But what about posting people’s photos on Facebook? Can we do that?

One concern the general public sometimes has regarding social media is the issues associated with putting photos of people, especially children, on social media without their consent.

We think it’s really important that churches be actively taking photos and videos of their events.  By showing real images of real people at your church, you’re giving the public a snapshot of what church life is like.  You’re potentially removing a sense of fear, uncertainty or any other obstacle that could be preventing someone from visiting your church.  You’re allowing the wider community a glimpse of the life and excitement and joy that comes out of your church, and gives them a taste of what they, too, could enjoy.  Plus, if you’re sharing your photos on social media, then your reach can grow exponentially by members of your own church liking and sharing the images you publish.  Taking and using photos is a really important part of your church’s marketing strategy, but this can all become halted when well-meaning but misguided voices start clouding the issue of privacy, taking photos of other people, and permission requirements.

Here is our thinking regarding the issue, but it’s really important that you familiarise yourself with the laws in your own country and state.  You can begin by searching for government regulations surrounding the ownership of photographs, and requirements about the use of images.

The guidelines we discuss here are true in Australia, but beyond that, we think it best that you do your own research.  That being said, our suggestions, guidelines and templates will still be helpful for you as you deal with people’s concerns with sharing images publicly.

Firstly, it’s important to understand that, in Australia at least, when someone takes a photograph, the person who takes the photo owns the photo.  It doesn’t matter who is in the photo, the ownership of the image lies with the person who took it.  On a similar note, it is not legally required to obtain permission from a subject before taking their photo.  The Privacy Act 1988 says that in normal circumstances, a person’s consent is not required for their photo to be taken or their image to be recorded.

There are certain circumstances where taking or publishing photos in an offensive or indecent way (e.g. at a beach) could lead to potential problems, but this is unlikely to be the case for a church wanting to use photos of people in their Sunday services, children’s ministry, mid-week groups, etc.  However it is worth keeping this in mind if, for example, your Youth Group participated in a social event at the beach.

Legal issues can also arise when a person’s image is used in order to sell a product.  It’s advised that if a company intends on using a person’s photo as part of an advertisement of a product, they first receive a Model Release Form which basically states that the images will be used for advertising, and include stipulations as to whether the model will receive any financial compensation.  Given that the lines are blurred as to whether a church using photos to promote an event is considered “selling a product”, it may be worth seeking permission from someone before using their photo on a poster or advertising material, just to be safe.  But such model release forms aren’t required for general photography of individuals, as there is no “right to privacy” for a person’s image in Australia (unless that image includes private information, such as the person engaging in sexual behaviour, etc).

So where does that leave us?  It essentially means that we, as churches, are free to take as many photos of whoever we want, and use those photos however we want, because whoever took the photos owns the photos.  But being said, I do think there is a place, especially in churches, for general goodwill and respect for the individual’s wishes, even if we don’t have a legal obligation to fulfill them.  At the end of the day, it’s more important that we show grace, love and respect to those in our church, than doing whatever we want purely because we have a “legal right”.  

So for that reason, we should always be ready to listen and act in the case of someone being concerned.  If someone is unhappy with a photo being displayed on our website or social media, for the sake of showing love, just take it down.  But, there are things we can do to protect ourselves from too frequently being in the position of having to react to people unhappy with their photos being displayed.

First, we’ll look at protecting ourselves regarding photos of children.  In our experience, this tends to cause far more tension than photos of adults.  We do think it’s a good idea to alert the parents that photos and/or video footage may be taken of their children for use on our website and/or social media, but PLEASE don’t send home a permission slip, asking parents to tick a box and sign if they consent to photos being taken!!!  This may seem like a good idea, but we guarantee you – half the parents will forget to return theirs altogether, other parents will get confused and tick the wrong box, and you’ll find yourself in the awkward and difficult position of only taking photos of a handful of kids from whom you’ve received permission.  This becomes an almost impossible task if you don’t know all the kids personally!  And the sad thing is the vast majority of parents actually won’t have a problem with photos being taken – it will just be a case of “life got in the way” and they never managed to sign the form.

Here’s a better way that I’ve used at my church for a number of years and has never caused a single problem.  Instead of offering an “opt-in” for photos (ie, tick here if you allow photos to be taken), offer an “opt-out” system.  By this, we mean make it very clear to parents that photos and/or video may be taken, then leave the onus on the parent to inform you if they don’t wish for their child to participate.  If you’ve done your due diligence by making it clear to parents, then you can safely assume all parents are happy except for those few (if any) who speak to you directly.

There are a couple of ways you can go about communicating this “Opt-Out” process to parents, depending on the context of your event:

  • If your event requires pre-registration, include the opt-out as part of your terms and conditions (see the sample T&Cs below)
  • Display large, bright, obvious signs on the way in to the kids’ area
  • Email parents beforehand, explaining that you’re collecting photos and video footage, explain why, then allow anyone to opt-out by return email
  • If you require kids to fill in a Registration Form before joining Sunday School, include this in the registration form
  • Explain the policy on any children’s ministry info sheets and webpages
  • Hand out a small slip to each parent as they drop off their kids
  • Announce it from the front at church and ask any parents who wish to opt-out to speak directly to someone in charge

Here’s a sample of the terms and conditions we use at my church in regards to photography and video:

In sending your child(ren) to [event], you agree that photographs and/or video footage may be taken of your child and used for promotional purposes, which may include (but is not limited to) publishing on our website, Facebook page, Instagram feed and during Sunday church services.  Please get in touch with [contact person] to discuss options if you do not wish for this to happen.

In our experience, we have had just one parent request that photos not be taken of their child, and one instance of another parent requesting photos be removed on our Facebook page.  We politely reminded that parent of the terms and conditions they agreed to (just to make them aware that they did, in fact, give us permission by not “opting-out”, and then proceeded to remove the photo as requested.

If you do receive a request from someone asking that photos not be taken of their child, it may be worth carrying on the conversation a little longer, just to find out exactly what their concern is.  Perhaps they may be happy for their child to be included in large “group shots” of 50 kids or more, but just don’t want individual photos of their child made public.  We always have to think through the ramifications of excluding children from photos, and consider how to do this sensitively so that the child doesn’t feel left out or isolated.  Perhaps you could request that the parent has this same conversation with their child, so the child understands why they have to stand aside while everyone else gets their photo taken.  But like we said, with an “opt-out” system like this, you may well find that you never, or hardly ever, receive a request from parents that their child be excluded from photos.

One good idea to try and follow if you can is to aim to take photos of “regularly attending” kids.  By this, we mean kids whose families are committed to your church, and aren’t first-timers or still figuring out if they’re joining your church community.  If you don’t know the children personally, this can be a little difficult, but with the help of a kids’ ministry volunteer it’s not too stressful.  Although a new family may be okay with photos being taken of their children, if you intend on using these photos “long term”, for example on your website, you’re going to want them to be of kids who actually attend your church.  You may get a great shot of a child who’s visiting for the first time and perhaps their family doesn’t return.  It doesn’t make sense, and it’s a little inappropriate, to have that child’s photo on your website promoting your church’s children’s ministry.  If you can, try to take photos of kids you know, of kids whose parents you suspect have no issues with making the photos public, and of kids who will be with you for the long haul.

Now, onto photos of adults.  Adults are a bit easier to deal with than children, because unlike children, adults are free to speak for themselves and make their own informed decisions.  For that reason, it’s often unnecessary to expressly state that “photos or video may be taken at this church event”.  If the people can see you taking photos, then they, as adults, can approach you and ask what the photos are for, and request that theirs not be used.  Again, this has never happened to us, but be prepared that it might, and be ready to show love and grace even though legally you can do whatever you want with the photos!  If you’re shooting at a special event, you may want to include a note in the program stating that the photographer will be taking photos, and to simply speak to him/her if you don’t wish for your photo to be taken.  But generally, adults who have concerns will speak up, and if they don’t, you can rest safe in the knowledge that the law is on your side, and you have every legal right to continue taking photos at your event.

Please don’t let all of this information scare you – like we said, photos are important!  And they will make a difference in your church’s marketing and promotion strategy.  But by being aware of the rules and regulations in your country, and by being armed with some safeguards to make your job easier, you can make sure that you’re getting the photos you need and respecting the desires of anyone with concerns.

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