The ULTIMATE Guide to Church Photography Lenses

There are tons of factors that go into choosing lenses for photography. In this guide, I’ll give you valuable insights and recommendations to help you, a beginner or a seasoned photographer, to build your camera kit.

When choosing a lens for church photography, you must consider three things; focal length, aperture, and prime versus zoom lenses. Photographers often have a camera kit with lenses covering a wide range of focal lengths. Photographers often favour prime lenses due to their wider maximum aperture.

Choosing the right lens for church photography is a task that has many layers. This guide will serve as the ultimate resource as you build out your kit of camera lenses.

What Lens Do You Need For Church Photography?

The optimal lens for church photography depends on your specific shooting situation. Church photography is a wide umbrella and requires photographers to be comfortable shooting in different environments. For a more complete understanding of this concept, check out my article explaining what church photography is.

Below is a chart outlining different environments you might shoot as a church photographer. It also lists common lens types used for each environment; keep in mind, that photographers often use a blend of multiple lenses and lens types. Also, zoom lenses can be used in place of prime lenses, but photographers often prefer prime lenses for their wider maximum apertures.

Shooting EnvironmentCommon Lens Type(s) Used
Church ServiceTelephoto lens
Church BuildingWide-angle lens (Prime or Zoom)
Worship Team In ActionTelephoto lens (during service), Prime lens (Rehearsals)
Candids of CongregantsPrime lens
Portraits of Staff/Volunteers/CongregantsPrime lens
Staff HeadshotsPrime lens
Church EventsPrime lens, Telephoto lens
BaptismsTelephoto lens
Missions & OutreachPrime lens (controlled environments), Zoom lens (on the go)
Church GroupsPrime lens
Volunteer MinistriesPrime lens
Church Material DetailsMacro lens

Some of the shooting environments listed above are low-light, and some include people in action. Some require you to be close-up, some at a distance. Some of these environments may benefit from highlighting the subject using bokeh, and some may benefit from a wide plane of focus. All this to say: different situations call for different lenses. There isn’t one lens that is perfect in every situation and environment.

Photographers build a kit of lenses that they switch between at their discretion. As a beginner, you can get by with one or two lenses but, as you shoot more, you’ll quickly realize some of the shots you want to take require different lenses. Consider what situations you photograph the most and build your camera kit accordingly.

3 Things You Need To Consider When Choosing A Lens

Some lenses are more versatile than others; for example, macro lenses are very specialized and aren’t used in a lot of church photography. Telephoto lenses are great for photographing church services but are difficult for shooting church groups in small spaces or your church’s office. The goal of lens selection is to find the best tool to carry out your creative vision.

1. Focal Length

Understanding Focal Length

Focal length is the distance from a camera’s lens to its image sensor. To be specific, it measures the point inside the lens where the incoming light rays converge to one point to the exact location inside your camera body where its sensor is placed. The position of a camera’s sensor is marked externally on the camera body using this symbol φ.

In photography, focal length is generally measured in millimetres (mm). An analogy I like to make is to compare the focal length to a magnifying glass. Holding a magnifying glass closer to your eye makes objects appear smaller and gives you a wider field of view. Similarly, a wider focal length (lower mm) will give you a wider field of view and will cause close-up objects to appear smaller.

Conversely, holding a magnifying glass farther away, like using a longer (higher mm) focal length will give you a narrower field of view and cause far away objects to appear larger in your composition i.e. more zoomed in.


Using a longer focal length will result in more compression in your photo. Compression makes far-away objects appear closer together and flatter. Photographers often use this effect to help isolate the subject from the background as it accentuates bokeh (blurry background) really well.

On the other hand, at high focal lengths like telephoto and super telephoto lenses, compression slowly starts to misinterpret the dimensions of people’s faces which is why photographers don’t generally use telephoto lenses for headshots.

Lens Distortion

Another effect of focal length is lens distortion which materializes in photography in two ways; barrel distortion and pincushion distortion.

Wide-angle lenses are subject to barrel distortion, the shorter the focal length (lower mm) the more likely it will display barrel distortion. This causes your image to appear to curve outwards, especially near the edge of your frame. Think of a fisheye lens and how it distorts images, that’s a dramatic example of distortion in a wide-angle lens.

Telephoto lenses are subject to pincushion distortion, longer focal lengths display more distortion. Pincushion distortion displays the exact opposite of barrel distortion; your image appears to curve inwards, especially near the edges of your frame.

When it comes to distortion, it becomes more prominent the lower or higher your focal length is, with the minimal amount being around 50mm. Distortion is also easier to see when you have straight lines in your composition, especially near the edges of your frame. The tricky part with using zoom lenses is that they will exhibit different distortion characteristics depending on each focal length.

Some camera and lens combinations have profiles that correct for lens distortion in-camera. You can also correct lens distortion using software like Adobe Lightroom using included distortion profiles or profiles downloaded from your lens manufacturer’s website.

2. Aperture

The aperture is the opening in your camera’s lens in which light is let through. It functions like the pupil of your eye; the wider it is, the more light is let in. Conversely, the narrower the aperture is, the less light gets let in.

When you change the aperture of your lens, its aperture blades either extend to narrow its opening or contract to widen the opening, letting more light through. In photography, the aperture is measured using f-stops, usually denoted by “f/ “.

Changing the aperture of your lens changes the focal plane, the amount of your image that is in focus. This characteristic of a lens’ aperture is used by photographers to separate their subject from the background. At a wide or large aperture, a small f-stop like f/1.4 or f/2.8, lots of light is let in which is great for low-light situations. Wide apertures (low f-stops) create a shallow depth of field, isolating the subject from the background and foreground.

Small apertures, like f/8 or f/16, create small openings for light to enter your lens. This is ideal for bright environments or when you would like to keep more of your image in focus. The smaller the aperture, the more of your image is in focus. Wide apertures are often used in portrait photography to isolate the subject.

In low-light shooting environments like that of a church service, a wide aperture can help you properly expose your image without introducing noise from high ISO. It’s crucial for photographers to understand noise; luckily, I have an article breaking down what noise is and how to avoid it.

3. Prime vs Zoom

A prime lens has a fixed focal length, which means it doesn’t zoom in or out. For example, a 35mm prime lens has a constant field of view, this means that you need to physically move the position of the camera to change your composition. A zoom lens has a variable focal length, which means you can zoom in or out to change your composition without changing lenses or your camera’s position.

In general, prime lenses have wider maximum apertures, allowing more light into the camera and a shallower depth of field. This is the reason many photographers prefer prime lenses to zoom lenses, especially at wider focal lengths where compression isn’t prevalent to help accentuate bokeh.

As a result of this wider aperture, prime lenses can be beneficial for low-light photography or portrait photography. They can also promote creativity as they force the photographer to move and view different perspectives.

Zoom lenses are more versatile than prime lenses because you have a range of focal lengths available to you. Most lenses that come included with camera bodies, called “kit” lenses are zoom lenses, one of the most common ranges is the 18-55mm kit lens.

Zoom lenses generally have narrower maximum apertures, and often have variable maximum apertures. This means that as you zoom in, increasing your focal length, your maximum aperture increases. For example, this Tamron 70-300mm for the Sony E-Mount has an aperture range of f/4.5-6.3. This means that at 70mm the maximum aperture is f/4.5 while at 300mm the maximum aperture is f/6.3.

It is possible to buy a zoom lens that has a constant aperture, but those are generally only included in premium lenses and you will pay more money to purchase one of these lenses.

How To Choose Lenses For Your Camera

I highly recommend that, as you read through these steps, you take a piece of paper and a pen and physically write out your answer for each step. Doing so will create a concrete plan for you to build out your camera kit, and will give you something tangible to show to your church administrators if you are working with your church’s budget.

1. Determine What Lens Mount Your Camera Uses

The first thing you need to do when choosing a lens for church photography is to determine what lens mount your camera body has. To do so, look for your camera’s product page on its manufacturer’s website. Below, I have included links to each major camera manufacturer’s product lineup pages to help get you started.

The lenses available to you depend on the camera body you have. Unless you use mount adapters, you are generally confined to your camera system’s lens selection. Mount adapters allow photographers to use lenses from one lens mount to another. For example, if you have a camera that utilizes Sony E Mount lenses, you can use Canon EF Mount lenses by utilizing a mount adapter. This way, you can use a Sony body with Canon lenses.

2. List Any Gear You Own or Can Borrow

The next step is to make a list of any gear you already own or can borrow. This could be lenses or camera bodies you own or have access to through your church. If you have access to lenses that use a different mount to your camera body, it may be more cost-effective to get a mount adapter instead of buying your lenses.

The tricky part with borrowing gear is that you need to make you are forward-thinking. Consider the following; how long can you borrow this gear for? Will this gear be available to borrow outside of Sunday services for special events? Can you afford to replace or repair this gear should anything happen to it?

If you are volunteering or working for your church as a photographer and utilizing their gear, there is (to an extent) an assumption of risk on their part that their gear may take some wear and tear. Borrowing gear from friends and family while you build your kit can be a great option to save money, but I wouldn’t recommend borrowing for long periods.

3. Consider What You Will Be Photographing

What you photograph plays a major role in your lens selection. If you are mainly photographing portraits and candid of congregants for your church, 35mm, 55mm, and 85mm prime lenses are perfect. If you’re mainly photographing church services, consider a longer focal length prime lens like an 85mm or a telephoto lens like the Canon 70-200mm. While you’re listing out your core shooting environments, be sure to refer to earlier in this article where I included a chart with common shooting environments and lens selections.

4. Determine Your Budget

Next, you need to consider your budget. How much do you have or are you willing to spend on lenses? This can be either your money or possibly part of your church’s budget. If you’re dealing with your church’s budget you might not get a concrete dollar amount. Sometimes you need to create a proposal to submit to your church’s administration.

Also, make sure to leave room in your budget if you need a camera body. For help in your search, check out my article explaining how to pick out the best camera body for church photography.

5. Decide Between Buying New or Used Lenses

Buying used lenses can save you money and allow you to buy more gear. Though, it’s important to note that it can be risky if you aren’t careful. Lenses are carefully constructed; a lens can look fine on the outside but be damaged internally. Similarly, a lens can have scratches and scuffs on the outside but function perfectly.

I recommend buying new or used through reputable dealers like B&H and KEH or supporting small businesses by purchasing through a well-rated local camera store.

6. Plan Out Your Camera Kit

Now that you know what kind of lenses you are looking for, what gear you have access to, and the budget you have for it, you can begin to plan out your camera kit. Consider this; do you have room in your budget for one lens or multiple? If you have room for multiple, I recommend getting prime lenses. If you only have room for one lens, you can either go with a versatile focal length of 35mm lens or a zoom lens.

You might be able to find a camera body with a “kit lens” to save money. For more help building a solid camera kit, check out my article covering must-have lenses for your kit.

Is A Kit Lens Enough For Church Photography?

A “kit lens” is a basic lens that is part of a camera “kit” when you purchase a new camera body. In general, a kit lens aims to provide a versatile focal length range at a low cost for general photography. Kit lenses are adaptable because they are generally zoom lenses. The most common of these lenses are 18-55mm.

Kit lenses are designed to be affordable which means they are often made from cheaper materials and have variable aperture ranges. A kit lens is a great start for beginner or hobbyist photographers. If you want to get started with church photography but have a low budget, a kit lens is a solid choice. From there, you can start to add prime lenses as you build your kit.

Looking to start editing your photos? Check out my article highlighting the best editing software for church photographers.

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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