How to Use Photography and Social Media on a Mission Trip

It’s been said, and we agree: “A picture is worth a 1000 words.” But we also want to make sure those “1000 words” are worth their cost. Here is the best way to utilize photography and social media while on a mission trip:

From professional photographers to Snapchat aficionados, we live in a picture-driven society. Today it’s safe to assume that just about anyone has a camera on them and access to post anything to social media, letting everyone they know – and the world at large – catch a glimpse into their lives.

It’s an interesting phenomenon. It’s also a great responsibility.

Between selfies, #tbt (throwback Thursdays), and constantly changing newsfeeds, it’s easy to miss the heart of what is really going on with photography on the field.

*Photo by @angelaisworld

Cameras can be incredible ministry tools; and photography is in itself an act of worship. There’s also a way cameras can be used in ministry:

So, I’m going on a mission trip. Can I bring my camera/smartphone?

Yes! But we ask that you ask your team leader when it is appropriate to use it.

Why? Can’t I just take a selfie with the lady I met today? She was begging on the street, I gave her an apple, and she hugged me.

That’s great! So, how would lady feel to see her face, story, and even her name posted on Facebook? (Whether or not she has access to these things doesn’t matter). Are you taking the picture so you can remember her and pray for her whenever you see it, or to show the world the ministry you did?

Your intentions may be to show her poverty and need to people back home. But to her and those around her, you represent the West, Adventures in Missions, and most of all, Christ.

*Photo by @cbrow09_via__lisarodas_by_emilicarmichael

So, what’s the best way to share God’s love with a camera? We’re glad you asked!

  • Ask God to show you who and what to photograph. Ask him for his eyes into what is really going on, and for him to direct your lens. Capture the stories God is telling right in front of you. Make photography worship.
  • Look for shots of your teammates in action in ministry. Sneak a photo of Lindsey praying for the family in the market, the picture of Nate hi-fiving a neighborhood kid in barefoot soccer.

  • Ask God how you can best use the photographs you post on social media. Can you encourage someone to pray or help a community or go on a mission trip? And don’t forget to tag #adventuresinmissions!

  • Take pictures for others. When you are on your “off day”, if you see someone taking a selfie, offer to take their picture for them (with their camera). This gives you a moment to interact with them, learn their names, and they will be thankful not to have their arms (or a double chin!) in the picture. 
  • Give them a copy (if possible). If you can, find a way to print out photos you took and either leave them with your host to give out, or give out yourself. Some people have returned to locations even a year later and brought pictures they took the year before!

*All photos by Connie Rock.

Some things to be aware of:

  • Try to blend in. Try not to draw too much attention to yourself and your camera. Some of the best photos are not posed. It’s also important be aware of how many people on your team have their cameras out. If everyone on a 15-person team has a camera out, what is communicated in that moment is tourism. Your heart might be genuine, but the person living in the dump is going to think a tour group showed up to take pictures of their poverty. To avoid this, some team leaders establish 2-3 different “photographers” each day and then the team members share all their photos at the end of the trip. This way everyone who wants to gets to take pictures, and everyone gets to participate in ministry.
  • Be sensitive to the culture and individuals you photograph. There are still some cultures that do not like their pictures taken, because it is seen as “stealing” their image. As their permission, and if you’re told “no”, accept their boundaries. And if they say yes, show them the picture! Their smiles as you say, “Look how beautiful you are!” will make an impact.
  • Know your heart. Great questions to ask yourself are: Why do I want to take this person’s picture? Would doing so endanger or exploit them in any way? How can I use this camera and even my influence on social media to help this person in front of me? 

       At the end of our ministry moment, will this person remember Christ or my camera?

       While cameras can be great ministry tools, they also can be shields. Sometimes we use them to separate us                  from uncomfortable situations, like speaking out as an introvert or seeing something that breaks our hearts. Being          willing to be vulnerable and not pull out a camera in those moments can make all the difference.

  • Get to know the subject of your photograph. A good rule of thumb is not to take a picture of someone if you haven’t asked for and remember their name. Again, a great question to ask yourself is, “What is the motivation behind taking this picture?”
  • Be aware of the sensitivity of your ministry. In some cases, posting pictures to the Internet can be dangerous for the person in the picture. In Southeast Asia, you must be careful of taking pictures of women who may be trafficked. Any publicly posted pictures from the Red Light Districts need to have faces blurred out. In a situation like that it might be better to go old school – taking the picture but not posting it anywhere.

When in doubt, ask your team leader for when and where it is appropriate to take pictures. And ask the Lord to use your camera to communicate his love – because he can and will!

*First photo by Jessica Herzanek and final photo by Olivia Osley

How have you seen photography be helpful or harmful in ministry? What are some ways you can use it as a ministry tool on a mission trip this summer?