July 2018
Creative Communications

Take Better Pictures For Social Media

Looking for greater engagement on your social media platforms? Consider enhancing your posts with visual content. Tweets with images are 150% more likely to get retweets; Facebook posts with images produce 650% higher engagement than text posts; and Instagram drives more engagement per post than any other social network.[1] Yet many churches struggle to integrate visual content into their communications strategy. Learning to tell a story visually might take a bit of practice, but in many ways it’s easier and more efficient than text-based communications.

You don’t need a degree in graphic design or photography to create and use images effectively in your communications. In fact, you can take and post a beautiful picture in ten minutes or less using only a smartphone. Here are a few tips for taking great photos for social media.

Look for beauty, but look for truth, too

Contemplate what makes your church attractive. Is it the warmth and generosity of the parishioners? The historic architecture of the church building? The talent of your choral program? Consider how you might tell those stories with a single photo or minute-long video. Imagine someone scrolling quickly through their social media feed on their phone. Does the picture draw them into your story or would they need to read the caption to become interested? Is the image attractive enough to stop them from scrolling? And most importantly, is it telling the truth?

Telling the truth about who you are is not what most social media accounts are after. But churches have a unique opportunity to tell the truth in the Gospel by showing how it is expressed in their own place and time. Using a stock photo from another church or an idyllic scene from somewhere else doesn’t become true because you put a Bible quote on top of it. Find the unique beauty in your own church and share that with your followers.

Take too many pictures, but use only a few

The best way to ensure taking a great photo is to take too many. Take more than you will ever need or use. Try the same subject from five different angles. There is no reason to limit the number of photos you take when you are using a phone or digital camera. There are lots of options for free photo storage, and you can always use them another time. In fact, keeping a ton of photos in your arsenal means you can post a photo regularly without having to take photos every day.

When it comes to posting photos on social media, less is more. It’s better to post a single stunning picture than to post an album of 100 average photos. You’ll want to take the time to edit your photos to make them exceptional (more on this later) and you probably don’t have time to edit every photo you took at an event. Pick a few or even just one that stands out.

Composition is essential, but you can do it later

Composition is the arrangement of elements in your photo to create balance, symmetry, asymmetry, depth, filled space, negative space, lines, curves and frames, just to name a few. You don’t have to be an expert in composition to arrange a great photo. You just need to be aware of the elements of composition and then have fun experimenting. A quick Google search will give you a list of common rules of composition like the “Rule of Thirds” and “leading lines.”

You can always adjust the composition later by cropping. It’s better to take in more of the subject than you need and crop later than to zoom in. Unless you have a special lens, zooming on a phone lowers the resolution quality of your photos.

Get up close and personal or get everything

Remember that most people are looking at social media on their mobile devices. If your subject is too far away, it’s not likely to make an impression. Close ups work great on a mobile device. This means you want to fill the frame with your subject or have a lot of negative space around your subject to direct the eye.

On the flip side, a wide shot of a big scene can have tremendous impact as well. Does a parishioner have a drone that takes pictures? Is there an organ or choir loft that offers a bird’s eye view? Get creative with your viewpoint.

Use filters to stand out, but build consistency in style

Finally, taking your photo to the next level means using filters and manual editing tools. We have a darkroom right in our pockets! This is where you can really get creative and develop your church’s unique look. You can adjust the color, mood, and detail of an image using a photo editing app. Instagram’s built-in editing tools are excellent, but there are also plenty of free apps out there (such as VSCO and Snapseed) with great tools for editing right on your phone.

The simplest way to edit is to choose a pre-set filter, but try manual editing to produce the best possible version of each photo. Adjusting for brightness, color saturation, sharpness and so on will only take a few more moments but will produce the best results. Whether you use pre-set filters or manual editing, it’s best to be fairly consistent. Having a cohesive look will create a branding effect. Perhaps your church’s photos will always have a vignette effect, a slightly blue tint, or even use primarily black and white photos.

Visual content is sure to increase engagement, and it doesn’t have to take a ton of time out of your day. Once you get started looking for stories of beauty and truth in your congregation, not only will your eye become trained to spot it in everything your church does, but you’ll also find that the right picture truly is worth a thousand words.

*Sources: https://www.techsmith.com/blog/why-visual-communication-matters/

Kris Vieira is the Cathedral Administrator and Assistant to the Dean at Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City, NY. She has a background in literature and theatre arts, and holds an M.F.A. in Dramaturgy from Stony Brook University. In the two years since joining the cathedral, she has had a hand in creating a new website, a quarterly events newsletter and a new Instagram account (@incarnationgc) for the cathedral. Kris is also an active lay leader at her home parish of Calvary-St. George's in Manhattan.


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This article is part of the July 2018 Vestry Papers issue on Creative Communications