Sharing photography best practices.

Original content that reflects the life of your community — images of the people in your community and where they live and work — is a huge asset that you can use to reach and engage followers. Stock photos are fine, but a photo from your campus or city that will be recognizable to people in your audience will resonate more deeply. Even better, use photos of current members of your community (and tag them!) to generate chatter among your people that their friends will see.

The task of capturing photos and videos from your community requires planning and diligence, but will separate you from the crowd — young adults recognize and respond to authenticity and thoughtfulness online. A best practice is to get young adults from your ministry involved in gathering imagery to create a digital library for your feed. Here are some tips for you or a ministry leader to use in taking photos or videos to use on social media. 


Composition and framing

  • One of the most basic rules of successful image composition is “the rule of thirds,” which states that shots should be composed as if they were divided into three equal segments, vertically and horizontally. With an imagined grid dividing an image into nine equal parts, photographers should position their camera so that important focal points for the image are placed along the intersections between the horizontal and vertical line intersections. This may sound too complicated to think about in the moment you’re taking the shot, but most smartphone cameras have a grid overlay that can be turned on to assist you.

  • When it comes to social media, though, the middle section of your image is most important. The reason is simple—on mobile devices, social platforms will not always show the whole image, but a cropped thumbnail of the image that can be opened in order to view the full photo. If you make sure that the image’s most important information is in its middle third, you’re ensuring that your viewers will see the subject of the content upon first glance, therefore making them more likely to engage with it.


Lighting and Exposure

  • One of the easiest ways to get better-looking photos is to light your subject well. Aim for bright, filtered light — taking a photo outside on a cloudy day will give you the best results, but you can’t always control where the photo needs to be taken, or what the weather is like that day. A tip for shooting portraits is to place your subjects in front of something naturally reflective, like a wall in sunlight. To get better lighting while shooting on your phone, try framing your photo with your phone and then tapping the area where your subject appears. This tells the phone where to focus and adjust the exposure appropriately. Most phones allow you to manually adjust the exposure as well after you tap the subject. From there, you can adjust the lighting until the subject is bright enough, but not blown out.
  • If the content requires a selfie setup, such as going live on Instagram or recording a video of yourself or someone else to promote an event, lighting is especially important. The best light is usually near big windows or other softly glowing sources. Avoid backlighting, direct sunlight, or harsh indoor lighting. If you have to take a photo in overhead light, raise your phone and tilt your face up until the shadows disappear. When using window light, stand in the area where the light is soft and diffused.


  • Orientation depends on the platform: Instagram is set up for portrait orientation, while Facebook and Twitter are more optimized for landscape. Instagram should take priority, but cropping to a square is a good compromise (that’s what Grotto does). For IGTV videos or content posted directly to Instagram Stories, you should always be shooting vertically.

Transfer a photo/video from your phone to computer without compromising quality

  • There are many ways to get your photos from your phone to your computer and vice versa, but the right method depends on what kind of phone/computer you use. 
    • If you use an iPhone and a Mac, you can sync up your photos to iCloud so they automatically can be accessed on all your devices. If you prefer not to use iCloud to sync your photos, you can easily AirDrop them between devices by tapping the share button and finding your device under Airdrop. Just be sure to have Bluetooth enabled on your iPhone and Mac.
    • If you’re working on a PC, consider using Google Photos to access between devices. You can automatically have the photos from your camera roll (on any type of smartphone) sync to the Google Photos app, which you can then access from any browser. If you are trying to get photos locally from your PC to your phone, the process is the same, except you will need to upload the images to Google Photos.
    • Google Drive is another option. It works similarly to Google Photos, except the downsidel is that your photos won’t automatically sync. You’ll have to manually add the images to a specific drive location, but it’s fairly easy to do that from your PC or a smartphone app.

Sourcing photos/videos from your community

  • If you’re asking the community to share photos with you, consider the platform you’re on to determine how you ask them to share photos. If you’re promoting on social media, ask the community to share their photos by using a unique hashtag, or tagging the ministry account in a previous post, or asking them to Direct Message the photos directly to you (make sure your DMs are open). If you’re promoting on your website, it’s appropriate to ask people to email the photos to you. The goal is to make it as easy as possible for people to share their photos; if it’s too much effort on their part, they’re less likely to take the time to share.
  • Nowadays, the quality of photos taken on smartphones is quite good, but it may help to specify that you need high-quality photos so you don’t end up with blurry/pixelated images.

Sourcing stock photos

  • If obtaining photos from your community isn’t possible for the content you’re promoting, there are a couple websites that offer free, high-quality stock photos:
  • These websites allow you to download photos and use them in any way you like, royalty-free. Attribution to the photographer isn’t required, but it is appreciated.
  • If there is a specific photo you need that can’t be found on a stock photography website (for example, a portrait of an individual or a unique location), you can try looking on Google or another search engine. However, be mindful of the quality of the photos you downloaded, and most importantly, make sure the photo has Creative Commons licensing. An easy way to be sure you’re following these guidelines is to click the “Tools” button under the search bar in Google Images and select “Creative Commons licenses” under the “Usage Rights” dropdown. You can also filter by the size, or quality of the photo.

File organization

  • Consider using Google Drive or another dedicated location to organize and back up your photos. Use folders to organize photos related to different subjects or initiatives, such as student life, campus shots, favorite memories, etc. 
  • If you receive community photos, consider naming the photo files in a way that displays the name of the photographer. That way, it’s easy to remember who submitted the photo when you’re going to tag them or give credit.

Recap: Photography roadmap

  1. Consider the form of the content. What is the subject you are capturing? Is it a portrait of a student? A favorite spot on campus? A shot from an event? 
  2. Explore the best way to highlight the subject. This means thinking ahead as to where and how the message will be communicated and shooting accordingly. Consider the orientation you will shoot in advance.
  3. Set yourself up for success. If you can move the subject of the photo (such as taking a portrait), make sure it’s in a location that makes sense for the content, yet isn’t too distracting. If the subject is stationary or you can’t control the placement (such as a campus photo or a candid photo of people at an event or on campus), consider how you can move yourself to improve the composition. Remember the rule of thirds (specifically the middle third), avoid distracting backgrounds, and consider the lighting. You don’t want to end up with a photo that’s too over- or under-exposed.
  4. Take a few shots to ensure that you have options to choose from. We all know how annoying it is to take a group photo just to realize someone’s eyes are closed. 
  5. If you need to edit the photos, consider doing that in your smartphone or in Google Photos.
  6. Backup your photos to the drive, placing them in a folder location that makes sense for the subject.
  7. When sharing the photos on social media, be sure to tag the subject or photographer in either the photo or the caption.



  • Make sure the subject is addressing the camera directly and centered in the frame. Also, make sure the subject has enough headroom from the top of the frame. Refer to the section “Composition and Framing” in the Photography Guide above. Keep the camera level to the subject’s face or slightly above. Filming a person from below (ie, up at their nose) can be unflattering.


Left: Subject’s head is cut off in frame

Right: Subject is evenly placed in frame, has headroom while speaking


  • Soft, natural light is most flattering to subjects. Avoid harsh, direct lighting from either fluorescents or strong overhead lights. Light that casts across a subject from the side is preferable; avoid shooting a subject in front of a window or strong light source that will cause a silhouette of your subject. 


Left: Subject is silhouetted in front of a window

Right: Indirect light is casting from a window across subject’s face


  • When addressing the camera, find a background that is aesthetically pleasing. Make sure to find a location that sets a context to reinforce your message. Your filming location should be interesting, but not overly busy or distracting. Also, consider a place where you will be able to record good audio without too much ambient noise. If you’ve chosen a location with a flat wall behind the subject, try adding some distance between the subject and the wall. This will give the shot more dimension. The most important element in your location, however, is finding a place with good lighting, as mentioned above.


Left: Background is cluttered, distracting

Right: Simple, clean background with some visual interest


  • Before filming, pick the orientation of your camera frame, whether that be landscape or portrait. Orientation depends on the platform: Instagram is set up for portrait orientation, while Facebook and Twitter are more optimized for landscape.

Subject Delivery

  • Your audience will be able to tell if the person is trying to “sell” something or not. For social media platforms, it’s best to avoid a script and just let a person speak as themselves. On-camera speakers should aim to speak as they would to a close friend, not as a newscaster. Mistakes and bumbling over words isn’t the worst thing for these platforms, where authenticity is a top priority. 

Transferring Videos From Phone to Computer

  • If you want to edit your videos or just to store them on a computer, you will need to transfer them from your phone. If you use an iPhone and a Mac, you can sync your videos to iCloud so they can be automatically accessed on all your devices. If you prefer not to use iCloud to sync your videos, you can easily AirDrop them between devices by tapping the share button and finding your device under Airdrop. Just be sure to have Bluetooth enabled on your iPhone and Mac.
  • Google Drive is another option. It works similarly to Google Photos, except the downside is that your videos won’t automatically sync. You’ll have to manually add the videos to a specific drive location, but it’s fairly easy to do that from your PC or a smartphone app.


  • If you are planning on editing your videos, you will need some software. At Grotto, we use Adobe Premiere Pro for editing videos. Premiere is available through a subscription to the Adobe Creative Cloud. However, Davinci Resolve is a powerful, free video editing software and is available for Mac or PC. It’s fairly simple to use and there are plenty of tutorials on Youtube to show you how to use the editing function of Resolve. 
  • You could also consider using an app for editing — such as iMovie — which is also free. Because apps will allow you to edit a video on your phone, it would save you the hassle of having to get your phone footage onto a computer.

Recap: Video Roadmap

  1. Take the time to prepare for the project so you can best communicate your message.
  2. Frame your subject centered, with headroom, at a flattering angle.
  3. Utilize natural light.
  4. Find a simple, aesthetically pleasing location for your background.
  5. Pick your orientation: landscape or portrait.
  6. Instruct your subjects to be themselves and conversational.
  7. Drop your videos onto your computer using either iCloud, Airdrop, or Google Drive, just to name a few ways.
  8. If you want to edit the video, consider using free software like Davinci Resolve or iMovie.

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