Stock photos – we can picture them from a mile away. Whether it’s the way that everyone is laughing at the same time in a perfectly lighted coffee shop, or that the family on the couch looks way too happy to just be sitting there; we recognize a stock photo within half a second. Now…wait, you might be asking.. “Is this guy anti-stock photo?” No, let make this clear – I’m not against stock photos. But stock photos have their place. And when it comes to using social media marketing to promote your church, nothing beats real genuine photos.

Now, it might seem intimidating. You might begin to ask yourself “Who is going to take these pictures?” “What if we don’t have a nice camera?” “Will there be a problem if we post people’s pictures online?” We’ll cover some of those basics in a moment. The first question to ask is, “Why?” Why should you use real photos instead of glossy and perfectly posed stock photos? Because real photos tell a story. They tell your church’s story, share your culture and values, and give a glimpse to people who are not a part of your church what it would be like if they were. That’s something stock photos can never do.

Here are some practical tips on using church stock photos for your social media marketing.

  1. Put a disclaimer on your church’s bulletin or weekly communication. Stating something similar to the following: “Photographers may be present at church and at church events, and if you would like to opt out of having your picture used in social media and marketing purposes, please visit the table at the lobby.” This notifies members and guests that pictures will be taken. It also puts the responsibility on them to reach out to you if they would like to opt out of their picture being used. Always consult an attorney for the best practices when it comes to picture release disclaimers and copyright issues.
  2. Be extra cautious when it comes to taking and using pictures of children for church stock photos. To avoid any conflict only use pictures of children from side profiles or wide-angle shots where you are not able to identify children’s faces. Also, avoid including pictures where the child’s name is visible on a name tag or sticker when using for church stock photos. If you do use a picture where the children can be identified, make sure to get permission from the parents or guardians.
  3. Schedule your photographers. If you use Planning Center or any other scheduling software, set a rotation schedule of photographers just like you would with volunteers or worship team members. This ensures pictures will always be taken during services and events which will give you plenty of material to work with.
  4. Cast the vision. Select people who already have an interest/involvement in photography or people who have potential talent and offer them training if needed. Schedule a vision meeting and explain to your photographers that they are not just taking pictures each week but capturing church stock photos. Just like I mentioned above, convey the message that they are sharing the story of your church. They are capturing moments for those who do not attend your church.
  5. Streamline the process. Whether each person has their own camera, or there is just one camera being used for church stock photos, make sure the quality is similar between all photographers. Once pictures are taken, put a system in place where pictures are being onto a hard drive or cloud storage system (ie. DropBox). Whatever your system looks like, it’s important to have one that is consistent and easy to execute on a weekly basis. If photos are not stored consistently, SD cards get filled fast which causes problems such as deleting pictures before being backed up.

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