.