Visual Stories

Using Photography in Worship

Almost everyone I know owns a digital camera; we live in an age where we want to capture every moment and share those visual moments with others. But we don’t often think about how to incorporate this powerful medium into our worship services.

Photographic imagery is all around us in our daily lives. When considering how to integrate photography into our worship, the question is not “Where can we find photos?” but rather, “How do we sift through the seemingly endless images to choose meaningful visual gateways to entering into worship?”

It’s important to remember that art is used most effectively in worship when we consider the worship space as a sacred gestalt—that is, a unified, holistic space whose elements work together to form a pleasing whole. Art used in worship, including photography, should add to, not detract from, our ability to focus our attention on God.

While the most common use of photography in worship may be as backgrounds for PowerPoint slides, there are many other ways to incorporate photographic images. For example, you could use carefully chosen photos to provide visual context for a sermon or sermon series. Use strong original photos, rather than cliché stock photos, to communicate the theme of a worship service on your bulletin cover. If you have space, presenting photos in a gallery-like setting, perhaps framed along the walls of the sanctuary or in the fellowship hall, invites both contemplation and discussion. Brainstorm other ideas with photographers in your congregation.

One important note: always remember to credit the photographer’s work when you use his or her images. When you use photos in the church bulletin, in PowerPoints, or in other ways, include a note in the bulletin giving the title of the work and the photographer’s name (and website where appropriate). If you display photos in a gallery setting, attach a card to the wall next to the photo.

Strong photographs provide new ways to look at and enter into stories about God’s creation, our relationships with one another, and God’s people around the world.

Gathering and Choosing Photographs

A good way to start gathering images is to ask members of your congregation to submit their photos. Using photos taken by people you worship with can be a great way to gain new insights from each other and appreciate the different ways in which we view the world around us. It’s also an excellent way to involve the youth of your congregation.

When choosing images for use in worship, consider this: the secret to a strong photograph is its ability to tell a story. Anyone can take pictures, but to be a good photographer is to be a good storyteller first.

Strong photographs evoke empathy, curiosity, and emotion. They provide new ways to look at and enter into stories about God’s creation, our relationships with one another, and God’s people around the world. A strong photograph isn’t a representation of something, but an invitation to strengthen our focus on, have conversations about, and offer prayers for some aspect of God’s world.

Using photographs in worship can remind us that God’s community is larger than the congregation, encourage the people in our churches who have artistic gifts, and provide a fresh way to tell stories that point to God.

Tips for Photographers

When taking photos, here are some elements to consider.

  • Take photographs, not snapshots. When you’re preparing to take your photo, ask yourself, “Is this an effective composition? Does it capture interest or communicate what I want it to? What story, or stories, does it tell?”
  • Choose an original point of view. Look for the unusual rather than the expected. Is there a more interesting way to tell this story? Is there a different angle that will show another side to the story?
  • Consider the emotional impact. How might the photo you’re about to take evoke empathy, curiosity, joy, or other emotions? When you look at my photo “Aida Camp,” (p. 41) for instance, what do you feel?
  • It’s not all about the subject. The subjects in a photograph are chosen because they support or create an underlying compositional structure. Consider my photo “River Rocks.” While the young girl is in the photo, she is not the only subject. Her figure, the rocks, and the river all equally work together toward creating a strong overall composition. I wanted to capture moments of movement: the contrast between the steady flow of the water and the momentary abruptness of a young girl jumping across the rooted rocks.
  • Rule of thirds: As you look through the viewfinder, imagine two horizontal lines and two vertical lines dividing the image into equal sections. Position your subject on one of these lines. This creates tension, energy, and interest.
  • Edit for impact. Editing a photo can greatly strengthen the image. Crop out unnecessary space or distracting elements. Only keep the elements that add to the composition of your photo. Consider my photo “Island”: I had originally taken a wider-angle shot, but decided to crop out the unnecessary blue space, so that the subject filled up more of the visual space of the photograph.
Janessa Grypma is a fourth-year education student at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia who collects stories, not souvenirs.
Reformed Worship 112 © June 2014, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.