Church Service Photography: Timeline And Tips

Taking photos of a church service gives you the chance to showcase your church community but it does come with its challenges. What does your timeline look like? What should you photograph and when? Though every church service looks different, there are key moments in every service to take stunning photos.

An example timeline for church service photography begins the night before while preparing your gear, next is the pre-service worship team photography. Then you’ll take photos of the first set of worship, the sermon, the second set of worship, and finally the congregation after the church service.

This may sound straightforward, but there are some specifics involved when taking photos of a church service, keep reading as I break down each point of the timeline.

Night Before: Prepare Your Gear

The timeline for an example church service photography shoot actually starts the night before the service. You’ll want to prepare your gear the night before so you aren’t rushed in the morning and so you don’t forget anything

First, gather all of your gear together along with the case or bag that you will use to carry everything. Some key gear you will want to bring is; your camera(s), lenses, batteries, SD cards, lens filters, and possibly a flash.

Before finalizing your kit, there are three things you’ll want to confirm: you’ve cleaned your lenses and filters, you’ve charged your batteries, and your SD cards have been backed up from previous shoots and then wiped.

For a look into the world of photography filters, check out my article outlining 4 types of church photography filters and how to use them.

If you plan on charging your batteries overnight, move your camera bag right next to the charger so you don’t forget to bring your batteries.

Finally, you’ll want to, if you haven’t done so already, create a shot list. This will include any shots you have been specifically instructed to take and any you as a photographer think would be valuable for your church.

Pre-Service: Worship Team Photography

You should arrive around 1.5 hours (give or take) before the church service to get settled in and begin shooting. Ideally, you will have confirmed all of the details of your shoot beforehand so you won’t have to spend too much time coordinating with other production teams.

Take this time to take up close shots of the worship team as they rehearse. Showing up early allows you to get up close to the team without disrupting the service. It’s also an excellent opportunity to use a flash if needed, though be sure to clear it with the production team.

You’ll also want to communicate with the production team to find any “dead zones” or areas where you will block camera shots.

With around 30 minutes left until the service, you should shift towards photographing people and processes. This means taking photos of volunteers setting up, conversing, or doing their volunteer duties.

We have an article providing 19 essential tips for capturing live performances, I highly recommend checking it out before your church service shoot.

Service Start: Worship Set 1

During the first set of worship (assuming there are two sets) the congregation will still be settling in so you should focus mainly on taking pictures of the worship team from a distance. Use the congregation as the foreground to give context to your images.

This is an excellent chance to show your worship team while they’re playing and to show them in relation to the rest of the congregation. You can take photos of the congregation if a good shot comes up, but you should save the majority of congregation shots for the second set of sung worship, we’ll explain why later.

Don’t disrupt anyone who is worshipping; be mindful of the sound your shutter makes and where you are positioned. To avoid disrupting the service, you will not be able to add extra light, so use the lighting you do have to your advantage, this could mean using bleed from the stage lights to light subjects or natural lighting from windows or doors.

As you’re preparing for your church service photo shoot, I recommend reading my article outlining 16 common church photography mistakes and how to avoid them.

Mid-Service: Sermon

Midway through the service, you’ll be taking photos of the sermon. This doesn’t exclusively mean taking photos of your pastor, but that is a large portion of what you will be doing.

Any time your pastor references scripture be sure to take photos of the slide visualizing the scripture and congregation members reading the verse in their bibles. Also, throughout the sermon, be sure to take “reaction shots” of the congregation members to show them engaged with the sermon.

Use different focal lengths throughout the sermon; shoot wide to show the congregation and pastor and tight to get close-ups of your pastor without being intrusive or distracting.

End of Service: Worship Set 2

During the first set of worship, I focused on the worship team and using the congregation to give context to my images. For the second set of sung worship, you should focus on the congregation, using the worship team to give context to your images.

In general, people are more engaged in the second set of sung worship as they have had time to settle in and have been moved to a place of response after listening to the pastor’s sermon. This is why the second worship set is often called the “response set”.

Look for the people who are most engaged as they show genuine emotion and can help you tell a story through your images. The lighting may be very low, causing either dark or noisy high-ISO images. Remember to always prioritize genuine emotion and storytelling over technical perfection.

What is “genuine” emotion and how do you capture it? Check out my article breaking down exactly how to capture genuine emotion in your church photography.

Finally, as I stated before, be respectful of people worshipping or praying, just because you can take a good shot, doesn’t mean you should; never disrupt anyone worshipping or praying for the sake of your photography.

Post-Service: The Community

The final point on your church service timeline is after the service ends. This is when you will take photos of your church community as they interact with each other.

Now that the service is over, you as a photographer can relax a bit and enjoy more flexibility. What this means for you is that you can use a flash if the situation calls for it, also your presence in the room is less intrusive as there isn’t one point of focus for the congregation like a sermon or worship team.

A good rule of thumb for these situations is to look for the person having the most fun. A shot of someone genuinely laughing is extremely versatile for your church; it can be used in newsletters, on the website, and practically anywhere.

Candid photography is essential for this portion of your shoot, check out my article explaining what candid photography is and why it is important.

In the end, you may not get every shot you wanted, or have shot technically perfect, what matters is that you serve your church community and God well through photography.

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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