DIY church directory

In the middle of the fall, I was approached by some of the leaders of the membership committee at my church. They were looking at putting together a primarily online church directory. Instead of bringing in an Olan Mills-like portrait studio like our last pictoral directory – I think it was Olan Mills that time – they wanted to create it in house and wondered if I’d be up for shooting the church members – as many of an estimated 200 individuals and families as we could get to sit for us.

Gulp.

I’ve sort of been our church’s unofficial house photographer for a while, but this was a big job.

Luke shooting one of the last images of the project.

It was one I wanted to do though, so for most Sundays in November and December and a couple last month, another church member and I set up shop every week and had our fellow members in for close-ups. Here are some keys to pulling it off if you are thinking of doing this to yourse for your church.

Get a partner: Luke is probably the most active photographer of our church activities in addition to myself. So I dropped him a line and asked if he wanted to work with me. Thank God – and I say that in all seriousness – he said yes. There were times in the thick of the project where even with two of us, we had lines going for photos, and if it had just been one of us, we would have been overwhelmed. And on a project this big, it was good to have a partner in crime.

Location, location: Admittedly, my initial thought was to set up shop in some big unused corner of the church building. But we decided that to get the most people, we should put ourselves close to the main traffic flow. There are nicely decorated “parlors” at each back corner of our building, and they each have nice stained glass windows. How churchy! So, we decided to set up in the parlors aiming to frame our subjects in the windows, as best as possible.

Gear up, but not too much: While we weren’t doing a full out studio effort here, we did want something a bit higher quality than a snapshot. Luke and I split up my lighting gear, making each setup basically a one reflective umbrella shot. I was usually running my set with Nikon’s Creative Light System to trigger my SB-600 and Luke was set up with the Cactus V4 radio receivers and an SB-25 or 28DX. For my money, it gave us nice smooth lighting for the shots.

Develop workflow: In the end, we shot something like 150 families or individuals. You cannot just throw these onto cards and hope for the best. We had everyone sign in when they had their picture shot with their names as they wanted them to appear in the directory and an email address where we could send image proofs to allow them to pick what they wanted to go in the directory.

After shooting days, I put the images on my computer, edited the keepers in Photoshop Elements and put them in a folder. I sent the proofs to the subjects and when they made a selection, I moved it into a folder marked final. I kept both of these on my Dropbox account so others involved with the project could see what we were doing.

It was not a perfect system, but overall, I think it worked fairly well and kept me from being overwhelmed by images.

Learn as you go: By the time we shot our last day, I thought we had a pretty good system going. But part of that came from making a few mistakes along the way and learning from them. We figured out things like:

~ Good places to put people. By the second or third week, we knew to put families in one setting and individuals in another, for the most part.

~ Write down settings. After spending a bit of time at the beginning of week two trying to replicate the look of week one, I wrote down those settings. But variations did come in, like throwing in some fill flashes and reflectors as we went along.

~ Last point said, beware of things being different. We had Sundays where a space we used suddenly wasn’t available. We had camera trouble one week. And then there was this window that worked out great one week, on a cloudy day. The next week sunlight was pouring through it. But we were kind of stuck with that room, so I had to figure out how, with one umbrella, to come up with a good shot while neutralizing that window.

So you have to learn to roll with it.

Don’t take on everything: One thing I really like about this membership committee is they delegated. Our responsibility ended with taking pictures and turning them in. Others are working on assembling the directory, which is primarily an online project.

And it has been an honor and a rewarding project, both in my relationship with my church and my work as a photographer. This and a couple other projects this fall helped me determine I could set up this little side business. And since photographing people is such an interpersonal pursuit, I felt like I got to meet people and know people better, and hopefully we are giving them something they will be happy with.

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