While we must be careful not to “spam” church members with our photography business, I think there are some ways to indirectly gain photographic experience and references while also being able to minister in the church. As much as possible, we should look to use the photographic skills God has given us to minister to others in the church rather than to make a profit. In having this kind of attitude, I think we will still be blessed. “It is better to give than to receive.”
On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with being hired by church members who could benefit from your photography skills. I have booked many portrait sessions and weddings through church members or through referrals from church members. A church can be a helpful network.
Here are a few ideas that involve giving back to your church, but that can also be a benefit to you in either practicing your portrait photography, or indirectly in gaining references for possible future portrait work:
Take member portraits for church directory-You have a few different options in regards to church directory portraits. You can offer your services on a ministry basis and have the church pay any expenses. You can take the portraits for the directory, offer reprints and enlargements to the congregation, and help offset the cost of the directory with any profits. If your church has an in-house printing press, you may be able to design the directory yourself and have the church produce them. If the directory portraits turn out well with your own church, perhaps you could market your directory services to other churches in the area, while using the directory you just had made as a marketing tool. Whether you make money or not doing your church directory portraits, you still gain valuable experience in posing singles, couples, small and large groups. You also get exposure among your congregation, which may lead to future clients or referrals.
Offer to take special pictures of the children for Christmas, Easter, etc.– Every year I offer to take Christmas pictures of the nursery babies and Sunday School children at no cost. I set up a backdrop, props, and studio lights, and my wife helps keep the children in line. We present 4×6 prints of the children in black folders as our Christmas gift to the parents in our church.
Offer to take pictures at special events– plays, concerts, picnics, BibleSchool, missions trip, etc.
Offer to take portraits of church staff for their annual Christmas card at cost or as a gift– All photography work I do for my church’s staff is at no cost. Any prints ordered are at cost. I greatly enjoy taking the family portraits for my Pastor and Assistant Pastor’s Christmas cards every year. I take the portraits and design the cards in Photoshop at no cost. They order hundreds of cards each and I give those to them at my lab’s cost. I always try to give any reprints or enlargements they order either at my lab’s cost or free. Depending on your personal budget, you may be able to also provide them with a nice framed enlargement as a gift.
Portraits of graduates or graduates with their families– This is a good gift idea
Church group pictures– Sunday School, Youth Group/Teens, Senior Citizens group, Children’s group, Nursery, etc.
Images for website use– I have seen many church websites with pictures that are less than desirable. Also, many churches use stock photography. Personally, I prefer a website that has real people from the congregation in their pictures. It adds a more genuine feel to the website. If you have the skill to produce quality pictures, it would be great to offer to take some pictures for your church’s website.
Portraits or wedding photography for low-income families or couples– If you know of families that are struggling financially in your congregation, offer to take their pictures for free. You don’t have to make them feel like a charity case either. You can offer to take a family’s portrait for free in exchange for the use of their pictures for advertising. If you are still learning how to take good portraits, you could offer the free sitting to practice your lighting and posing. In both cases, give them a discounted rate on any prints they want, or offer a few prints for free. Wedding photography can be very expensive. Offering a low cost or free wedding package can be a huge blessing not only to the couple but to you also. Like I mentioned earlier: “It is more blessed to give, than to receive”.
Portraits of visiting missionaries and special speakers for their prayer cards or for your church bulletin board.
Images for brochures/advertising– Help promote your church by offering to produce images for free or at cost.
Your church can be a great platform to help improve your business in many different ways. There are some possible negative effects also. If you give discounted rates to some, word could spread quickly possibly causing others to expect the same discount. Some may be offended at you mentioning your business at church. If a photography session doesn’t turn out well, you could risk hurt feelings or negative feedback about you spread around the church. For some of these reasons, many choose not to do business with friends or even family. I haven’t let these reasons stop me from taking on business from church members. I use it as a time for fellowship and fun, and thankfully, have only had positive experiences.