Capture the Moment
I am a writer. So why do I write so much about visual story telling? Because as much as I love words, pictures touch something deep inside of us when words fail.
Words often fail to adequately convey joy. Unless you are a Cleveland Indians fan, you had to feel some of the unmitigated elation in the photos of Chicago fans celebrating a Cubs World Series win in 2016. The images, the faces of players and fans alike, say it all. It’s impossible not to get caught up.
Words also often fail to adequately convey horror. We can read of the plight of desperate people fleeing their country, but until the world saw the horrific Nilüfer Demir 2015 photo of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi who drowned in the surf off Turkey, our comprehension of the humanitarian impact of the refugees’ peril was limited.
Words play to our cerebral understanding; images evoke a sensory response – we feel their power viscerally. In fact, it is often the photos of our lives that influence our very memories. How much do we remember on our own and how much of our memory is triggered by the photos captured at the time?
And yet, so often our church photos are of groups of people, standing awkwardly and smiling, not quite a formal pose, but not a vehicle for storytelling either. Shutterstock, a source of online stock images, suggests that the pictures that elicit the strongest emotional responses fall into six categories:
- Portraits – we are hard-wired from birth to respond to the human face, and as Christians we believe we are made in God’s image, seeking the face of Christ in everyone we meet.
- Babies – this is a universal response across cultures, that even though standards of beauty differ, the ratio of infants’ features provokes a uniform reaction.
- Animals – dog posts and cat memes are on to something! People love animals.
- Inspiration – this one is a little harder because often it translates into a cheesy quote superimposed on a scenic view. Rather, the images that inspire are those that show the triumph of the human spirt, a human figure overcoming some obstacle.
- Nostalgia – calling on our remembrances of personally meaningful people and places. Nostalgia can be a dangerous trap for a faith community relying entirely on the good feelings of the past, especially if the ways we found meaning in the past are in contrast with the way people live their lives today.
- Expressions of Happiness – well duh. When we see someone smile, it is instinctual to smile in response. Laughter is contagious.
So how do we capture these emotional photographs in the context of our congregations and faith communities? How do we create images that celebrate and invite relationships, evoke authentic emotion, and create an indelible memory for all who see them?
Fortunately, you already have the tool you need to capture great shots – your mobile phone! Some tips for capturing great photos using your mobile phone:
Set the Stage!
- Be prepared! Have your mobile phone or your camera with you at all church functions! Know how to open your camera app quickly – most can be opened with a quick swipe without unlocking the screen.
- Be on the lookout! Being a photographer sometimes means you have to step back from the scene. Sometimes you must be an observer and not a participant. Anticipate those golden moments. Be ready for the priest to sprinkle water on the baby’s head during baptism while beaming parents look on. Be watching for the interactions between the youngest members of your congregation and the most senior. Anticipate the moment that your church cook lifts a tray of food from the oven. Wait for the hugs between parents and young people as the young people prepare to leave or return home from camp.
- Enlist a photo corps! You can’t be everywhere at once. Find out who has a good eye and a decent mobile phone camera and enlist them. Ask children to take photos – their unique perspective may surprise and delight you.
Get the Shot!
- Frame the scene – position yourself to capture the entire subject in front of an attractive or neutral background. Look for visual bloopers in the background – candlesticks that appear to be coming out of someone’s head, for example – and reposition yourself accordingly.
- Capture the whole person – don’t cut your subjects off! Unless it’s a portrait, make sure not to scalp them or cut off their feet. You can always crop it later.
- Go both ways – take the same shot both vertically and horizontally. You’ll be surprised at what a difference the orientation makes in your photos.
- Don't zoom – zooming often results in a grainy or blurred image; better to take the photo and crop it.
- Take a burst – especially in group shots, having a series of photos increases the odds that in at least one, everyone will have a good expression on their face. Pick the best of the batch and delete the rest.
- Steady as she goes – for crisp images, learn to hold very still when you shoot. Prop your arms on a solid surface or hold them against your body.
- Natural light – this is always the most flattering light. Even if you aren’t outside, look for illumination from windows. Make sure subjects aren’t lit from behind; rather stand to the side to get a soft sidelight. In harsh outdoor light, look for a uniformly shaded spot.
Clean it Up!
- Sort your photos – the beauty of digital photography is that you can’t take too many images. But large numbers of images can be unwieldy to store. Immediately after shooting an event, go through your photos and delete the ones you don’t need. Keep only the best images from the bursts you’ve taken.
- Crop it tight – a mediocre shot can almost always be improved by good cropping. Don’t leave dead space above and below the subjects; crop out the ceiling and the floor. Furthermore, sometimes you can get multiple shots from a single image by making copies and cropping it differently.
- Color correct – you no longer need to be an expert at Photoshop to correct colorization. Most photo apps allow you to adjust color very easily. Know what color casts occur in different parts of your church, and make a point of correcting them.
- Organize your photos – while your phone app may automatically store images by date, you may want to create thematic organization. Label your folders or albums according to event which will make it easier when you are looking for specific types of images.
- Play with positioning - when you use your shot on social media, look at the auto-cropping, which is different on each platform and on various devices. Make sure the image is cropped so ass to emphasizes the focus of the subject. If not, re-crop or re-position the image.
Anyone can capture a quick image on a mobile phone; it takes some practice however to become a great mobile phone photographer. But it’s well worth it if you want to tell emotionally engaging, visually compelling stories with your photos. If you want to go deeper into mobile phone photography, I love the blog and free video tutorials on iphonephotographyschool.com. While the copy on the site is a little hyperbolic (“How You Too Can Take Incredible iPhone Photos That Everyone Adores And That You’re Proud To Look At Years Later”) and there is a constant push to sign up for the paid online course, the free 10 to 20 minute video tutorials are informative and insightful.
So what are you waiting for! A picture is worth 1000 words – or approximately one blog post – so get out there and start taking some fantastic pictures!
- Lisa Brown, Director of Digital Ministry
Our goal at Membership Vision is to help churches and other faith communities to tell their stories in the digital space. Each church, irrespective of size, has a living and active story to tell, and technology provides an opportunity to share that story in a way that is welcoming and engaging. We ease the burden of keeping communications current, by leveraging content, and harnessing the many ways that members of our communities connect with each other, both inside and outside of the church walls. We aim to remove technological hurdles and allow churches to communicate online in an effective and sustainable way. Contact us at email@example.com or call (805) 626-0143 to talk about the ways we can help your church build a digital presence.