7 Quick Takes (vol. 14)

When I first wanted to get into church photography, I scoured the internet for some guide. I was a pretty new Catholic, and I hesitated to start going into these churches and taking pictures without knowing if what I did was, well, OK. I never did find something I was happy with (mostly a lot of wedding photographers), but below are some of the guidelines I use when visiting places. Without further ado, 7 Quick Takes this week is 7 Etiquette Tips for Photography in Religious Buildings.

1 – No Flash Inside

Many popular sites may note this somewhere inside of their building, but flash photography indoors is never a good idea at these places. Essentially, a flash from your camera is like a slower version of sun damage to artwork. One flash won’t do much, but if everyone is doing it, it will take its toll. Plus, that camera flash can be annoying to others, and it is very noticeable in the confines of an empty building.

2 – Call Ahead for Appropriate Visiting Times

Of course you want to make sure that the church is open when you visit, but there are many considerations beyond that, such as weddings. Some buildings have calendars online to check. But if you call ahead, you may be able to also figure out when you will be disturbing the fewest number of people.

3 – Ask for a Brief Tour

If the church has a rich history, or if it’s part of a denomination or religion you aren’t familiar with, asking for a tour can help you to better understand the significance of each part of the building, as well as what is and isn’t appropriate regarding photography. Most of those on staff are only too happy to oblige. Plus, it can be less awkward if you take pictures while with a guide.

4 – Dress Appropriately

If you’re only visiting or are a tourist, it can be tempting to just dress however you please. But even the Vatican has a dress code now. If you’re unfamiliar with the group you’re visiting, call ahead or email to ask. Most sites are pretty forgiving to visitors, but they’ll be very appreciative if you make the effort.

5 – Leave the Equipment at Home

I love my tripod. And if you heed my advice in quick take 1 about turning your flash off, you’ll need it! Taking a photo without flash almost always means the camera will have to open its shutter for longer, resulting in blurrier photos. But lugging all that stuff around inside a religious building isn’t very appropriate. If you really need a tripod, I recommend investing in a GorillaPod or a Modopocket. Additionally, if you’re familiar with your camera’s controls, bump up the ISO as much as you can first, and then open up your aperture if necessary.

6 – Donate

Popular destinations will likely have some sort of donation box for the upkeep of their frequently traveled grounds. It doesn’t need to be a large donation – most churches I’ve been to ask for a dollar. Other churches will instead ask for a donation in return for a larger pamphlet or guide to the artwork and layout of their building.

7 – Be Respectful

The most important point is to be respectful. All of the above points will help you achieve that, but if your photography is bothering someone who is praying, maybe go somewhere else for a bit (or grab a bite to eat) and circle back later. As much fun as photography can be, it shouldn’t supersede those who are there to worship or pray.

Do you have any additional rules to share? Or perhaps something that annoys you when others are photographing your religious home?

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4 thoughts on “7 Quick Takes (vol. 14)

  1. These are really good points! I’ve visited a couple churches when we visited NYC (as well as the Shrine in Carey, OH) and I always make sure to turn the flash off. Then again, my pictures don’t turn out as well as they could but that’s okay! Getting a tour is also really cool because you get to learn even more about the church! Great post!

  2. I recently was in Europe and found it weird to ‘photograph’ things like Saint’s relics – Maybe it’s just a personal preference, but some things seem so sacred that to photograph them, it would be…against nature? Does anyone else feel this way?

    Of course, I know there is nothing inherently wrong with it (unless a notice says otherwise, like it does with Teresa of Avila’s thumb!), but it still doesn’t sit right with me. I even had a difficult time photographing John of the Cross’s chair, but now I’m glad that I did. 🙂

  3. These are great suggestions! My weirdest church-tourism experience was at Westminster Cathedral when I happened to be in London on Easter Sunday a few years ago–not only were there literally thousands of Mass-goers, but there also seemed to be quite a few tourists rolling around with suitcases taking pictures!

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