In four incredibly detailed chapters in the book of Exodus, God instructs Moses on the construction of the tabernacle. Then in chapter 31, before Moses can (again) object to God’s plan because he lacks the necessary skills, God gives Moses some very comforting words, “See, I have chosen Bezalel … and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability, and knowledge in all kinds of crafts to make artistic designs … and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship.” God drew up the plans for Moses on the mountain, but He didn’t equip him to craft a basin out of bronze or an altar out of acacia wood. For that he chose Bezalel. Clearly, God has blessed some people with the ability to create works that honor and please Him.
I believe that great still images enhance our effort to tell God’s story—one of the central purposes of the local church—to our congrega¬tions and communities. To me, few media match photography’s ability to challenge the status quo, bring order from disorder, and communicate the truth of Christ with an eye toward beauty and craftsmanship.
With that in mind, here is a short list of things you can do to help enhance the way your church is using photography in it’s communication.
Seek out Bezalel.
There is someone in your congregation that has the talent and passion for telling stories visually—find them. Then find others like them. Not only will they be able to serve the Kingdom of God with their talents, they can encourage one another, grow in their understanding of the craft, and build community by sharing a common mission.
Stories are everywhere.
In photography it is important to be able to see the common in striking and uncommon ways. If your congregation is engaged in the community, there will never be a shortage of stories to tell, and often the small stories have the potential to be the most influential. Constantly be aware of the stories that aren’t on the church calendar, and use photography to capture and communicate them.
Plan before you shoot.
Every great craftsman has to have a plan, and successful photographs are typically the result of good pre-production. If an event is coming up, decide the photography goals beforehand. What are the major themes and ideas that the event addresses? How is that relevant to your audience? Try to decide the best way to capture the story in photographs.
In other words, think: wide shot, medium shot, and close-up. Visual story¬telling is visual storytelling, regardless of whether the images move or not. Study your favorite movie scenes, paying particular attention to the way the filmmaker moves from the whole scene to the details inside a scene.
Technically speaking, you can’t have a photograph without light—it’s the one essential ingredient. If you’re interested in making better images, you have to use better light. Learn where to find it. Here’s a start: large, soft light sources are best; shooting in the middle of the day is tough to do well; and the last couple hours of daylight aren’t called “golden hour” for nothing.
The devil is in the details.
Attention to detail is probably the toughest thing for me as a photographer. It’s the tiniest things that kill a good image, so become obsessed with details. Overlooking that misplaced hair, shadow, highlight, background element, or camera setting only causes issues (and agony) for you later. Be a James 4:7 kind of photographer.
Rule the rules.
Try this: Google “rules of composition” and see what comes up. It’s a bunch of words and a few uninspired compositions. Here’s the thing about rules, you have to know them, but, more important, you have to own them. The best photographs break the rules when everyone else obeys and obey the rules when it’s least expected. Composing a good image comes from practice, which is why the next tip is so important.
Shoot a lot and be ruthless.
My personal goal is to keep about 10 percent of what I shoot, which is one way of saying I have had to learn to be OK with a 90 percent failure rate. Key in on the things that matter to the story and then shoot those few things from as many perspectives as you can. Then, when it comes time to pick your best shots, spend time culling out the junk, the uninspired, and the pretty good ones. Edit until you’re left with the few gems that are ripe with emotion and story. I like how the old Cornish writer Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch put it, “Murder your darlings.” That’s a mandate, not a suggestion.
Something is better than nothing.
One or two striking images from an event are better than nothing at all (or a hundred mediocre frames, for that matter). Get someone to take photo¬graphs at every event in which the church is involved.
Use stock as a last resort.
If you have a communication piece (e.g., a brochure or new website) coming up that requires photography, pair your design team with a photog¬rapher so they aren’t forced to use stock photography. Your designers will appreciate not having to compromise their ideas based on what stock images are available.
Short and long-term missions.
Consider sending a photographer with short-term mission teams to document the trips. The images can be used to share with your congregation, in updates to supporters, and as mementos of the trip for the missionaries. If your church has missionaries that live in the field, consider sending a photographer to spend some time with them to help connect their story to the local church.
Blogs are a great way to see what is happening with an organization. Think of your church’s blog as a snapshot of where you are as a church. Remember, stories are everywhere and a blog is a great place to feature them.
Have a place for overflow.
You and your photographers will generate more images than you’ll have room for, so set aside a spot to feature some of the great stuff that wouldn’t be shown otherwise. Have a gallery show and open it up to the community so that people can see your church for what it is—the artwork of God.
Trey Hill is a documentary and editorial photographer who enjoys telling stories about people. Visit him online at www.squarerootofnine.com.