How to use Photography & the Visual Arts for God
Learn more in my blog series
Photography and the visual arts are some of the most powerful communication mediums humanity has. It has the ability to inspire, to invoke, to exhort, and to educate, whether for positive or negative results. I firmly believe God calls photographers and visual artists to influence the world for His purposes, even more so, I think He expects creative’s to use their ability for good. Like every other talent and gift, it is meant to be stewarded wisely for the benefit of others and for the expansion of His Kingdom. Taking pictures (be it moving or still) is more than just a hobbyist pass time, or an expression of self fulfillment, or even an industry used for commercial marketing. It is a calling. An admonition by creator God to capture and display the world, and all within it, with the profound beauty He designed it to have. The lens and what it captures has light in it, both literally and figuratively.
What follows are my thoughts on how this light practically outworks itself in the life of a Christian photographer. One who desires to have their craft submitted to the direction and lordship of Jesus Christ. It is not limited to photographers only (even though most of my language may be geared towards them). I certainly think many of the principles apply to all areas of creativity and visual communication. It is my prayer and hope that the reader would find something useful and inspiring in their own pursuit of creative expression. That it would point them to the One who calls us to work with Him and for Him in the exciting world of the media. I am in no way an expert in this field, I learn and grow daily in the art of effective visual communication. It will certainly be a life-long journey. But I am very much passionate about it and wholeheartedly believe that God cares and is intimately at work in this ever-changing industry.
I chose to publish this as an online blog series so that it can be easily accessible, shared, and also so that I can periodically add to it as I continue to learn more.
A table of contents menu is available on the yellow button to the bottom left and at the very bottom is a progress indicator bar to give the reader an idea of how far along they are in reading.
The series is split into two sections; the “why” and the “how” of photography. Why do we take pictures? What is the point of it? Is God in it or can He be glorified in it? And then How do we conduct ourselves in the photography industry? How do we set ourselves a part? How do we bring God into what we do?
I hope and pray you find it enlightening.
The “Why” of Photography
Why do we do it? Why take a photo?
Photography is one of the oldest and probably the most common method of capturing and preserving a memory. We all have heard the old adage that a picture says 1000 words. It’s how we express our thoughts and feelings. How we tell a story in a form that can outlive ourselves.
God was the first Creative and He enjoyed what He did, He expressed delight in creating (Prov 8:23-31, Psa 104:31). We are the same and have that same nature. In this section, we explore more of why we take photos and the goal behind certain photographic categories.
The “How” of Photography
This is not necessarily about the technicalities of photography, like aperture, iso, shutter, lighting, and composition. But more to talk about how we represent ourselves as agents of God in the photography world.
It is a very flooded industry with many voices and opinions about what makes a good photographer. In this section, we explore some practical principles to implement in our craft.
To give you a short intro into who I am. Hi, my name is Justin 🙂
I’ve been playing around in the photography world for around 15 years now. You’ll often find me with a camera or laptop in my hands. I love technology, especially because of the things you can create with them.
I have a business as a freelance photographer and also the privilege of overseeing communications for Hillsong Africa Foundation. I am blessed to be working in fields that I am passionate about and enables me to serve others with the gifts God has given me.
My freelance business is called inLite studio. It’s something I started with my brother many years ago. It’s a creative agency we started because we are passionate about many forms of media, from photography to video, music, websites, 3D animation, etc. These skills are a language and our aim in life and as a business is to utilize that language to shine a light into the world and make Jesus known, spreading the good news of all that God has for us.
Of the various things I am skilled in, photography is one of my foremost passions. I’ve been taking pictures as long as I can remember. When I was much younger my parents had a small film camera and when I found it I would take it with me on family outings. There was never any film in it and I couldn’t take pictures with it but I just got a kick out of looking at the world through a viewfinder. My siblings and I are blessed to have parents who supported our dreams and did whatever they could to guide us into living up to our God-given potential.
Eventually, when I got a small point and shoot digital camera I was always “that guy” at parties or functions taking photos for fun. People would start actually asking me to take pictures at events and I started getting paid for it, not much, but it was humble beginnings. I’m not even sure when or how I started taking it seriously but a massive nudge in this industry was my involvement in Hillsong church. I’ve been part of Hillsong Cape Town for around 8 years. I was attracted by the excellent use of media and production as well as the sense of community. My first experience of Hillsong was when my cousin and a friend of ours attended encounter with Carl Lentz as the guest speaker. I remember distinctly where I was sitting in the top balcony and just having this knowing deep down that this was home and where I was meant to be. So I started attending for a year and just got used to the culture. Then one day they announced the very first creative team night (an event for creatives to hang out and learn from each other) and I thought it was an awesome opportunity to get involved and help out in something I had some experience in. I joined the photography team and had found my people. This was where I grew and found like-minded friends. The consistency of serving in photography was an important part of what I have learned and the creative I am becoming. Not long after joining I eventually was asked to lead the photography team for the South African location which stretched my ability to photograph but also to look after other creatives and build a healthy team. This I did alongside many great individuals who have shaped me in ways they will probably never know.
A couple of years into leading the team as a volunteer I was offered a role at Hillsong Africa Foundation to oversee the communications department full time. This is where I currently am and it continues to push me to new levels whilst also deepening my resolve to inspire other creatives to use the world of media and communications for the glory of God.
The “Why” of Photography
Why do we do it? Why take a photo?
The visual arts is as old as cave wall drawings and photography is one of the oldest and probably the most common method of capturing and preserving a memory. We all have heard the old adage that a picture says 1000 words. It can say so much that words can’t. It’s how we express our thoughts and feelings. How we tell a story in a form that can outlive ourselves.
A newborn baby understands the image of his or her mother months before they understand what the word “mommy” means. As humans, we understand images instantly. Ninety percent of the information sent to the brain is visual and it processes images far faster than words.
It’s estimated that over the past 174 years 3.5 trillion photos have been taken. With the rise of portable cameras and mobile phones, 10 percent of that total has been taken in the past few years alone and 140 Billion photos have been uploaded to Facebook (99% of which are probably selfies 😉 ).
So it’s safe to say that photography is a massive part of mankind and is something all of us have done or been a part of. An image has a way of communicating something that no other medium can. It can have feelings associated with it or concepts or memories attached to it. Everywhere we look we see images and it’s one of the best ways to represent and express who we are. But as universal as photography is, being believers, everything we do has a connection to Jesus and we want to reflect Him in it.
How huge then is the calling for creatives to use this powerful platform for the right reasons!
If mankind processes images at lightning speed and is surrounded by it in a visually driven society, how imperative does it become for the church to use it to effectively reach the world!?
I am certain that if photography was around in Jesus’ day He would have used it to influence people. The fact that He spoke in parables or used figurative speech (even drawing in the sand) are all indications that Jesus appealed to peoples imaginations and He used images or concepts to get His message across. I believe today He uses it and expects us to use creativity to lift Him up as well as build others up. So when you ask yourself why you do anything in life. Photography is no different. Why do I do it? because I want to use it as means to glorify God and spread His love through it. Like it says in 1 Cor 10:31 Whether you eat or drink or (Or take photos) whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. So that will always be the motive for any Christian Creative.
1 Cor 10:31
“Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
Next to using photography as a means of serving God and others. Another vital aspect of it is the “experiencing” or as the Bible puts it; the “tasting of God” (Psa 34:8).
God created our senses and intends for us to experience Him through them. What we see and envision is one of the gifts of God to understand more of who He is. Have you ever looked at a photograph of the Northern lights or a snow-capped mountain and wondered at the marvel of creation? Or looked at the photo of a wise old grandparent or newborn baby and reminisced on fond memories of them?
As a photographer, have you watched the changing of shadows and light as the sun moves across the sky each day creating an other-worldly flare and glow? Have you walked in a forest early in the morning, with your shoes treading in the dense, muddy ground and the smell of pine needles around you while raising your camera to encapsulate the beauty that you find yourself in? Have you taken a portrait of a stranger sitting on a public bench, their mind far way in deep thought but unaware of the look of contemplation and character in their face, a unique and brief moment for your to immortalize in a photo? Have you watched a young family play and laugh together as you capture the unbreakable bond that exists between them?
These are indications of God’s goodness and gifts to us. They all speak of a Creator so unfathomable that you cannot respond in any other way but adoration and worship. Photography is not just a means of service. It is also a way you encounter the living God if you take the time to look for Him in it. With it, we celebrate all that’s right and good with the world He made.
Let’s have a look at some of the most common genres of photography and how we can use them to see and reflect God.
Portraits | The Why
Portrait photography is all about capturing the personality of your subject. The best lighting, best angles, complimentary clothing and colours. It’s all about making your subject look their best and summing up who they are in frame.
But it’s not just about the outward appearance. When you capture portraits you have the greatest opportunity to encourage and build someone up. People tend to be insecure about their appearance, we all are. We see our faults and flaws under a magnifying glass and most people don’t like a camera because it highlights that insecurity in them. Used wrongly, portrait photography can do a lot of damage and create the illusion of a perfectly sculpted human being which none of us are, we see this in the commercial and fashion industry often. Others view this and compare themselves to it thinking they can never match up.
But portraiture, used correctly can be a profound tool in helping someone else recognize their unique beauty. With it, we have the ability to mirror their God-given, unique features back to them.
There is no “one look suits all”. Every human being is beautifully diverse. We all have different quirks about us, we all come in different shapes and sizes. It’s fascinating how no person that has ever existed can look exactly like someone else. Portraiture celebrates and embraces this phenomenon.
I have had so many photography sessions with an individual who is clearly extremely nervous and self-aware. As a photographer, it’s my job to put them at ease and make it fun, speaking encouraging and affirming directives as we go along. When it’s over and I send the images back to them, it’s so great to hear the feedback that they can’t believe that this is them. That’s why we have so much power to positively impact because we can show our subjects how they see themselves is not how everyone else sees them. We can instill confidence in them in who God created them to be.
Portrait photography gives us the opportunity to speak life, encouragement, and honor into someone else.
Here are a few examples of some of my portrait sessions:
This is a shoot of one of our amazing Hillsong photography team members; Claire. When I was envisioning in my head how to shoot this, I wanted the lighting and location to somewhat be a representation of the person being captured. So the way I know Claire is she is a very soft, kind-hearted person. She is also very intelligent and smart being in the law field. I asked her to meet me at Cape Town Central and we went walking around a library and book store, looking for cool ways to capture her. I think she did really well and we both loved how the shots came out in a way that represented her.
Stefan is a good friend and colleague of mine. He is a very talented filmmaker with a strong and bold style. He instinctively knows how to tell a good story through the medium of film. He also loves the outdoors and early morning light, especially in his own creative craft. After much convincing to put him in front of my camera, we missioned off to a farm area in Durbanville way before the sun had even risen. It had this rare fog roll in, which was totally unplanned (I believe it was God), that gave the shoot such a great atmosphere and was so appropriate for Stefan’s persona.
This is one of my closest friends and mentors. Norbert is an exceptional creative with a heart for God that is truly inspiring. He uses his many talents to help others find their business or brand voice and identity in a way that is best suited to them. We unexpectedly took these few shots while working together on a client project at Signal Hill. The shoot only lasted for a few minutes during golden hour but was the perfect environment to capture Norbert as the smart but cool guy that I know him to be.
This series of photos was taken when Natasha and I were still “vibing” as people call it. We weren’t officially dating yet but it was a good opportunity to get to know each other while doing something fun. Her hair color at the time was red and so when I suggested the shoot to her I chose a forest with lots of greenery to complement her fiery hair. Afterward, we sat on a log, enjoying the scenery and talking for hours. It’s a special memory of our first “unofficial” date.
These are just some general examples of using photography to portray people beautifully.
As much as we need to learn the technicalities of taking good portraits (lighting, angles, colors, lens choice, composition) I would encourage creatives more to hone their skills in not just taking beautiful photos but in the art of engaging with your subject so that at the end of the shoot, you made someone else’s day and as an added bonus, got the best and most authentic images out of it. How you make people feel and interact with them will determine your real success. People are just more relaxed when the photographer is easy to get along with and reassuring. You create the moments they’ll remember.
Learn to be a good conversationalist. Learn to give feedback in a constructive way. Be optimistic and energetic. These traits go a long way in being a vessel for God to show Himself through us.
There’s a quote by Eve Arnold that says “If the photographer is interested in the people in front of his lens, and if he is compassionate, it’s already a lot. The instrument is not the camera but the photographer.”
Always be aware that as photographers we are an instrument for God to touch someone’s life and place value on them. Use that power wisely.
“If the photographer is interested in the people in front of his lens, and if he is compassionate, it’s already a lot. The instrument is not the camera but the photographer.”
Relationships | The Why
Another special branch of photography is when you get to capture the bond between people and their relation to one another.
Similar to portraits you get to showcase the love between people and preserve those memories for them.
It’s amazing how a photograph has the capacity to preserve a feeling in it. There are many couples who have photos of when they first started dating and who are perhaps married now. Looking back on those photos they can still recall the butterflies or infatuation they had when the relationship first started budding. It’s an awesome privilege for a photographer to preserve that season of life for them. I remember a maternity shoot I did a few years back for a young couple. We had fun shooting in a forest and their images turned out great. A few days later the husband messaged me to say how much they loved the shoot and the images and that it just strengthened his attraction to his wife and their flame for one another. When you hear how something as simple as a photoshoot can reignite and reinforce feelings in people, it reminds you what a gift it is to be able to serve others in this way.
Or maybe another common scenario is the birth of a newborn and capturing that special time in the lives of young parents. All these types of moments are memories that God blesses us with and by taking photos of it we can look back and remember His goodness to us. I’m not sure who said this but there’s another quote that says: “Every photo taken is with the intention to capture the feeling of that present moment & hope it would last forever.”
So that’s what we do in capturing the feeling and love between people, to remind them of that. Human beings were created to be in community and to be in relationship. Photography of relationships, in its varied forms, reminds us of that need for each other and the people who mean the most to us.
“Every photo taken is with the intention to capture the feeling of that present moment & hope it would last forever.”
Events/ Weddings | The Why
Similar to relationships and portraits. Marriage and the connection between people at events are very significant moments. Why else would someone hire a photographer for the event, unless it was something that they wanted to be able to remember?
As mentioned before, photography allows us to kind of archive God’s blessings and enables us to go back and remember what He has done and given us. It creates an opportunity for thankfulness and gratitude.
More so when it comes to marriage. Marriage is a wonderous reflection of the relationship between Christ and His bride the church. His unrelenting commitment to us and ours to Him. There is no other institution on Earth that shows the intimacy and close connection between God and His people like the way marriage does. When we photograph weddings we reflect and witness the union of two people in the most sacred and profound way. When they look back on the images and moments you captured it is a reminder of their vow and commitment to one another. It deserves the very best of our skill and creativity when capturing.
Corporate/ Products/ Business | The Why
God created all of us with the skills and abilities to thrive in various industries. Photography helps the business world by aiding people to show their product or service in an attractive manner that boosts their sales and influence. The marketing of businesses largely relies on the ability of photographers to display a service in an appealing manner.
Even in corporate settings, you can capture the networking that goes on and how God is at work even in the market place and the diversity of mankind’s intelligence of industry. Well-crafted imagery is a massive part of the corporate world which photographers contribute towards.
God created mankind to work and to find satisfaction in it (Gen 1:15), it is our goal as visual artists to assist businesses and entrepreneurs with marketing material that will enable them to serve their clients and society positively, as God intended.
Manipulation/Photoshopping | The Why
With the growth of digital photography and software than can now edit and recreate visuals that would be impossible in the real world, a new branch of photography has emerged. We can recreate concepts that have virtually no limit. We can edit and enhance like never before.
Although this type of photography can be very controversial (more on this in later chapters), I believe it also opens up a world of imaginative possibilities. It enables us to dream outside of our norms and remove restrictions. It points to a God who is limitless and far beyond what our natural way of thinking can even perceive. Photographic manipulation is just another way of telling a story or concept in a memorable way that sparks the imagination.
The desire to edit and perfect is an indication of our in-built desire to seek perfection, just like the nature of God who is perfect in every way. This desire is deeply rooted within us and this form of art acknowledges that.
Landscapes/Nature | The Why
This is perhaps one of the easiest forms of photography for us to find God in. Nature in all it’s varied beauty, just intrinsically reflects God’s hand. Images of sweeping mountains, or lush forests, or golden sandy beaches, or starry night skies cause awe in us to stop and acknowledge the brilliance of God, who created the universe with all its grandeur and level of detail that will take us an eternity to appreciate and discover.
What a unique power landscape photography has to be able to capture that. In the daily comings and goings of life, not everyone is able to go to nature to find God. Some parts of the world we may never be able to experience in our lifetime. But the hard work and sacrifice made by nature or landscape photographers enable everyone to see and enjoy our astoundingly beautiful universe.
Even the habits and way of life of the animal kingdom are made publicly aware because of photographers who with patience follow the activities of animals.
Nature is often where we feel most connected to God and so the intentional use of this type of photography is so significant beyond words.
The long hours waiting for a time-lapse or the early morning before the crack of dawn, those hard-working moments are a service to humanity for the awe it inspires to the glory of God.
Macro/Textures | The Why
Very similar to landscape and nature photography, this brand of photography reveals the minute detail God put into the world that many would not have even been aware of.
Take a look at a leaf. The texture and colors are so easily overlooked, but the incredible beauty a single leaf has which will fall and die is absolutely amazing that God would put such effort into something seemingly insignificant. As Jesus said if God cares for such small details how much more would He care for His people? (Matt 6:30)
Photography that can display the invisible world of microscopic organisms is a reminder to us that there are many things in the world that exist without our knowledge, yet God knows and He uses it as a sign of how much He loves us.
Church/ Worship | The Why
When talking about using photography for God’s glory, perhaps one of the first things we think about is photography of hands lifted in worship, or someone with a welcome sign, or a sermon being preached, or an ancient cathedral. God is at work in is House and even here photography has its place. Whether it be capturing worship and encounters people have with Him or sharing the testimonies of people changed by the Gospel, photography has an important part in God’s house and sometimes is the only way a non-believer will feel an attraction or pull towards the church.
We use the images we take within the church environment as an invitation to church and church life. A way of showing the world that there are people who love each other and love life. That life doesn’t have to be hard and without meaning. There’s another way of living, the best way; in a godly church community.
As mentioned in the about me chapter, church photography is where I got my first real “call” to the creative arts and how it could be something that would influence the world for God’s glory. It helped form my trajectory and purpose in life.
The importance of the church is indescribable. It is God’s plan and desire for everyone to belong to the body of believers. To find Him and His will for us.
Our photography of church is a tool God can use to draw others to Himself and to also find their place with His people.
It is not just the photography of beautiful buildings or larger-than-life structures, but it is photography of the people, it is the love, lifestyle, and unity, powered by the Holy Spirit, that sets the church apart from any other organization. The preaching of the Gospel can be done through images as well and so photographers have the honor of portraying that in the images they capture here.
I have often felt more closer to God by watching His church unfold through the lens. Photography like many other acts of service is a means of worship and a way to encounter God in the midst of the congregation.
Humanitarian | The Why
The last area (and in no way the least) of photography we will talk about, is the humanitarian or missionary based field.
The struggles of many people groups would not receive support if it were not for the field photographers who make the effort to capture these stories and create the awareness needed for action.
It is a service and sacrifice that can be very emotionally and spiritually tolling. Working for an NGO has given me the opportunity to experience this firsthand. The dire need encountered wrecks your heart and causes you to cry out all the more deeply to God for His mercy and help.
And yet even in this challenging area of photography, there is so much light to be witnessed. The stories of impact and overcoming are miraculous. It is here that we witness many churches, nonprofits, and organizations rallying together to fight the injustice that millions face on a daily basis.
The mandate of a photographer to tell this story is a very powerful one. Through these images, taken in a hope-inspiring and life-giving way, many others will find their call to support or even join the work of relief for those in need.
How we take these photos can be an area of great sensitivity and much caution is needed to ensure we never portray the challenges of other cultures in a way that does not value or dignify them (more on this in a later chapter). However, there is a stark reality that exists and photography is a way to shed light as well as connect it to the solution. It is a powerful medium used by God to inspire people into compassionate deeds.
The “How” of Photography
We’ve talked about the motivation behind photography and it’s many genres. Why it is a God-given calling and pursuit. Why we should think more intentionally and highly of what it is we do as visual creatives.
In this section let’s consider some of the more practical outworkings of being in this world. It’s not really about the technical “know-how” of photography, like what settings to use for which environment, but rather what we, as Christian photographers, bring to this industry and how we are meant to influence it.
Some of these may be very short and simple principles but are so important in how we practice our craft on a day to day basis.
Take it to God First | The How
As with anything we do in life. Take it to God in prayer first.
God is just as interested in your photography as you are. He gave you that skill and desire. We too often overlook the blessing we have in being able to take our projects or ideas to God.
Before a photoshoot or film project, take the time to ask God for the inspiration and ability to do it well.
Ask Him for opportunities to capture things beautifully. Ask Him for fresh ideas or favorable conditions.
When forming an idea for a photo shoot do you take it to God or Google first?
We miss a critical component of any creative art form by researching the technicalities or logistics before we mull the idea over in conversation with God.
God is the ultimate creator. Of all the qualities and traits that God, has the very first thing,p He chose to describe Himself in the Bible is as a Creative.
Genesis 1:1 says, in the beginning, God created…
He introduces Himself as a Creative Being. So naturally, being made in His image, we are the same, so why not go to the inventor of all things creative with our plans?
“In the beginning God created…”
True Success | The How
Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.
Get Inspired | The How
The freedom in knowing that our success or fame as a photographer does not determine our value or worth now enables us to pursue excellence in the craft simply for the sake of finding and displaying God through it. A major part of pursuing that type of excellence is to find inspiration. Firstly, inspiration is something that God gifts us with. It is a stirring or passion by the Holy Spirit inside of us that drives an idea or concept. We should never neglect to pray for inspiration and remind ourselves that God is the source of all good artistry.
I am certain God has deposited many awesome ideas into creatives. Sometimes it can be an idea or thought that is totally outside of yourself.
But truthfully, inspiration is rarely something that randomly hits you out of nowhere. Most of the time inspiration is something we need to actively get and plan for.
A great way to do this is to be intentional about collecting things that inspire you.
Create mood boards of styles, poses, lighting, composition, colors, or even books and articles that inspire you. This will become a storehouse of inspiration for those moments when you need it.
There are so many tools at our disposal to help with this. Websites like Pinterest, Behance, Instagram, DeviantArt, and many others have hoards of incredible imagery produced by people of all talent levels, while also enabling us to save images we like to collections. Don’t look at them and compare your work to them. Look at it and get inspired by it to put your own twist on it.
Personally I use an app called Milanote for creating boards and adding images, text, or colors for future reference. Use what works for you and set aside to time browse.
Inspiration is out there to be found, it takes an active looking to go get it.
Just do it | The How
Another common trait amongst creatives is that we love to aim for perfection in the things we make. So much so that we can discourage ourselves from even starting if we feel we can’t get there.
It is a good thing to aim high and want to do well. But it should not prevent us from taking the first step. There will never be a perfect time or right moment to start something. Just do it. Have fun. Take risks. A work of raw, unedited passion is far more meaningful than “technically” correct work.
Learn to be ok with “sucky” beginnings. We won’t get it right the first time, but starting the journey is the most vital part. Who knows what it could become once you begin?
Photography is a subjective art form. There are no rules that say this is a bad or good image.
What appeals to one person may not appeal to another person. And that’s totally fine.
We all have preferences and diverse tastes. So find your style and go for it, you don’t need approval from the masses to start.
Unless you leave the lens cap on the camera and take black pictures all the time, it’s maybe safe to say that that is a bad image ;).
But otherwise, just do it!
Find Your People | The How
Network, network, network. The importance of like-minded community cannot be emphasized enough.
But not just network in the sense of trying to make a business deal. Network to make friends. Hang around people who have similar interests and passions. Join group classes, instameets, or online chat forums. There is so much to be gained by being amongst encouraging and diverse creative communities.
I’ll use this as an opportunity to insert an advert for our Team Night gatherings at Hillsong Church. It’s a weekly meet up for creatives of all types of industries to hang out, chat, learn, and be inspired. Everyone is welcome. I love that the church can be a place for creatives to be cultivated and affirmed in their God-given gifts.
Find places like that which appeal to you. Find people who encourage your talents and also stretch you to aim higher.
We were created to be in community, it is hard-wired into us to want to be around people who love what we love.
Be Knowledgeable, be Prepared | The How
When you love doing something you instinctively want to get better at doing it.
This comes by putting in the effort to learn more. We grow in our craft of photography by researching and discovering new techniques. Exploring different branches and deepening our understanding of how to get the most out of a camera.
It has never been easier to gain a wide range of skills than in this age of Youtube and Online Learning. A broader understanding of the photography world enables us to perform with confidence and ease.
Not just for the sake of getting better but so that we are able to offer a service of value and quality to anyone that we have in front of our lens.
By learning more we gain confidence in our God-given ability to capture moments with proficiency.
Taking the time to learn more allows us to be more prepared for shoots or projects. Before a photo shoot or creative project, do some research. Find references and styles that could help frame the concept.
Not only should we be knowledgable in the technical aspects of a job but also knowledgable of the people we are doing it with or for. Before a family shoot, find out more about the parents or kids, get to know them. Before a wedding, invest time into learning about the couple and how they met or got engaged. Our duty is not just to grow in technical proficiency but in our ability to honor the people we photograph. Being prepared in who they are and what they like is the kind of knowledge that will make any project a memorable and rewarding one.
Constantly Consistent | The How
As mentioned earlier, we need to just start and not overthink too much. But another key element to that is to be consistent and set aside time to be active in the photography sphere.
You only ever get better at something by doing it and doing it often. In the same way that muscles need constant use to get stronger, photography is a muscle that needs consistency to grow.
Be thoughtful and disciplined in setting up your schedule.
When planning your calendar or having a look at the week’s tasks, take the time to go do something that stretches that photography muscle.
I’ve often gotten up at 5 am to go catch a sunrise. Or a Saturday afternoon drive somewhere with no destination in mind but just to look for interesting photography spots.
Cape Town specifically is a photographers paradise, I may be a little biased having been born here, but of all the places I’ve traveled to (which are incredibly beautiful in their own right), even after living here for all my life this place still surprises me with its charm.
So again, make time to practice and hone your photographic eye through the lens. Make it a consistent practice.
Even though photography is a richly rewarding career and skill to have, there will be times that you don’t feel the passion and drive to do it. There will be moments that you feel uninspired or dissatisfied with what you produce. It’s ok to feel that. Familiarity will inevitably creep in at times.
Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase; “create a life you don’t need a vacation from”. Our modern-day, wanderlust inspired society has influenced us to believe that we are only fulfilling our calling and purpose when we wake up every day and feel great satisfaction and passion in what we do. As wonderful as that sounds and seems, it simply is not the truth even for an industry as exciting as photography. Like any other, it has its challenges and moments of despondency. It is in those moments, that it takes consistency and a commitment to develop and grow no matter what we feel or encounter.
Do it with Kindness | The How
Being a photographer is not just about being able to use a camera well, it’s also (probably more so) about how you make people feel and interact with them. As photographers, we create the moments our subject will remember while capturing them. The most vital element in our craft is not what we do but how we do it. The way we speak or carry ourselves before, during, and after a shoot says more about us than anything we will ever create.
As Christian photographers, we are ambassadors for Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:20), we represent Him to others. That needs to deeply affect our interactions with everyone. More than just growing in our technical ability, we must intentionally learn good people skills and grow in godly characteristics.
In a world where it is common to trample on others to get ahead, or cut corners for profit, what will set us apart as God’s people is the love we display to everyone we encounter.
Kindness will open doors that no amount of effort could do. I have often gotten work for a job that I definitely was not the most qualified or best at, but simply because I was relatable and had a kind attitude received the work. Our character and integrity will be far more impactful than even the most skilled photographer who does not understand how to treat people.
People would much rather do business with someone they feel is friendly and relatable. If we remain servant-heart and approachable in our dealings, it will provide new opportunities and clients that we never thought possible.
Photography is incredibly self-fulfilling but it is also a means of service to others not just to satisfy our own creative whims. We capture things for others to enjoy and so we need to keep at the heart of what we do love for others and willingness to serve them with our talents.
Comparison & Jealousy | The How
How easy it is to compare ourselves to other photographers. How easy to become jealous of what others have achieved in this field (though often we won’t admit to ourselves that we feel jealous). We see plenty of Instagram photographers/influencers who have a lifestyle and ability that we wish we had. The likes, comments, and followers are a very prominent indication of success and popularity that we desire too.
A very real heart check is required in how we view those who seem more successful or further ahead than us. We see the fruit of their experience and hard work but not what it took to get there. This stems from the belief or fear that where we are and what we have is not enough.
There is a very delicate balance between being content but not complacent with where we are in our photography career. In the providence of God, where we are is where He desires us to be and it becomes our responsibility to trust and make the most of that. To do our very best with what He has given us. Whatever sphere of influence you have, whatever creative ability you have, use that, and use it well. There is a uniqueness to each and every one of us and all we are expected to do is to live to the full potential of that. We can find confidence in who God created us to be and thrive in that rather than try to be someone else. This is what will move us forward towards the best God intended for us.
Encouragement over envy
One of the greatest guards against jealousy or comparison is to actively compliment and commend others that we admire. Instead of allowing their work or lifestyle to make us feel inferior, choose to be inspired by it, and encourage them for their talent. In doing that we will overcome the spirit of creative envy that only stunts our own growth. By becoming active encouragers of those ahead of us and seeking to use what we have in our hands now, we will one day find ourselves being the ones that inspire others and who other creatives look up to.
Getting Credit | The How
It is a very touchy subject to consider when talking about receiving credit for your work and especially in times when none is given.
I definitely believe give honor where honor is due. However, we live in a very visual world where images are shared on a constant basis usually without mention of the photographer that created them. These instances must be dealt with in wisdom and a very introspective look at what’s going on inside of us. Do we seek recognition for the images we create because we want to be noticed?
Though it is never right to steal the work of any artist and use it for commercial gain without some form of mention or remuneration to them, the private use and sharing of photos today are so widespread that it just becomes impossible to control. At the very outset, we as photographers need to already be ok with the fact that putting our content out into the digital world will allow thousands to see it and potentially use it. We should view our images as a means of empowering others. It is a gift of service to the world to see and experience God’s creation. If our pride becomes attached to the work of our hands then we risk the danger of allowing our gifts to remain under a cover and not be the light it was meant to be.
Hold the work of your hands loosely. If we remain committed to growing and getting better in our craft then we don’t need to feel threatened or taken advantage of when someone uses our images without credit, because our best work will be the next one. The best photograph will be the one we are still going to take. This pursuit of future excellence frees us from the trap of needing to protect everything we create and we no longer worry whether we are credited or not but seek to give our best. We are satisfied that as long as God sees our heart to please Him in what we create, whether we get acknowledged for it or not doesn’t matter.
Handling Mistakes/ Failure | The How
We won’t always get it right. We will fail many times. Perhaps we have an unsatisfied client, or lose a memory card with special photos, or missed an important photo moment at a wedding. Though we strive to give our very best there will be instances that we miss the mark and fail. How we handle these is yet another opportunity for God to be at work in our photography.
Firstly we need to be ok with failing, we are human and that means that we will not do everything perfectly even though we have the best of intentions. Often the freedom to allow ourselves to fail guards against failure in the first place, we put less pressure on ourselves and are able to perform more unrestrained.
Humbly admit failure
But when failure or a mistake does come, we should address them with openness and humility.
Hiding a mistake or shifting blame tends to create a worse problem instead of openly admitting a mistaking to a client and apologizing for the unintended mishap. We receive greater lenience from others when we are honest and humble about our mistakes.
Under-promise and over-deliver
A general principle to live by in our working lives is to under-promise and over-deliver. Create realistic and attainable expectations for yourself and the client but then seek to go above and beyond in service and quality. In doing so any possible error is easily overlooked as we have created the reputation of being accommodating and exceeded expectations.
Even in our failures, we have the opportunity to display the meekness and self-sacrifice that our Lord exemplifies so that we need not fear to fail.
Morality | The How
The photography industry has many categories. Some of which can be questionable for a Christian creative. For example, do we photograph women or men in provocative wear? Do we photograph a product advertising campaign for something we know is harmful or dangerous? Am I compromising my morals by capturing this?
Though there isn’t a definitive answer to this it is very much an area that requires seeking the will and guidance of God. In any photoshoot or job, we undertake our goal is to value the subject as well as the viewers.
The question here isn’t really; can I photography this? but is it beneficial and honoring to the subject as well as to God?
A good rule of thumb when deciding whether to photograph or share an image is to consider what scripture says in Roman 14:13.
We should do all things for the building up of one another and if what we are creating were to cause someone to stumble is it then worth it? The answer of course is no. As believers who desire to uplift and point to what is good and wholesome in the world, we cannot allow our gifts and talents to be used for the downfall of others.
The voice of conscience
God has given us a very under-utilized means of guidance in the form of our conscience. When something doesn’t sit well with us deep down it usually is an indication that He is talking to us, showing us what to do. This isn’t a fool-proof indicator though, the voices around us and within us can easily drown out the voice of the Holy Spirit witnessing to our conscience and so every decision about what to shoot should be prayerfully taken to God and the feedback of those we trust sought after.
Let love be the rule
In today’s society where freedom of expression is expected and varied opinions exist on what is appropriate or not we have to choose to adhere to the rule of love. Love that does not seek it’s own but what is best for the eternal well being of others. When that is the filter through which we make our decisions it becomes easy to stick to our morals in the things we create.
“Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.”
Using Social Media | The How
A large part of a modern-day photographers life is social media. It has become an extension of our portfolio and personality. It is important then that we learn how to use it rightly.
Social media is a huge blessing in the platform it provides to share and connect with people, but it also has many pitfalls that can cause more harm than good when used wrongly.
There are many do’s and don’ts when it comes to using social media as a Christian and it would take a whole other blog series to write about them all. Rather than trying to stick to a list of rules, the overarching guideline for a Christian creative is to use social media to authentically express Jesus to your audience in the unique way He reveals Himself to and through you.
This means that when we post or when we comment we are seeking to magnify Jesus in our photos, captions, or comments. It doesn’t mean that we only post scriptures or profound and wise thoughts, but rather that we are transparent about God’s goodness in our lives as well as the realities of our lives. We don’t live a perfect life and our social media can be a powerful connecting tool with others to appreciate, celebrate, and sympathize with the seasons of life we go through.
It is a powerful tool that we can use to encourage and affirm others as Christ would do.
In whatever way, we consume or utilize social media let it be seasoned with a genuine love for God, love for people, and love for life.
Capturing Hardship | The How
As a communications leader in a community development organization, I have witnessed some harsh social injustices and struggles of those in need. The task of portraying that struggle through photography or film is one that requires a lot of caution and care to do it in a way that is ethical yet real.
Many times we have seen well-meaning photographers and organizations produce an image of a suffering individual or people group which is used to motivate the compassions of people in order to join or fund the cause. Or a photojournalist capturing the stark reality of pain to be able to document current affairs.
Though the work they do is surely noble, we have to stop and ask if the scar and stigma that image has now immortalized for this individual is worth it or right. That moment of suffering is but one part of this person’s story and does not sum up the whole of it. We have captured a mere snippet of it. Have we undervalued their life in using their hardship for our own ends or cause (as noble as they may be)? Does the end justify the means? After all, by showing the world the pain endured by some we are trying to raise awareness and help.
These are not easy questions to answer. As in all things, we must seek the guidance of God in every matter and ask for His will to be done.
There is a fine balance to be struck here.
Our work as photographers is always expected to value and honor our subjects in the way we capture them. However, we must also remember that it is not our photography that gives or takes away value. We don’t have that kind of power. The value or dignity of any human life is determined by God. The way He has chosen to make them and the lifestyle they are born into is still within the providence of God. Being human and a loved creation of God is where our value comes from regardless of what social-economic environment we live in, neither is our dignity derived from what material possesions or lifestyle we have.
Mankind is made in the image of God and that creates unfathomable value in each one. Our job then is to affirm the value that already exists in that individual. We don’t create it or take away from it in the pictures we take.
Understanding this is important to how we capture any person and their story. It frees us to see them for who they are and where they are and to recognize that even in the most difficult of times God is at work and has a purpose there. A child who is skinny to the bone because of malnutrition does not have any less value and dignity than a child who is obese from excessiveness. Photographing either one and the problems that exist in their lives does not mean we have undervalued them. It is recognition of a truth that though this is a moment in their lives, their story is not done, and whether in this life or not, God has control of the outcome and they are important to Him.
Capturing pain is not wrong
Social injustice exists. It is a very ugly and relevant truth to our world that we acknowledge is there. Some live in circumstances that are not ideal or fair. As photographers who capture reality (the good and the bad) as we see it, we need to recognize that pain is part of this human life and so will be part of our craft as well. The Bible, as our example, never hides away the struggles and harshness that many of its characters endured. It is full of stories of broken human beings and without reservation describes those flaws. Our photography also cannot shy away from reality and pain. Just as we celebrate the good and joyous things of the world, mankind is also connected to each other by the struggles we endure and the compassion we feel for one another. Photography illustrates that and so it is a very powerful tool to tell not just the good of the story but the bad as well.
Those who have the resources and means to help alleviate the suffering of others will not always be aware of it unless a visual artist is able to depict it to them. Art can inspire significant action and compassion.
Now, having said that this does not mean we have the freedom to capture whatever we wish and use the images as we wish. There are guidelines and principles in how we go about affirming the value of our subject and use wisdom.
See the person first
Our instinct at times when in the field is to see a notable moment and to capture it, but when dealing with sensitive situations we should stop to see the person first and remind ourselves that here in front of us is a unique individual, with hopes, dreams, needs, talents, and passions. Someone that God has designed and gifted with life. In their own right, they are heroic. We honor that by stopping and speaking to them, getting to know their context. Seeking permission whenever possible to photograph and then to capture in a way that artistically and truthfully encapsulates them in this current moment.
A story can be told without showing a face
It is very possible to tell a story or share a compelling moment without revealing identity or faces.
In fact, one of the greatest skills to learn in the art of photography is how to use obscurity and an indistinct form to communicate a thought or story. Whether it be with shadows, silhouettes, or creative composition. Some of the most profound images are ones that communicate truth in a way that leaves the conclusion to the imagination of the viewer and what could inspire them to action or hope. Cultivating that ability is very necessary for the area of documentary or humanitarian photography.
Focus on the change-makers
I have often found that amongst the troubles of a community or family, there are certain individuals who portray a characteristic of selflessness and servitude that transcends their current afflictions. These are the local heroes, the ones who acknowledge their suffering but seek to make it better from the inside out. They are the ones we should intentionally seek out when in the field and who’s story we should boldly capture. Those are the stories we share in our photos to inspire viewers, that even against the odds, fighting for those who can’t fend for themselves is our collective calling and we should all join in what way we able to.
Get Some Rest | The How
Photography can be such a rewarding and enjoyable activity that we tend to work hard and hustle at it without understanding the necessity of putting the camera down as well. As mentioned in an earlier section, we are called to “taste and see” that the Lord is good before we are to work or capture it. We are better photographers when we take time to rest and experience the world we live in, so that when we do capture it is from a place of palpable appreciation. We need to live before we can capture life.
The example of Jesus
Jesus started His ministry at the age of 30 and was crucified at 33. In 3 years he had the biggest impact the world has ever seen and fulfilled all God called Him to. You would think that in that 3 years Jesus would have to hustle and make haste to do everything He needed to do in His disciples before leaving them. Yet you read of Him walking everywhere and never running or rushing. He would stop to help those that seemingly inconvenienced his schedule, have dinner with unlikely guests and even diligently withdrew Himself from His work to pray and hear from His Father. If Jesus paced His life and rested frequently, how much more necessary is it for us?
God is in control
Rest is also critical in the creative field because it is a reminder to us that our development or success in this industry is not based on our ability to strive but in God, who is in control and has gifted us with this skill. He is our source of provision and inspiration and so we can rest knowing that our well-being and significance is determined by Him and not our “creative hustling”. If our photography is the work and calling of God then it is His job to make it succeed.
I hope these thoughts have inspired you to pursue and maximize the God-given talent of visual creativity. I believe that the impact we can make for the Kingdom of God in the righteous use of this field will reach generations to come. By our mandate to create as He does, may God daily lead us to be more enamored with this world, with each other and most importantly with Him.