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Church PR – Photography

By Daniel Torchia
Listen to this whole Media Ministry Minutes segment on this week’s SLHour.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Image is everything. These are only two of the many proverbs and tenets that express the same truth: man is a very visual creature. It’s no wonder you’ve often heard it said: “the eyes are the window to the soul.” In communications and positioning, the image is, indeed, if not everything than at the very least critical.

And so how are we, as a faith community or Church group, doing in matters of image or images? If you open your diocesan weekly, what pictures do you see? When you pick up your parish bulletin, does it strike you as an inspiring aesthetic? How about your website? Business card?

I wonder what images you’ve conjured up. I know in my world, especially with respect to some diocesan media or secular media covering the Church, I tend to see an over-representation of middle-aged clergy in religious garb. There’s nothing wrong with that image, but why does that particular category tend to attract the lenses of our cameras so much more than other targets or actors? What are we missing instead? And are we even taking out our cameras at the right moments?

In truth, the true image composition of our faith community is absolutely beautiful and diverse: Children in formation; Citizens in community action; Men and women in full expression of art and song; Communities in bloom; People working towards a better tomorrow. These brief sentiments are likely lived out – over and over – throughout your parish community or faith-based group each day. So what are you doing about it? Is there someone who’s got the basic training or reflex to snap some winning pictures? In my career I have the privilege of working with the best photo-journalists in the business: The men and women of Canadian Press Images. Courtesy of their chief photo-journalists, here are some basis tips:

  • The photo should be interesting—eye-catching
  • It should tell your story
  • Large groups and long lines of people are much less interesting than shots of two or three key people
  • Avoid shooting predictable, staid or overly contrived “cheque presentations” or photo ops. Think of some other way to get the message across. Try to showcase emotion and true action (a basic human emotion or activity in motion – think of the image of Bobby Orr’s famous winning goal featured above).
  • Keep shots tight. Do not shoot or crop them loose, with lots of uninteresting/non-pertinent space or clutter around the main focus of the photo. Get up and close to your subjects – and show some emotions
  • Identify the “must have” shots and key people at the outset
  • Be sure to have access to the best vantage points – without being a distraction. If possible, inform organizers of your objective before you start shooting
  • Don’t place too much signage in the image. Local media, for example, are looking for newsworthy images not plastered with advertising. It’s better to place small signage in the foreground, where photographers can keep it in the frame with a speaker or key subjects, but which will enable them to focus on the speaker or subjects, keeping the signage in soft focus

So you’ve captured a few inspiring pictures…Excellent! Now what? Before doing anything, remember to get permission to use the image of your subjects – especially to get consent from parents when the photography involves children. Then make sure to write a nice caption that explains – in just a few words – the who, what, when, where and why. Then, make sure to use them swiftly in any of the following ways:

  1. On your website
  2. On your social media sites (twitter, facebook etc)
  3. Share them by e-mail with natural allies/partners…in particular any Communications Director/Officer who may have access to an internal newsletter or his/her own websites or social media accounts. For example, if you’re with the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, send it to your regional council or national council, as well as your diocesan PR office.
  4. Send the best two pictures (always with captions) to your local or regional newspaper
  5. Share the same top two pics with anyone else you know who has a blog, website or active social media accounts

As a last reminder, never underestimate the beauty that is found on the faces of everyday, ordinary people. It helps to recall the newborn baby who remains affixed and enthralled by the endless assortment of emotions conveyed by his/her parent. As a photographer, try to capture the richness and depth of human expression and emotion. At the end of the day, that’s what will get people talking, remembering and curious to know more. It’s also something that we can all relate to.

Let’s go out and snap some pictures….and remember to share them with us on our Facebook page.

Listen to this week’s segment: