Good Photography In Youth Ministry Feels Unobtainable. Here’s How We Can Fix It. | Josh Whiting

Good Photography In Youth Ministry Feels Unobtainable. Here’s How We Can Fix It. | Josh Whiting

Having killer photography brings obvious benefits:

It happened. Everyone showed up. Your volunteer team went above-and-beyond. First time guests formed connections. God moved. The next day, you’re still basking in the afterglow. You flip through your phone and see a few shots from setup and the selfies you grabbed for social media. But these don’t tell the story, and they aren’t nearly enough to show someone the amazing experience everyone shared last night. If you’ve lived some variation of this story, you’re not alone. In churches with smaller attendance and budgets, this is particularly common, but there are steps you can take today, even if your internal creative team is over capacity and your budget is paper-thin.
The next time you promote a similar activity, you can “show not tell”. Authentic photos are prime content for your social media feeds. 70% of your social feed should be photos of YOUR group. If you haven’t seen it in your data already, people (especially students) respond more often to photos of themselves and their friends over graphics and announcements.
Barna Group has put together a fantastic study of Gen Z, that I highly recommend. One of the big takeaways: Gen Z is not looking for polish. They want real. While professional shots are great to have, other alternatives can still pack a punch.

Option 1: Find A Freelance Photographer

Portrait Photographers

Ask around for folks in your circle of influence that are photographers. These people can currently spend most of their time shooting engagements and babies (they know how to shoot people). With a little elbow grease, they could become top-notch shooters at your events too. The benefit here is usually the portrait photographers are easy to find and on the less expensive end of the spectrum.
AdvantagesPotentially more affordable, You probably already know 6 of these people, Show to shoot people

Event Photographers

Depending on the size of your city, there are event photographers twiddling their thumbs waiting on the next big event to shoot. In between their editorial shots for local news, they could make a few extra bucks with you.
AdvantagesThey know how to shoot in a dark room, They know their way around a stage and a crowd, Busiest Friday / Saturday nights and available for more gigs on Wednesday or Sunday


Option 2: Find A Photographer Without A Budget

Most student ministries I’ve worked with are on a “if you can justify the needs, maybe we’ll consider it” budget. Hiring a photographer for every service is usually not covered inside of that.

1. Create This As A New Volunteer Role.

Believe it or not, you’ve probably got somebody with at least decent photography skills in your group right now. You may even already have someone in mind. Either way, take a minute to write out a job description for this volunteer role. Cast vision. Let your team and your group know about the role to fill and start taking applications.

They don’t need an expensive camera. They don’t need a degree or 6,000 hrs in Lightroom. To do this job well you really only need 4 things:
  • A desire to contribute
  • An iPhone + possibly lightweight editing apps *ahem* VSCO. (If they don’t have this app already, spend $20 and get it for ‘em.)
  • The ability to take better photos than you
  • Room in their schedule to show up 1-3 times per month
You’d be surprised how many people can check off those 4 boxes. Amazing things happen when you cast vision and wait for people to rise to the challenge.

2. Save Your Money For The Pivotal Events.

Whether it’s a weekend getaway, a big night event, summer camp, or whatever you call your bigger-than-normal activities, add in a few hundred bucks additional budget for photo and/or video help. This is a huge value add for the next time you’re looking to promote a similar activity.
Anytime you possibly can, show students what they are signing up for. A picture’s worth a thousand words (and a few hundred bucks of earmarked funds).

3. Co-op Budget With Church-Wide Events

Depending on the size and structure of your church, they may already be contracting a photographer (or have someone on staff) a couple of times a month to come shoot during a service. Bring that photographer coffee next week. Slide them a $50. Show them where your students normally sit.
Then go into the church photo database (aka huge Dropbox folder) and start skimming off the good shots of your students. Most people on seeing it in a post or promotion won’t be able to tell if that student is worshipping on Sunday morning in “adult service” or Wednesday night during youth service. And honestly, does it matter?
You can frame this out in a variety of ways, but the point is working in tandem with the other photos your church is already taking and figure out a way to use existing shots, without adding more work or dollars to the equation.

Good photography matters. 

It’s only going to happen if you cast the vision and share the need. You don’t need a massive budget. You don’t need a fancy DSLR. You just need to start leading that part of your ministry, the same way you do with worship, events, small groups, and first impressions.
Josh Whiting, Founder of Bright Coal Creative

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