Church Photography: How To Document Church Missions

Church missions can be an emotional and transformational experience. They are also a meaningful way for your church to document and share their work with others.

Four main parts to documenting church missions; planning your photos, preparing your gear, taking the shot, and editing your images. All four of these parts should work in conjunction to create a visually engaging image with a rich story behind it.

These four aspects of documenting church missions may seem straightforward, but there is more to them than meets the eye. Keep reading as we further explain each and give practical tips to help you take impactful photos.

Plan Your Photos

Imagine you are the director of a movie. In the same way, a movie scene is made up of several shots; you can use a sequence of photos to tell a story. Look for a flow of time or a chronological order to help guide your viewer; think about baking a pie; watching someone bake one from start to finish is easy enough, but looking at out-of-context clips of them peeling apples or mixing dry ingredients is boring.

Talk to the organizer of the mission trip as well as anyone else who may have specific shots they want. Your church may wish to use particular photos for their social media or even to show them at a church service. Be sure to note down any special requests; those should not be missed.

Look to others for inspiration. Create a board on Pinterest, screenshot some of your favourite photos online, and look for pictures taken in the same area you are going to; remember to be creative and add your style to your photos, not simply imitate your favourite photographers.

Prepare Your Gear

Consider what camera(s) you plan to bring. Whether you bring your smartphone, a DSLR, or a mirrorless camera, you should maintain and protect your gear. Make sure your smartphone camera lens isn’t covered in fingerprints, and your camera’s sensor is free from dust. Also, consider your batteries, how long they will last, and how you will account for that.

Think about which lens(es) you are bringing. What types of photography will you be doing, and what lenses do they require? Are you bringing zoom lenses or primes? Do you have all the filters you need (ND, polarizer, diffusion, etc.)? Just like your camera, make sure your lenses are clean. One of the worst feelings is sitting down to edit photos to realize there are dust spots everywhere.

Bring extra storage. Always be sure your photos are saved to at least two different locations. Once can be iCloud if you’re shooting on your phone; it can be on your laptop’s internal storage or on your phone itself. One thing to never do is to leave photos on your SD card without backing them up.

Each day, after shooting, you should back up your pictures immediately, double-check they are correctly saved, then wipe your SD card for the next day. You don’t want to run out of space mid-shoot and have to start deleting photos to make room.

For a new camera, check out my article breaking down 11 of the best cameras for church photography.

Take The Shot

Shoot lots and shoot often. It’s better to take a shot you think is average than to pass up on it because you see no value. You may see it from a completely different perspective when editing your photos, and love it!

Shoot anything and everything. The beauty of documenting church missions is that anything can have significance. A random building you walk by, an empty water bottle, or even something as simple as a blade of grass. God works in mysterious and beautiful ways; anything you shoot can have significance down the line.

Capture emotion. One of the hallmarks of a great photo is its ability to invoke emotion. Church missions can be a very transformational experience, whether it be the volunteers or the ones you serve. If you can encapsulate this experience into a sequence of photos, you’ll create a lasting memory for those involved and inspire those not involved.

Don’t sweat the technical stuff. Though it is great to nail exposure, to have great composition, or to get the lighting just right, prioritize the story you are trying to tell and the emotion behind your shots, then worry about technique.

Edit Mindfully

Cull your photos. Culling is the process of picking pictures to edit and marking rejected photos. Taking Lightroom as an example, all you have to do is press “p” to select an image and “x” to reject it (alternative, ly you can press numbers 1 through 5 to give it a star rating). Culling your photos saves a lot of time in the long run because it drastically reduces the number of images to edit.

Be transparent. By that, I mean don’t hide any imperfections you might have in your photos. Imperfections can humanize your pictures and have a profound impact on the viewer. Photography isn’t all about capturing beautiful images; it’s also about connecting with the viewer.

Church missions will never go 100% smoothly; overcoming obstacles is part of the journey and should be reflected in your images. Check out my article, where I discuss how to use Photoshop ethically.

Use colours to your advantage. Often when photographers are first starting, there is a tendency to make these vibrant, super sharp images that pop out. That can be overstimulating and distracting; sometimes, muted, desaturated colours are just what you need. You can even go as far as to convert your photos to black and white to focus on the story behind the image.

Jeremy Goh

Jeremy grew up volunteering at church and has also worked in a church setting. Along with working as a freelance creative, Jeremy is studying for a business degree in finance and international business.

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