Live Photography: 19 Tips to Capture Live Worship

Photography can be a challenging and exciting experience, especially when it comes to capturing live worship. You must consider camera settings, composition, lens choice, and many other factors.

Whether you’re capturing your church’s worship team or a special event, these 19 tips will help you get the best shots possible.

1. Arrive Around Two Hours Early To Plan and Prep Your Gear

Arriving early will give you time to scope the venue and find the best spots for photography. It will also get you thinking about what settings or lenses you want to use. You may want to create a shot list if you haven’t done so.

Along the lines of a shot list, showing up early will allow you to chat with the worship team, the production team, and the pastor(s) to find out about any specific photo guidelines or restrictions. There may be dead zones where you will block live stream cameras or specific shots the church staff want for their website or social media.

Two hours is just a general amount of time you will want to have, some photographers may only need one hour, and some may need more than two. In any case, showing up too early will always be better than showing up too late.

Looking for more help preparing for a shoot? Check out my article helping you to create a church photography shot list. Also, check out our FREE photography shoot planner!

2. Use A Lens With An Aperture of f/2.8 or lower

Live worship events are fast-paced and unpredictable, so you’ll want a lens that can keep up. The term “fast lens” refers to a lens with a lower aperture. A low aperture allows more light to hit the sensor, which means you can use a faster shutter speed. A lens with a wide aperture, roughly f/2.8 or lower, will allow you to capture crisp images clear of any motion blur in a low-light setting.

Want more help understanding lenses and building out your kit? Check out my article teaching everything you need to know about church photography lenses.

3. Bring Wide-Angle, Portrait, & Telephoto Lenses

Different lenses will give you different perspectives and allow you to capture a wide range of shots. For example, a wide-angle lens is great for capturing the entire stage or congregation, and a telephoto lens is perfect for close-ups of the worship team.

These three lenses are staples for any photographer’s kit. For a more in-depth look at each of them, check out my article covering these three lenses that every photographer should have.

4. Use Continuous Shooting Mode On Your Camera

This will allow you to take multiple shots rapidly, making it easy to get the perfect shot. Just be sure to have a fast memory card and plenty of spare batteries. Along with using continuous shooting, also try out continuous autofocus for photos with a moving subject. If you are shooting a static worship team member, this will not be too relevant, but for members of the congregation or pastors, you’ll want to be sure they are always in focus.

5. Try Shooting The Same Shot From Different Angles

Try getting creative with your angles. Shoot from high up, down low, or the side of the stage for a more interesting perspective. This works especially well if you experiment with different focal lengths. For example, if you like the subject’s positioning but do not like the background, use a low aperture and long focal length to blur the background.

6. Experiment With Different Shutter Speeds

A slower shutter speed will add motion blur to your photo, which can be great for capturing and displaying movement. A faster shutter speed will freeze action in place and is perfect for capturing sharp, detailed shots.

7. Use A Monopod or Tripod To Reduce Blur and Shakiness

A monopod or tripod can help stabilize your camera and reduce camera shake, especially if you’re shooting with a long lens or a slow shutter speed. A great way to ensure a smooth shoot is to use quick-release plates for your tripods.

8. Use Manual Focus To Ensure You Don’t Have Blurry Shots

Autofocus can be finicky in low light or crowded settings; switching to manual focus gives you more control. Just be sure to practice before the service and only use it when you and the subject are static.

9. Pay Attention To The Lighting In The Room

Lighting is a pillar of photography, so pay attention to the positioning of the lights and how they affect your shot. Use the stage lights to your advantage and try to capture the mood they create. It may be worth it to mess around with different filters during rehearsals; polarizers and diffusion filters, in particular, are good options.

10. Shoot In RAW Format Not JPEG

Shooting in a RAW format gives you more freedom when editing your photos. RAW files retain more information than JPEGs, giving you more exposure and white balance control.

Want to understand RAW files better? Check out my article explaining what RAW files are.

11. Don’t Rely Heavily On Flash For Lighting Your Subject

Flash is hugely distracting at worship services, so try to avoid using it if possible. If you need to use flash due to your church’s lighting setup, try bouncing it off a nearby wall or ceiling or using a diffuser to create a softer, more natural look. I use the Magmod system as it is convenient and it looks great.

12. Use A Memory Card With A Minimum Speed Class of V30

Your camera’s continuous shooting rate is not the only factor in shot speed; a fast memory card allows it to write information faster, meaning your camera will not have to wait until it’s done writing to keep shooting.

The 95MB/s marked on this particular SD card references the transfer speed, which is only useful when transferring photos from your SD card to your computer. What you want to look for is the speed class, which is marked by the capital “U” with the number 1 in it. That tells us that this card writes at 30MB/s as it is UHS speed class 1 rated.

Is this concept new to you? Check out my article breaking down SD card storage and speed classes.

13. Don’t Over-Edit Your Photos

It’s good to get the exposure and white balance right in your camera, but don’t be afraid to adjust after the fact. Just be sure not to go overboard. Check out my article breaking down my editing process as a professional photographer.

14. Keep An Eye On Body Language

Capturing a worship team member or congregation member’s facial expressions or body language can add emotion and depth to your shots. Worship services are emotional and spiritual by nature; watching to see who is most engaged will strengthen the story behind your photos.

15. Use Manual White Balance

Take special note of this tip if your church uses multicoloured lighting. If your subject is overcast by blue light, your camera’s auto white balance will naturally try and balance out the harsh blue. What it doesn’t know is that that blue light is there intentionally. Consider using a white balance card as the lighting shifts. If you are shooting in RAW format, this is not a huge deal as you can change your white balance while editing using software like Lightroom.

16. Create Depth Using Foreground & Background

There are two main ways you, as a photographer, can create depth. The first is to try out different lenses; a fast lens or long focal length will help separate your subject from the background. The second is to shoot through objects and people to show the distance between them.

17. Don’t Be Afraid To Get Close To Your Subject

Don’t be afraid to move around and try different angles or vantage points. Get close to the action, whether the worship team or the congregation, but be respectful and mindful of your surroundings.

18. Be Respectful of The Volunteers and Congregation

What does it mean to be respectful? Remember that it’s not all about you and your photos, so be respectful of the worship team and the congregation members. Don’t stand in front of anyone or make a lot of noise while shooting.

19. Don’t Forget To Be A Photographer & Congregation Member

Above all, be present as both a photographer and congregation member. Capturing worship services can be stressful and take a lot of focus; try not to get caught up in the technical aspects of the “perfect shot” – just let yourself be present.

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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