How To Do Church Photography: The ULTIMATE Guide

Photography is a crucial aspect of digital ministries that many churches overlook. Photos of your congregation add a personal and professional touch to your church materials. This guide will give you everything you need to know to get started with church photography.

Church photography involves capturing events, live performances, and other church activities and involves planning, gear selection, and editing. The process involves understanding project scopes, creating shot lists, optimizing gear choices, taking photos, and editing them.

Photography can seem intimidating to learn, but it can be pretty easy to get started with. Keep reading as I explain each aspect of church photography and give you the resources you need to get started.

What is Church Photography?

Church photography is a catch-all term that encompasses every type of photography used by a church. Realistically, tons of photography types can be classified as church photography, but some are more common than others. The most common type of photography associated with the term “church photography” is event photography.

Photographing a church service can be classified as event photography and photographing a worship team can be classified as live performance photography. The images that church photographers take can be used in tons of different places for their churches. Print materials, sermon slides, social media, websites, and newsletters; all of these places would benefit from photos unique to your church. This means not using stock or public domain photos.

For deeper insight into this topic, check out my article explaining in-depth what church photography is and how your church can use it.

Event Photography At Church

Events can be in two main forms: church services and community events. Church services are your weekly Sunday services as well as any special services your church puts on, like a Christmas Eve service. There is one portion of each service that is a bit different than the rest, and that is sung worship. Sung worship is better categorized as live performance photography which is why I gave it a separate section in this article.

The majority of shots you will take during church services will be candid, meaning not staged. There is a time and a place for staged photos but, in general, candid photos of your church will help viewers get a sense of what it would be like to be in person with your church community.

One of the main strengths of taking photos during a church service is that it prepares newcomers as to what to expect when visiting your church for the first time. Going to a new church where you don’t know anyone can be intimidating because it’s an unfamiliar situation. What’s the best way to combat this? Information.

Give new attendees as much information about your church and its services as possible using your photos. Show newcomers what the church building and community look like, and the progression of the service.

Each church service usually has a standardized layout from week to week which makes your job as a photographer significantly easier. You know what to expect and when to expect it, though you should still plan and prepare properly each week

Community events are generally less structured than weekly services. These events also vary significantly more than weekly church services. Community event is a catch-all term that encompasses any event put on by your church outside its weekly services. This could mean prayer gatherings, baptisms, youth events, or even barbeques. Each different event may require different gear and shooting styles.

For example, an event that takes place in someone’s living room might benefit from a wider lens to capture more of the scene. In contrast, let’s pretend we have an event taking place at a local park. Wide-angle lenses could also work in this situation, but so could telephoto lenses. You wouldn’t bring a 70-200mm lens into someone’s living room, but you would bring it into a park. For a deeper look into lens selection, check out my article highlighting 3 must-have lenses for church photographers. This is why it’s important to plan out each shoot and to create a shot list.

Live Performance Photography At Church

This particular form of photography is called live performance photography; let me be clear, I am in no way calling sung worship a “performance”. We don’t generally discuss theology on this site. This is because theology is so important that we have a separate site called Learners for Christ dedicated to it.

In the context of a church service, live performance photography can materialize as pictures of the worship team in action or as pictures of the congregation engaged in worship. There are two key challenges with live performance photography, especially when in the context of a church service.

The first challenge is that you need to work with the lighting provided by your environment. Basically, this means no camera flash. Flash is distracting and will disrupt the church service; remember, the congregation learning and connecting with God is your church’s number one priority. Your photography should not get in the way of this.

Whether your church has a stage with a full lighting rig or is in a school’s gymnasium, you can still take quality shots regardless of the ambient lighting. Check out my article giving you 19 tips for taking impactful photos at church.

The second challenge, which we’ve covered a bit already, is that you can’t disturb the church service. This means you need to be constantly aware of where you are in the room, your surroundings, and how loud you are. You never want to block someone’s view of the stage or lyrics. You also don’t want to be firing off a long burst of photos without considering how loud your shutter is.

This is especially a problem if you don’t have a mirrorless camera as the sound of mirrors flipping up for photos is pretty loud. Imagine you are a congregant trying to worship God, and all you hear in your ear is a constant and annoying clicking sound. Be aware of how close you are to congregants at all times.

For more tips on live performance photography at church, check out my article giving you 19 tips for live worship photography.

Other Types of Photography At Church

There are tons of different forms of photography that can be used by your church in print or digital materials. The only limitation, really, is your creativity. For example, product photography is a great way to highlight branded materials such as connection or welcome cards.

Landscape photography is a cool way to incorporate your surrounding environment, God’s creation, into your church materials. Real estate photography can help you show off your church’s building which can help newcomers become more familiar with it before visiting. Your role as a photographer is to uncover what your church’s core needs are and to use photography to fulfill them.

Finding your church’s unrealized needs is done while planning your shoots, which is what we’re going to discuss next.

Church Photography Planning

Before planning out specific shots, locations, or times I always try to understand the scope of the project as best as possible. This could mean sitting down with someone from the church or a quick email asking some prompting questions.

Often, when discussing with clients what their needs are, I’ll hear something super specific or something extremely vague. In the context of a church, this might sound like “I need a picture of each empty room in the church building, in the style of a real estate listing, for our website” or “I need pictures of the facility”. Though the super specific answer gives us a bit more information, we still need to do a bit of digging to find out the church’s core needs.

Where on the website will these photos live? Is it on a facility page or scattered across the entire website? Is your purpose to show off the facility or to help potential viewers understand your church better? These are all questions I might ask the church before my shoot. My goal is to plan out what style of photos I might take.

If the church told me that their goal was to show off the facility, I would probably lean more toward real-estate-style shots, maybe with some staged shots if some rooms serve multiple purposes. For example, it’s not uncommon for church buildings to have gymnasiums that convert into some form of meeting space. If that were the case for the church I am photographing, I would try and get a shot of the room partially converted to show that it is both a gymnasium and a meeting space.

If the church wants photos to help potential viewers understand their church better, I would try and get photos of the building while it is in use. This could mean attending some events or possibly just staging some shots. I would recommend actual events whenever possible in this situation because their authenticity will show in your photos; it’s not hard to spot a staged photo.

Once you fully understand the scope of the project and are on the same page as the church you can begin to get specific with your planning. The first thing you should do before scheduling anything is to create a shot list. The purpose of a shot list is to keep you organized and make sure you don’t forget any photos you might need. Shot lists aren’t meant to be set in stone; they can be changed on the fly. They are simply meant to hold you accountable. For help on this topic, check out my tutorial for creating and organizing a church photography shot list.

Once you have your organized shot list, start listing out the locations needed for each shot. For example, if one of your shots is a “close-up of bass player’s hands worshipping” then your best bet for capturing this is to attend a church service. Mark each shot and try to organize them into groups by location.

The final step is to decide when you are going to take your photos. The goal here is to optimize your schedule by minimizing the amount of separate shoots you need to capture all of your photos. For example, if your church is looking for new headshots as well as pictures of a service consider doing all of these on the same day to save time and budget (if you’re being paid). It may be beneficial to create a schedule to go along with your shot list, this way you can easily share your timeline with everyone involved.

Picking Gear For Church Photography

There are three main categories of gear that you might need for church photography: camera bodies, lenses, and accessories. Keep in mind, that gear isn’t everything. A firm understanding of composition and lighting can result in great photos even on smartphones. Curious about smartphone photography? Check out my article explaining why your smartphone might be a viable option for photography.

Selecting a Camera Body for Church Photography

When it comes to selecting a camera body for church photography, you need to consider both performance and budget. You may be using your personal budget or your church’s tech budget. Remember to leave room in your budget for lenses and accessories.

You may want to consider buying a camera used, just be sure to buy one with a reasonable shutter count from a reputable dealer. Just because a camera looks good on the outside, doesn’t mean everything works as it should inside.

When deciding on a camera body, the first thing to consider is which brand and camera system you want to use. The top camera brands are Canon, Sony, Fujifilm, Nikon, and Lumix (Panasonic). Each brand has its advantages but, in general, you can find solid options with any of these brands. Check out my article covering the best camera brands for church photography.

If you have gear available to you already, whether you’re borrowing from a friend or your church, make sure the camera body you choose is compatible with this gear. It is possible to use lenses and camera bodies from different camera systems using lens mount adapters. This means that you could use a Lumix body with a Canon lens.

If you find a good deal on a camera body or can borrow one but have access to lenses from a different camera system, look into a lens mount adapter. Be aware, though, that cheap lens mount adapters often don’t have electrical contact points meaning they don’t allow autofocus.

These are all some basic things to consider when selecting a camera body for church photography. For more depth into this topic, including camera specs and what they mean, check out my guide to selecting camera bodies for church photography.

Selecting Lenses for Church Photography

Lens selection in church photography has two meanings; selecting lenses to add to your kit and lenses to use during a shoot. When selecting which lenses to add to your kit, you need to consider your budget and the camera body they will be paired with.

As stated earlier, if you have lenses available to borrow, you can utilize a lens mount adapter to pair them with a camera body of a different camera system. If all you have the budget for is a single lens, consider buying a zoom lens. You can likely find a low-cost “kit lens”. A kit lens is a lens that is often sold as a bundle with a camera body. These lenses are generally zoom lenses with the most common focal range being 18-55mm.

When it comes to lenses, more money will often get you better build quality, better stabilization, and a fixed aperture. Low-cost lenses are often made from plastic while premium lenses are made from metal. Low-cost lenses don’t often have stabilization built-in, except for some zoom lenses.

Premium lenses are far more likely to have stabilization for prime and zoom lenses. When building out your kit, I recommend having three lenses: a wide-angle lens, a standard lens, and a telephoto lens. A wide-angle lens ranges from 16mm-35mm, a standard lens ranges from 35mm to 85mm, and a telephoto lens ranges from 85-400mm.

These are the basics of lens selection for church photography. For a deeper look into this topic, check out my comprehensive guide to church photography lenses.

Accessories for Church Photography

Church photography accessories are anything related to cameras that aren’t bodies or lenses. I’m going to cover three main sections of church photography accessories; lighting, filters, and storage. These accessories don’t necessarily come with you to every shoot. You add and remove them from your kit depending on the needs of each shoot.

Lighting Accessories for Church Photography

Lighting in church photography is a tricky subject because often cannot control the lighting of your compositions. You don’t want to disrupt a church service with a bright flash and you can’t set up softboxes or reflectors anywhere. That being said, there are some situations where you have more freedom when it comes to lighting.

You have a bit more freedom before and after services to use additional lighting as you won’t be disrupting anything. Community events are the most likely time you would use lighting accessories. That being said, it isn’t likely that you would use softboxes for a community event as they are time-consuming to set up and adjust. Save the softboxes for a staged shoot like when taking headshots for church staff.

For community events, I recommend having a camera flash in your kit. This flash isn’t necessary; you likely can get by without it but it can help in low-light environments. In a low-light environment without a flash, you risk noisy images which can make editing a photo extremely difficult and could make your images unusable depending on the severity.

With a camera flash, you can either use it on-camera or off-camera. If your camera is on-body, I recommend using a diffuser like the MagMod System that I use. Have you ever noticed how soft and even the lighting is outside when the weather is overcast? This is because the clouds soften the sun’s light and act as a diffuser. A flash diffuser works the same way, it softens and disperses light from your flash.

Diffusers can be a bit pricey so; a lower-cost alternative is a bounce card. Many camera flashes have bounce cards built-in. A bounce card is just a white card attached to your flash that works to bounce light making it less harsh on your subject.

If you use your flash off-camera, you will need a stand to hold and position your flash as well as a trigger to control it from your camera. You can get away with an on-camera flash in most church photography situations especially if you diffuse it.

Lens Filters for Church Photography

Lens filters are accessories that fit over your camera’s lens to filter the incoming light. They are used to shape or reduce incoming light. Four of the most common lens filters used in church photography are neutral density (ND) filters, polarizing filters, UV filters, and diffusion filters.

ND filters act as sunglasses for your camera; they reduce incoming light allowing photographers to use slower shutters or wider apertures in bright environments. Polarizing filters, which are a type of neutral density filter, reduce glare and reflections coming into your camera while increasing the saturation and contrast of your image.

Photographers mainly use UV filters to protect their lenses from scratches and smudges. The only caveat is that adding a UV filter to your lens means that incoming light is now filtered through another layer of glass. I think that protecting your lens is worth the extra layer of glass, especially since you are unlikely to notice the difference, but I don’t recommend using a UV filter with another filter like an ND.

Diffusion filters are used for more creative purposes; they soften the incoming light to give your image a dreamy haze. These filters intentionally reduce contrast and add a “bloom” to any light source in your image.

For more information on lens filters in photography as well as some photo examples, check out my article breaking down four commonly used church photography lens filters.

Storage Options for Church Photography

When it comes to storage options for church photography, there are two things we need to consider: in-camera storage, and external storage for editing and delivery. Most digital cameras use SD cards for storage as they are built for temporary media storage. When buying an SD card for photography, you need to look at the storage capacity and speed rating.

The storage capacity of your SD card will determine how many photos you can take. I recommend a minimum of 64GB storage for your SD card. This way, you won’t run out mid-shoot and you have a bit of flexibility if you forget to wipe your card after your previous shoot.

Speed classes help determine how fast data can be transferred from your camera to your SD card and are most important in photography when burst shooting. If you aren’t doing much burst shooting, you can get away with a speed class of around V30 to V60. If you do lots of burst shooting you may want to consider a V90 card. In either case, you want a card that utilizes UHS-II and UHS-III operating modes.

SDexpress cards will be more than enough for photography but will cost a lot of money. The odds are that you would be paying for speed you won’t use, so I don’t recommend these cards. This topic can get complex quickly, which is why I have an entire article explaining it in simple terms, so check it out for an in-depth guide to SD card storage and speed classes.

Tips For Taking Photos At Church

Embrace low-light environments. Sometimes, your images will have components that are pure black; your shadows will be under-exposed. Trying to expose your shadows using editing software can lead to heavy amounts of noise. Don’t be afraid to have parts of your image that are just black, not every inch of your photo has to have detail. This can actually help you highlight your subject better in some cases. Check out my in-depth guide explaining noise and how to avoid it.

Take a look at the service outline. Many churches use Planning Center to organize their services, having access to this outline either digitally or printed out will be a huge help to you as a photographer. This ensures you know where anyone involved with the service is at a given time.

Organize your shot list according to your timeline. Now that you have created a shot list and have prepped your gear. It’s time to compare your shot list to the timeline shown in the service outline. This keeps you organized and removes any stress of missing a crucial moment in the service. For a real-world example of this, check out my article with an outline of a common church photography timeline.

If you have harsh stage lights, try different angles. Stage lights are often not diffused which can make their light pretty harsh. If your subject is directly facing stage lights, avoid shooting from the same angle as the light. To get a shot of your subject’s face, you may need to wait until they face you.

If you need to, you can shoot from the same angle as the lights, just be aware that the lighting will be very harsh. Below, is are two photos I took of Brady preaching. The first is almost directly behind the roof-mounted stage lights, while the second is off to the side of the stage. You can see in the first photo that I have helped tone down some of that harsh light while editing but it’s still quite obvious.

The second photo has nice soft skin tones and uses the stage lighting as a “hair light” to outline Brady’s head and separate him from the background more. The angle I shot it at is a bit of an extreme example, almost behind him, but it really drives the point home.

Show up early to take photos. Showing up early means you don’t have to worry about interrupting the church service or event. This is especially great for photographing worship teams. You have way more freedom to get up and close during rehearsals. This also enables you to experiment with the environment.

Try out different angles to see what elements of the environment you can add to your composition and how the lighting interacts with each element. Shoot RAW for editing and JPEG for quick delivery. Check out my article if you’re wondering what RAW means and why it’s so important.

Church Photography: Editing Your Photos

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The first step to editing your church photography photos is to pick an editing software. By far the most popular editing software in the photography community is Adobe Lightroom. The software you choose will depend on your budget.

Adobe Lightroom works around a subscription-based model which means you pay monthly or annually to license the software. One major benefit to Lightroom is that it integrates well with the Adobe Creative Cloud Suite – Adobe’s photo and video editing software. To see just how convenient a Lightroom and Photoshop workflow is, check out my article teaching how to use the Adobe AI Generative Fill tool.

If you would like to purchase a perpetual license instead of a subscription, you might want to try out Capture One. This is another professional-grade editing software similar to Lightroom. Like Lightroom, you can do all of your basic and more advanced edits in Capture One. It also has AI features similar to the new Adobe Firefly AI features.

For a deeper look into editing software, including a free option, check out my article highlighting the best photo editing software for church photography.

The next step is to actually edit your photos. I’m going to show you the editing progression of one of my photos as I explain each step. To keep things simple, I only did basic edits without masking or sending the photo to Photoshop. With that being said, here is the RAW photo that we’re going to look at.

Editing your photos can seem daunting but, really it can be broken down into three simple steps; exposure adjustment, colour correction, and composition retouching. You may jump between these steps, but they don’t necessarily need to happen in that order. Though, in general, it’s easier to do colour correction after you do exposure adjustments.

I usually start by adjusting the crop to nail down my general composition. When adjusting exposure, you start by correcting parts of your image that may be exposed too much or too little. Then you go on to change your exposure to match your creative vision.

Now that I have done some primary exposure adjustments, I’m going to start to nail down colour mainly using the tone curve section of Lightroom and the HSL tab. Tone curves allow you to adjust hues along your tonal range. What this means in simple terms is that you can, for example, make your shadows warmer or cooler. Or you could make your highlights more green and less magenta.

HSL stands for hue, saturation, and luminance. This tool allows you to adjust these three settings for different colours. For example, I often see skin tones begin to look really orange – like my subject has a really bad spray tan. To combat this, I go to the orange section of the HSL tab and move the “Saturation” slider down until my skin tones look more natural.

As for the overall saturation of your image, make sure not to go overboard. I often see beginner photographers push the saturation in their image too far because they want it to “pop”. In reality, what they want to do is add contrast either through sliders or tone curves.

You can also adjust your white balance in this step, but be careful. I often see beginner photographers use the white balance to create their “look”. The issue with this is that beginners don’t often understand how white balance works so they get frustrated that they can’t get their images to look how they want using only the white balance sliders.

White balance tells your editing software what pure white should look like. For example, if you take photos in a room with tungsten lights (really yellow) then you would need to adjust your white balance with that in mind.

The lesson here is that you should feel free to use your white balance sliders, but don’t forget about your tone curves and HSL sliders; these tools are going to be infinitely more useful than your white balance slider for your creative vision.

As you can see in the photo above when compared to the previous photo, I’ve gone back and adjusted the composition. Editing is about balancing every aspect of your image: exposure, colours, and composition. Don’t feel like you need to nail any one of these three right off the bat, you can always go back and make changes.

The final step is to clean up your overall image with noise reduction, sharpening, and grain. Noise is a type of artifact that appears in your images when there isn’t enough light for your sensor. This typically displays at higher ISO values. You can help to reduce noise while editing, but it isn’t perfect. Too much noise reduction can end up making your photos look artificially smooth and “plasticky”. I have a separate article giving a more in-depth explanation as to what noise is and how to avoid it.

Sometimes it’s better to have a bit of noise than to push your editing software’s noise reduction feature too far. Sharpening is, at its purest form, contrast. Your software uses selective contrast to make your lines and overall image look sharper. I often see beginner photographers push this step too far, keep it subtle.

Grain, also referred to as “film grain” comes from back in the days of shooting film. Rather than digital artifacts introduced by the components of your digital camera, film grain comes from tiny imperfections in the physical film stock of a film camera. Grain adds a nice texture on top of your image rather than degrading it like digital noise.

There’s no perfect amount of grain, it’s highly subjective. Experiment with different amounts and sizes of grain until you find one you like. The more grain, the more film-like your photo will appear. Often, photographers will add more grain to black-and-white photos to really lean into the film look. Below is a before and after adding noise reduction, sharpening, and grain.

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That is a simple editing process for church photography. For a deeper look into the exact settings I use including export settings, check out my step-by-step breakdown of how photographers edit photos.

Church Photography: Where To Use Your Images

Now that you have these photos, your final step might just be to send them off to somebody else and be done with it. But, for many churches, many of the roles in digital media get meshed together into one person’s responsibilities. This brings up the question; what do you do with your photos now?

Well, there are two delivery mediums for your photos: digital and print. When it comes to prints, you may want to use your photos for church materials like welcome packets or connection cards. Your church may also want to print off some of these photos for decoration around the church building or offices. Really, the only limitation here is your creativity.

One thing to note while exporting your photos is that, for print photos you want your PPI (pixels per inch) to be at least 300 PPI. For digital materials, you can get away with 72 PPI, anything higher is virtually indistinguishable in digital distribution.

Speaking of digital materials, depending on where you are using your photos, the optimal aspect ratio of your images will change. For example, the optimal aspect ratio for Instagram photos is 4:5. This maximizes the amount of space your image can have without Instagram scaling it. Besides the obvious choices of your church’s social media and website, another way you can use your images is on your church’s Sunday service visual media.

A great example of this is during the news & updates portion of the service. What better way to illustrate a group or event than to show a photo of this group or event in the past? Your photos might also work as visuals for sermon slides, depending on the topic. It doesn’t hurt to make your photos available to your pastors in case they would like to use them. Check out my article explaining how to take photos for impactful sermon slides.

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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