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Using photos of children responsibly

Palm Sunday 2013 family service at St. George's, Maplewood. JOEL HERBERT PHOTO

Holy Week, which is only – gasp! – a few weeks away, provides terrific photo opportunities for church communicators. The weather is improving, people are wearing brighter colors and the services include many visually interesting elements. Services may begin or even take place outdoors, allowing photographers to take advantage of natural light.

One question I’m often asked is how churches can responsibly use photos of children, especially online. Since Holy Week and Easter photos will inevitably include children – from waving palms to hunting for Easter eggs – I'd like to share some suggestions.

Establish a photo permission policy

First, I recommend that churches have an explicitly stated photo permission policy for photos of minors, which can take one of two forms: “opt in” or “opt out.”

An example of an “opt in” photo permission is this clause, included in all registration forms for diocesan youth events. In this case, no photos of a minor are used unless their parent or guardian has explicitly given permission.

I give my permission for photographs and/or video footage of my child to be used by the Diocese of Newark for promotional purposes (brochures, on diocesan websites, promotional videos, presentations, etc).

An example of an “opt out” photo permission is what we use at my home parish, St. George’s, Maplewood. This clause is included in our Sunday School registration form:

At St. George's, photos and/or videos are often taken at the Christmas pageant, Blessing of the Animals, the Easter egg hunt, and other special events in which children participate. These photos and videos may be posted on St. George's website or Facebook page, used in printed materials, or submitted with press releases to local publications, to illustrate our community for potential visitors. Children are never identified by name.

It is St. George's policy to respect the wishes of parents regarding photos or videos that include their children. Please tell us below if there are any ways you do not wish for photos or videos including your children to be used publicly.

"Opt out" policies tend to work better for groups, such as congregations, in which everyone is generally on the same page regarding use of photography and the web, and the photographers are fellow members known to parents (or are parents themselves). We use an "opt in" policy at the diocesan level because we're dealing with groups coming from multiple congregations with differing cultures around photography and website use.

No matter which type of policy you choose, you should never tag or identify by name children in photographs on the internet.

Photograph children - just not their faces

For potential visitors checking out your church on the web, photos of children's activities can give a sense of the congregation's life and culture, and can help them determine whether their child will feel comfortable with the age range or diversity of the children in the congregation. However, none of this requires that individual children's faces be visible or identifiable. Following are some examples of effective photos of children that don't show their faces.

Photograph the backs of their heads

The easiest tip for photographers of any skill level, this can be especially effective when children are engaged with an adult during the service.

Good Friday family service St. George's, Maplewood
Good Friday 2013 family service at St. George's, Maplewood. NINA NICHOLSON PHOTO

Photograph their hands

Close-up shots of children's hands while they're engaged in an activity can be wonderfully evocative.

Good Friday family service St. George's, Maplewood
Good Friday 2013 family service at St. George's, Maplewood. NINA NICHOLSON PHOTO

Keep them in the background

This is a tip for more advanced photographers who can control their camera's F-stop and depth of field. In this photo, shot at F4.2 with a correspondingly narrow depth of field, the pony is the focal point and all the children (except one) are in the background and out of focus; the only minor who's in focus has his back to the camera.

Palm Sunday family service St. George's, Maplewood
Palm Sunday 2013 family service at St. George's, Maplewood. JOEL HERBERT PHOTO


Thank you so much for this helpful piece. We are in the middle of a redesign and this is a great place to start with this!

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