The (unfortunate) devaluation of photography

As a freelance ministry photographer, I am confronted almost daily with the fact that photography, as a communication tool, has been devalued by many ministries. The result is that ministry photos, for the most part, often become commonplace, mere arbiters of events, often capturing nothing more than a snapshot of the physical pres- ence of participants.

I believe there are two reasons for this. First, are common misconcep- tions. The thinking seems to be that “anyone can take pictures.” “We have a digital camera.” “Betty, the wife of our Board Chairman, will be on the trip, so she can take the pictures.” Second, is a matter of cost, expressed and then all too often immediately dismissed, with the com- ment that “professional photography is expensive,” or “we just don’t have the necessary budget.”

Regarding this first reason, the fact is that not just anyone can take the kind of photos that move donors to give, partners to pray, others to go, etc. And, a camera – regardless of its expense or quality, film or digital – has far less to do with the communicative value of an image produced than does that person’s skills, sensitivity, and a gift from God to capture compelling photographs.

The matter of cost obscures another misconception. Sure, professional photography is expensive, but that’s not really the issue at hand. The real issue is showing (photos) and telling (text) the story of God at work within a ministry. Isn’t this, in fact, the intent of almost all

The real issue is showing (photos) and telling the story of God at work within a ministry.

ministry communications, a ministry’s very lifeblood? The real ques- tion becomes: “What is the return on investment we can expect from investing in quality photography?” (See P.8-9.) After seeing the sig- nificant ROI of photography, ministries have a difficult time finding reasons not to use professional photography, not even the budget rea- son. For aren’t budgets nothing more than a reflection of a ministry’s strategy? If there is value seen in employing a certain tactic, it will then be appropriately budgeted. Quality photography is strategic and it’s actually one of the most powerful tools a ministry possesses in generating revenue, an obvious need for many ministries.

Finally, there is the matter of reading literacy. Study after study has demonstrated that today people, for a variety of reasons, are more likely to receive communication from images than from text. Major magazines realized this years ago and began skewing their communi- cations towards more and more photography – excellent photography – accordingly.

Have ministries simply forgotten that a photograph is indeed worth a thousand words? Well, compelling photos certainly can be!