best camera for church photography

Filmmaking and streaming are the hot topics today, but cultivating a photo archive of your worship experience is equally important. Here are tips to help make your stills even more emotionally powerful and riveting.

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A picture is worth a thousand words, as the saying goes. Images reach into the depths of our understanding, being and connection. They speak to us both collectively and individually. Void of words, they leave room for imagination, mystery, empathy, love and the full gamut of emotions to take shape.

Images reach into the depths of our understanding, being and [emotional] connection. 

The power of a single image has been chronicled over time. From the iconic Mona Lisa, to the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima, to the stunning beauty of planet earth, photographed from space for the first time, pictures shape society in powerful ways. As houses of worship navigate the digital and cultural shift in the 21st-century, engaging their congregations in fresh, relevant ways has become a necessity rather than a luxury.

While live-streaming and recording services through video has become a mainstay, cultivating a photo archive of your worship experience and using those images for powerful connection can be a huge asset for any house of worship.

In a digital society now, overloaded with photos on a daily basis, tasking a staff member or volunteer with simply pulling out their phone during a service and start ing to snap sounds easy enough. But the technical and artistic elements of capturing powerful images are what can transform your worship photography into powerful, captivating stories.

The Reason and Purpose

Any extension of your church should have a clear purpose and reasoning, and the same rings true for photography. What purpose should these images serve? How will these further our mission and vision of the church? How will these help captivate and lead people forward in their individual and spiritual lives?

The secondary level resides in how the images will be used. Are they for internal use only, social media, print, external promotion within your city, or other means? Define, even loosely, where your photography will reside and be used. It always makes a difference in knowing who your final audience will be and how that might dictate decisions moving forward.

Camera Setup

Like any technology, cameras have come a long way over the years. While smartphones and associated apps can contribute worthy solutions to photography, a full-featured camera and lens would be the first option for most photographers.

One of the most important setup functions is to shoot in RAW. Unlike JPEG images, RAW captures a full, uncompressed image that will allow for much greater editing without losing the image integrity.

One of the most important setup functions is to shoot in RAW.

Depending on your indoor environment, setting your white-balance to AUTO is convenient for many photographers. With events moving quickly and lighting changing for various mood, it will be difficult to keep switching your settings in the moment. The goal here it is to allow for seamless shooting without missing key events.

Most modern DSLR or mirrorless cameras will allow you to choose a shooting style. The default is single shot, which takes one photo when pressing the shutter button. Some photographers will also use burst or continuous mode, which will take quick, successive photos while holding down the shutter button. This can be advantageous, especially during worship since subjects can be moving and your chances of capturing the right moment can be greatly increased.

For most photographers shooting handheld, a good rule of thumb is to shoot at 1/160 shutter speed or faster. Unless you are shooting from a tripod, capturing a more advanced time lapse or extended exposure, 1/160 will keep motion blur from occurring. Be mindful of your shutter speed becoming too fast in order to keep your ISO down, thereby preventing too much digital “noise” from distorting the image. With any techniques, rules can always be broken in order to induce creative, artsy effects. As always, know the rules first before you break them.

Look for zoom lenses with a 2.8/f aperture or fixed lenses that will reach 1.8/f to 1.4/f.

Choosing a high quality, flexible lens is another important consideration. Because of shooting indoors, often in low-light situations, having a wide aperture–meaning one that allows more light to hit the sensor and keep your photos from being grainy or cranking your camera’s ISO–will be much better for worship situations. Look for zoom lenses with a 2.8/f aperture or fixed lenses that will reach 1.8/f to 1.4/f.

While one lens will never be able to cover every situation, a 24-70mm is a good place to start.

While one lens will never be able to cover every situation, a 24-70mm is a good place to start. Many photographers will also employ a 70-200mm since they will be shooting from a distance, allowing for better closeups. With any lens, think about the best solution to shoot during a service without needing to switch lenses, thus taking you away from the action.

Last but not least, a flash should never be used indoors for this type of shooting. Any in-camera lights, sounds, or other potential distractions should always be turned off.

Composition

The technical setup of a camera is no doubt important to learn, but the real magic always resides in the composition of your image.

Placing a subject at the left or right thirds line always creates a much more dynamic image. It gives a subject room to move, and it helps direct the eye.

One of the most fundamental techniques of great image composition is known as the rule of thirds. By dividing the frame into three equal columns and rows, you will see both mentally and visually points of intersection. Placing a subject at the left or right thirds line always creates a much more dynamic image. It gives a subject room to move, and it helps direct the eye. Place horizons or other horizontal elements like stages on a lower thirds line. This will make sure the viewer is not distracted by too much space above or below.

Try to eliminate distracting elements such as mic stands or speakers unless they add to the moment.

With the rule of thirds at hand, consider the entire framing of your photo. Is this an intimate moment with outstretched arms, hands or other parts of a subject that convey emotions? Always consider what helps convey the story within the image. Try to eliminate distracting elements such as mic stands or speakers unless they add to the moment.

Another area of emphasis when framing shots is that of balance. A dark subject in silhouette needs the balance of a lighter background or space so that we see something other than a dark mass in the photo. The same is true when our subject is white or lit brightly. Think about an angle that balances out darker areas, bringing better contrast and visual weight. 

Tell A Story, Be Creative

The power within any artistic medium–whether that be visual, aural or other sensory areas–is the story we as artists can transmit. While the technical aspects of photography are no doubt important to master, the way we tell a story through imagery is expansive.

As a photographer, you have the unique freedom to tell a story in a fresh, engaging manner. Guard yourself from falling into the same patterns, shooting the same angles, from the same spots at the same parts of the service. Coverage of close, medium, and long shots should always be in the back of your mind. Keep a mental note of how you’re covering the space. Because after all, those in the congregation are experiencing the worship service from a different vantage point than others. Look for a new way to capture the worship leader’s position on stage. Find different way to frame worshippers in the congregation. Use light to contrast a moment. Beauty and story is all around. You simply need to look.

Always prioritize portraying people well … be judicious in using the best images that show others at their best. Think smiles, flattering angles and solid composition. 

A final consideration in telling the story is awareness. Most people do not enjoy bad photos of themselves. Most are self-conscious about photos to begin with. Always prioritize portraying people well. As is the case with any photographer, you will only use a small percentage of photos taken on any given day. But be judicious in using the best images that show others at their best. Think smiles, flattering angles and solid composition. The easiest question to ask is: “If this were a photo of me, would I post this publicly and enjoy it?”

Our job is to be a point of trust and light for those around us. Regardless of the type of scope of our place of worship, when we use our gifts and creativity to tell a story of hope and human connection, we will connect our church members in a way that brings beauty, honor and spiritual growth in a powerful way.

3 Camera Setups Under $1,000 For Churches

Nowadays, having a camera setup for your church is almost essential. Unfortunately, cameras aren’t the cheapest things on the planet.

On the bright side, cameras can remain extremely useful for years after they are released, meaning you can buy a used camera and still get a lot out of it. Cameras also have a habit of going on sale during the holiday seasons!

Here are 3 camera setups for you to look into for you church all under $1,000:

Panasonic G85

The Panasonic G85 was first released in 2016, making it the oldest camera on our list. The camera comes with a 12-60mm f3.5-5.6 variable aperture lens and sells for $798 USD.

The Panasonic G85 can shoot video at 30fps in 4k, and can shoot up to 60fps in 1080p HD. It comes with a flip-out screen and a 16 megapixel micro-four thirds sensor.

This camera has no record limit, which is perfect for shooting a sermon or worship night. Unfortunately the Panasonic G85 has poor autofocus, but it comes with a great in-body image stabilization which means you won’t ever need a gimbal to stabilize your shot.

Sony a6400

The Sony a6400 was first released in 2019. It comes with a 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 variable aperture lens, and you can pick one up for $998 USD.

The camera can shoot video 30fps in 4k, and up to 120fps at 1080p HD while also coming with a flip-up screen and a 25 megapixel APS-C sensor.

The Sony a6400 also has no record limit, but unlike the Panasonic G85, this camera comes with excellent autofocus, making it perfect for quick and easy focus adjustments. Something to keep in mind is that the Sony a6400 doesn’t have any image stabilization.

Canon M50

Canon M50 was first released in 2018, and comes with a 15-45mm f3.5-6.3 variable aperture lens. You can grab this camera for only $649 USD. That price-point makes the Canon M50 the cheapest camera on our list.

The Canon M50 shoots video in 4k at 24fps, 1080p at 60fps, and can even shoot up to 120fps. Although, shooting at this high of a frame-rate will pull your quality down to 720p. This camera comes with a flip-out screen and a 25 megapixel APS-C sensor.

Similar to the Sony a6400, the Canon M50 has excellent autofocus. It also comes with digital image stabilization, which isn’t as good as in-body stabilization, but still better than nothing. One of the biggest downsides to the Canon M50 is its 30-minute record limit. However, if you’re going to be shooting short videos, then the Canon M50 may be the way to go.

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