How Good Photography Reveals Beauty and Draws People to the Church
We live in a world where nearly everyone has access to a camera. It has never been easier to document and record our lives. With the click of a button, we can share the beauty of our faith with the world, a faith that is naturally beautiful on many different levels. Our human instinct to capture beauty is a direct reflection of God’s word when he saw all that he made and “found it very good.”
Photography matters in our world—and should matter to the Church—because it is the bridge or gateway of communication and storytelling. Statistics show that more and more people are visual learners, which shows that photography makes a difference. With the Instagram generation having a bigger impact in the world of communications and evangelization, taking a photo with purpose and reason can give someone a reason to stop, pause, and be curious as to what that photo can offer. Most importantly, it offers the story behind the photo.
Imagine if that same purpose and reason were applied to the way we approach photography within church communications. Here are five tips to help the photos you take leave a deeper impression.
Those are simple instructions, right? Yes, go to Google and find out what information is on the internet about your parish. My hope is that you find your church website as #1 on the list of results, which means you’re doing some things right online.
Greetings and salutations! My name is Sr. Helena Burns, fsp. The initials after my name stand for my congregation, the Daughters of St. Paul (in Latin). Founded in 1915 to evangelize with media, the Daughters of St. Paul are obviously very pro-media and pro-technology! Our Founder, Blessed Fr. James Alberione, told us to use “the fastest, most modern, most efficacious means to reach the greatest number of people” with the Word of God. He gave us the mandate to use every new medium, every new form of communication as soon as it appears on the horizon. In other words, the Daughters of St. Paul are called to be “early adopters.” We then learn the particular “language” of each new medium in order to use it to communicate optimally, as our Founder said: “in an appealing, attractive way that people are used to.”
There are a few things to consider when refreshing your parish website including knowing what your audience needs, wants, and expects, and making sure the look is consistent with your parish communications. After that, all you need to update your parish website is a brighter, more modern design and a little reorganization.
When Christine, the webmaster at St. Bernard Parish in Wauwatosa, WI, asked LPi for help this is exactly what we did to refresh her church website.
Choose a new look
If you are using a website service with templates, choose a template that has the colors you use in your church communications or offers the choice to use those colors. In this case, we chose a template that would show off the beautiful brand identity already created.
Add a headline
The headline on your website is the first thing a visitor will read. We recommend the headline stay between 5 and 7 words. For St. Bernard Parish, we selected the tagline they already use with their logo and on their church communications.
Simplify the home page
Working closely with St. Bernard’s parishioners, Christine had specific content she had identified that was needed and wanted on the home page. The next step was to simplify how it was presented by placing the most important information first and reorganizing the related content together. This is important not only for readability on a full desktop, but also for a mobile-friendly environment because the content will display vertically from left to right.
Reorganize the menu
A menu should have no more than seven items visible when the page loads. One way to think of these menu items is as categories. So, all other Web pages must be moved under these categories. For St. Bernard, we adjusted the menu options to be one word that communicates simple categories for easy assessment, readability, and organization of all the content within the website.
Adjust the layout on other pages
When you change a template, it is important to review all existing pages to make sure they are displaying correctly in the new template. Through the assessment of the St. Bernard website, we identified several pages where we could combine the content into one page. Then we established guidelines for which header style to use on every page. Lastly, we rearranged pages to match the menu bar and included images and videos.
Nearly half of people who use the Internet expect a website to load in less than two seconds. Within four seconds, 25% of your website viewers will leave if it doesn’t.
This means, if your website take four or more seconds to load, and there are one hundred people visiting your website, you will lose twenty-five of them. That doesn’t seem like a huge number, but the ones willing to wait the extra time are most likely your existing parishioners, so you just missed out on twenty-five new parishioners.
Here are two things you can do to decrease the amount of time it takes for your website to load, images and all. Best part is, you don’t have to be tech savvy to make these changes.
Optimize your images for Web use
Optimize? That’s a big word. Let’s simplify it. Every file you place on your website is made of megabytes. The Internet reads information in megabytes per second. The goal is to make your image so small that it only uses a tiny fraction of the megabytes that will load in 1-2 seconds.
To do that, save your images in the exact dimensions you will need it to be at a resolution of 72 pixels, or dots, per inch (ppi or dpi).
Each program, app, and software has a different way of doing exactly that. Here are some articles to help you in the program you use:
An important tool for effectively communicating the vibrancy of your parish
A parish website is not a plot of land on the Internet, a billboard, or directory listing of events. A parish website is a destination for seekers to learn more about Jesus Christ and parishioners’ window into their world of faith.
If your mission is to share the good news to all who will listen, it is necessary to take the role that your parish website has in that mission seriously. To understand how to reach that goal, there are ten vital components that make your parish website vibrant.
St. Paul the Apostle spent a lot of time in town squares, preaching the good news of Jesus Christ wherever he went. He spoke of becoming all things to all people, in order to win some to the cause of Christ. And as Catholics we are each called to do the same.
Imagine if you could regularly share the Gospel with those in your community who are feeling discouraged, disengaged, or even lost from the faith in just ten minutes a day. Facebook provides a digital place for you to do exactly that.
Think of Facebook as the new town square, with roughly 1.4 billion active users logging in every month. Your parishioners are here. People needing God are here. And your church needs to be here too.
Many parishes today have a basic Facebook page for their church. If you don’t have one, a good place to start is to share elements of your weekly bulletin and parish website, communicating the information in short segments that can be read quickly, responded to immediately, and shared exponentially.
To take your page to the next level you’ll need to find great content to share to increase your parishioner engagement. There are several simple steps you can take to move forward. With a little bit of planning, you can easily create a dynamic parish Facebook page in less than ten minutes a day.
Facebook allows you to engage your parishioners every single day
The Mass is the center of all things for the Church, bringing the sacrifice and love of Christ into the present moment. This is a message that can be (and should be) echoed throughout the rest of the week using your Facebook page.
Facebook allows you to share parish news, as it happens, not just on Sundays
Make Facebook your place to keep parishioners up-to-date with parish news and event information. By liking your page, they will receive up-to-the-minute notifications every single time you post.
Facebook gives you the tools to share the good news of Jesus Christ
Use Facebook to post content that speaks to the power of a relationship with Jesus Christ. Then encourage your parishioners to share those posts with their friends to spread the Gospel.
More and more parishes are starting to incorporate video on their website as a way to demonstrate what the church has to offer and to invite more people into the doors on Sunday.
There’s a lot of talk about the need for the Catholic Church to be “more engaging,” but we can’t engage people until they meet us at Mass!
Videos are a powerful way to urge potential or former parishioners to come to Mass, to communicate your church’s mission, and invite people to be more engaged members of your faith community.
To get started, seek out a volunteer in your parish or consider shooting video yourself using just your smartphone. Your videos should be short, around one to three minutes, and you will probably want to host them on a site like YouTube or Vimeo. If you have an idea that will take longer than a few minutes, consider developing it as a series.
Here are a few ideas for creating videos for your parish:
Many parishes have a written “welcome message” from their priest on the front page of their website, but welcome videos can be even more inviting and show that you’re making an extra effort to reach people. Your pastor can explain the culture of the community, discuss the parish mission, and invite members and visitors to come celebrate Mass.
Here are two great examples. Not only do they show images of the community and feature testimonials and messages from the priest, but they also invites the viewer to “Come, Join Us.” These videos may have been professionally produced, but they offer a great outline of the message to convey.
Video testimonials are an extremely powerful evangelization tool and are great for your website and social media channels. Record parishioners talking about their faith journey and how it led them to your church. Invite them to talk about how your parish has affected their family life and strengthened their relationship with God.
Pick a different question each month and record parishioners after Mass answering it. Here are a few examples to get you started: What do you love about your church? What does faith mean to you? Where do you find God in everyday life?
When my parish experimented with video a few years ago, the video that received the greatest amount of views was one taken of our priest on Ash Wednesday where he decided to spontaneously offer “ashes to go” and a blessing for anyone who wanted them in the Starbucks parking lot across the street from the church between services. This simple act of showing our priest reaching out and engaging in the community resulted in twenty times the results of any other video on our parish website.
When you’re thinking of great video ideas, try to be as creative as possible. For example, you could hold a contest for your parishioners or school children to create a video about your parish. Parishioners could vote on their favorite and place the winning video on your website.
Here’s a creative Day in the Life of a Priest video from LifeTeen:
A number of dioceses and archdioceses have jumped on the video bandwagon, so if you don’t have the time to create a video right now, check those websites to see if there are any videos you can repurpose on your site. If your specific diocese has produced a stewardship appeal or special collection video, embedding them on your online giving page would be a great place to start.
For fun, educational, Catholic videos, check out Busted Halo. They have a huge collection of short videos that cover a wide variety of topics including the meaning of the sacraments and holy days. They may seem basic, but these videos are a great way to evangelize to the people who aren’t at Mass every Sunday.
Here’s a great video from Busted Halo about the Eucharist:
If your parish is currently looking for a website tool that makes uploading and using videos easy, click here to learn more about how our website tool WeConnect can help you build beautiful, engaging websites.
Videos are a great way to connect with visitors to your website and nearly everyone has a powerful video camera in their pocket–their smartphone.
With a little practice and these few tips you can create great footage for your website. In addition to livening up your website, videos are also a great way to connect to visitors on Facebook and YouTube.
Here are ten simple tips for recording videos on your phone
1. Record outdoors whenever possible. Bright, natural light is always better, but stay out of direct sunlight.
2. If you have to record indoors, make sure there’s plenty of light. Just avoid windows or lighting directly behind your subject as it can wash them out.
3. Always turn your phone and shoot horizontally. If you don’t your videos will be sideways when you watch them on your computer or TV.
4. Keep the microphone as close to your subject as possible. Don’t be afraid to ask them to speak up.
5. Subjects should look just off camera and the camera should be at the same height as the person’s head. You don’t want to be looking up or down at them.
6. Be sure there is space above your subject’s head and in the direction they’re looking at.
7. Keep it steady. Phones are light and jump around. Brace your elbows at your side or on a table, or invest in a small tripod.
8. Watch your fingers. Don’t cover the microphone or the lens.
9. Don’t zoom in and out as it often results in poor image quality.
10. Avoid walking or moving shots as they can result in shaky, unstable footage.
These are our tips, what are yours? Share in the comments.