Why Your Church Needs Photo Permissions

Why Your Church Needs Photo Permissions

November 27, 2017 by

With the constant sharing of photos on social media, it’s tempting to play fast and loose with the photos you’ve taken. It surely can’t matter that much as to how and where you publish them, right? But it does, and it makes sense for the church to be extra sensitive in this area.

The church needs to be extra sensitive in the area of photo permissions.

Sometimes, obtaining permission from someone to use their photo is a courtesy. In other instances, the law requires you to get permission first. Several considerations go into when you should or have to obtain photo permissions, such as the six detailed below.

1. Identifiable Likeness

Photo permissions largely cover when you have a photo where you can easily make out someone’s face and potentially identify them. But if you take a wide angle photo from the back of an auditorium you’re in the clear. Not many people can identify a person based on the back of their head.

2. Legal Coverage

Photos taken of church services or church-sponsored events containing adults 18 and older are covered under an editorial use clause. A model release is not required by law in most cases. If you aren’t sure if your photo falls under “in most cases,” ask for permission before posting.

3. Commercial Uses

While most photos are covered under the editorial use clause (see above), the line gets a little blurry when creating an ad campaign that uses people’s photos. It gets even blurrier if the campaign aims to raise millions of dollars. You should always get photo permission from anyone in campaign photos, if only to prevent the shock of them seeing their face plastered everywhere.

4. Under 18

The above considerations largely apply to people over 18 years of age. But for younger individuals, it’s highly advisable to obtain permission from their parents or guardians. Some parents don’t want their children’s photos published online. Others live under legal guidelines, as in the case of foster kids. Because of that, get permission. It protects you legally, not to mention thwarts the potential for a communications crisis.

5. People in Hiding

So far, we’ve covered the average person who simply wants to know their photo is being used. In most cases, they are totally fine with it. They want to play a part in your communications. But some people are extra sensitive to having their photo used. You likely don’t know who these people are, so adopt an “ask before you use” policy. You could have a photo of a kid in the middle of a custody battle, parents fostering a child who comes from a complicated home situation, or an abused spouse in hiding. These people come to the church to feel safe. The last thing they need is a photo on social media or a postcard advertising where they can be found.

6. Shooting Versus Publishing

Finally, practice the rule of shoot photos now and ask for permission later. Doing so gives your volunteer photographers freedom to shoot whatever they see. As long as you gain people’s permission prior to publication, you, church members, and guests will stay protected. And, if you discover a photo can’t be used for one of the considerations outlined above, move it to some sort of secure archive where it won’t accidentally get uploaded or used.

3 Layers to Photo Permissions at Your Church

Now that you know some of the considerations, you can set up three layers to easily obtain photo permissions.

  1. The first layer concerns kids under 18. With them, you can sometimes get permission through the church check-in process or an event registration. As an example, some check-in systems allow you to flag kids with allergies or other medical conditions. You could use that same system to “flag” kids who shouldn’t have their photos taken. In addition, add a sign to your check-in area that notifies parents photos and video may be taken. Parents can then alert staff if they do not want their children to participate.
  2. The second layer of permission involves specifically requesting permission from the subject or guardian before using any photo. Usually, a simple e-mail explaining what the image will be used for suffices. While not necessarily required legally, specific requests offer safeguards against awkward conversations with parents.
  3. The third layer of permission employs an actual model release. This layer only becomes necessary when walking the line of commercial use, as in the case of the fundraiser mentioned earlier. Such forms may make people nervous, so use your best judgement when deciding whether to use one. Ask your senior staff or trustees for their input, too, especially if you feel uncertain about using the form or photo.

In the commercial world, people want to avoid getting sued for using someone’s likeness to make a profit. But in the church world, the issue is much more nuanced. Photography, ad campaigns, or social media engagement should never trump individual relationships with people. No campaign is worth that.

So go above and beyond when it comes to photo permissions—within reason. Notify people about the photos, but don’t obsess over them. If you focus on treating people right and communicating with them, you’ll be fine. More importantly, your church members will get to play a part in advancing the kingdom of God, and they will love that.

Image: David Goehring (Creative Commons)
Post By:

Joe Porter


Joe Porter is the communications director at Whitewater Crossing in the Cincinnati, Ohio, area in addition to maintaining his photo and video business.

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