Anyone with a relatively new smartphone can take great pictures, but you need to do more than just take a ton of pictures and keep them on your phone if you want to use them for ministry. This summer you can be intentional about taking pictures, improving them and using them for your church communications. There are plenty of tools.  

Edit Your Photos

In the same way that you must edit and refine your writing, you need to edit with your photos. Here’s how to start:

  1. Shoot intentionally – Think ahead of time what you want your photos to say. Before shooting, select a theme, like: “I want to show how involved our church is with the community.” It will help you take pictures of your outreach teams in action, the people volunteering, the locations where they do ministry.
  2. Group photos don’t tell a story – Group photos (the kind that portrays a bunch of people standing in a line, facing the camera) say nothing beyond, “This is the group that served the homeless in our city.” Take one group photo to remind the people of who went on the trip and give it to them, but publishing it online says nothing more than showing the people involved. There is no motion, no action, no emotion, no story. Instead of group photos, take pictures of individuals interacting with the people they help. Show them loading up the van with supplies. Show your pastor hugging a homeless person, or two volunteers praying together before leaving to minister.
  3. Almost every photo will be better if it is tightly cropped. You can do that to some degree when you shoot an image, but usually, you need to do more. Just like a well-edited story is far more powerful than one that rambles all over, a tightly cropped photo that zeros in on something essential is always more powerful. (You can do simple cropping right on your phone, but below I provide a list of sites you can use on your computer at the church office.)
  4. Caption your photos. This is essential. No picture is self-explanatory. It may be very meaningful to you, but if you don’t caption it your audience will learn nothing from it and they may come to a totally incorrect conclusion of the meaning of the picture. This is especially important with ministry pictures where your audience may not know the people or the setting.

Create Your Own Photo Bank

You usually don’t have time to take a picture or plan a photo shoot when you need a picture and are on a writing deadline, but if you’ve planned ahead and you have your own photo bank of pictures to draw from you will create much more effective communications. This can be a lot of work, but you will be glad you did it later on during the year when you write about ministries, ask for volunteers or post on social media. Here are some tips for how to create your photo bank:

Think through ahead of time all the groups and ministries you’d like to have pictures of. Then during the summer, not only take pictures of mission trips and special events but also be strategic about putting together a collection of photos that you can use during the year. Assign members of a team to help get all you need.

Take pictures of your church, the outside, various departments at different times of the day and from different angles. Take abstract shots from various angles of the pulpit, the lighting and the cross, whatever distinctive features of your building you have. Take pictures of the kitchen and fellowship halls with and without people. Some of these can later serve as great backgrounds for social media messages.

Take pictures of the staff — not formal, posed pictures, but pictures of them involved in ministry. Get a picture of the senior pastor involved with children at VBS, of the church secretary and the group that puts together the bulletin, of the key committees and leadership that meet at the church. Take shots close-up and from various angles.

Take pictures of the various ministries of the church — capture everything: the children’s ministry, the music ministry (practicing as well as performing), outreach ministries serving with a ministry like Habitat for Humanity, teachers teaching classes (from the students’ viewpoint and over their shoulder): whatever catches your eye.

Take pictures of “found objects” that can be used for spiritual purposes: Bibles owned by members with lots of scribbled notes; the rocking chair in the nursery, crosses or statues around the church, signs or markers of various kinds, local images that have meaning to your congregation. Think about backgrounds for social media, like sunsets behind the church, and make them specifically your own.

Tech Tools to Modify Your Photos

There is no need to learn Photoshop in order to crop and modify your images. Though there are many free and low-cost options out there, here are three I like a lot. The first has a minimal cost; the next two are free.

PicMonkey is my favorite. It’s $7.99 a month, or $71.88 a year, but you can do an incredible amount of image editing, applying lots of different filters and effects. They have a seven-day free trial to test it out.

Ipiccy.com — This program is similar to PicMonkey and it is free. It doesn’t have all the features but it has a lot of them, and the ability to make some great collages very easily. (It does have advertising, but it isn’t very intrusive.)

Paint.net – Another free program that has more advanced image manipulation.

If you only have the time to try one and no money, go with ipiccy.com — it’s lots of fun and very easy to use.

Here’s a free, short course on How to make the most of mission trip photos that illustrate a number of the tips talked about. Now that you know what to do, get out there and start taking photos that will make your church communication ministry more effective all year long!