In many church communication blog articles and Facebook groups, I’ve seen a common recommendation: “Use Unsplash photos for your church social media and website”. I’ve done it myself and will again in the future. But there are some very good reasons why your church shouldn’t use Unsplash. And, the more I see Unsplash photos being used, the more true they become.
What is Unsplash?
Just in case you didn’t know, Unsplash is a website and related services where photographers give away their photos. Unlike some other services, it is creative commons zero, so you don’t need to give credit to use their photos.
Why Churches Use Unsplash Photos
It’s easy to understand why churches rely on Unsplash. There are a few appealing reasons which are still true.
Quick and Easy To Use
The Unsplash website is easy to search, there’s a good API which has let other services, like Squarespace, tie in. This makes it incredibly quick and easy to get their photos.
High-Quality, Non-Cheesy Photos
Unlike some photo services, there are a lot of high-quality images on Unsplash which make it more appealing than other options.
Let’s be honest, this is a big part as well. Many churches operate on a tight budget and premium photo services are difficult to fit in.
The Problem With Unsplash Photos for Churches
With those three previously mentioned factors, you might wonder what the problems there could possibly be with Unsplash. Well, this isn’t an article about its impact on the photography industry (although there are reasons that might be an issue). Instead, there are reasons you might be skeptical or using Unsplash photos.
Unsplash photos can be unrepresentative and false
My church meets in a bright hotel room and fits about 100 people. If we used an Unsplash photo of a worship meeting it would show a dark room full of thousands of people.
Any guest who turned up would be very confused.
Using photos which don’t accurately reflect your church are confusing at best and perhaps slightly deceitful. Of course, you could still use a beautiful photo of a Bible for a sermon series graphic or some other aesthetic reason, but be careful of images that give an impression of your church.
Unsplash photos can be generic
Some of these Unsplash photos could be used for any church. They don’t show you anything about the church location or give you a feel for the place. Using more specific photos can show more about your church.
If your congregation is older, a different ethnic mix or has a unique location, show that off.
It can be repetitive
There are some Unsplash photos that I must have seen a thousand times if not more. You know those people working at a cafe with a MacBook, that retro video camera? Maybe you can even recall a few Unsplash photos.
What’s the big deal? Well, when you see two posts in your Facebook feed with the same photo from different groups, it’s very strange.
Legal issues with Unsplash photos
There are also some legal issues surrounding certain images. Zack Arias layed out some of them in this post but as far as I can tell, Unsplash doesn’t collect model release rights of people in their photos and this can open up the risk of being sued.
What To Do Instead of Using Unsplash Photos
There are plenty of options that you can use instead of Unsplash. Some of these address different issues of Unsplash photos. Depending on your needs, you may want to choose one instead of the other.
Use a Different Free Service
Unsplash isn’t the only free photo service out there. There was a time when pexels was set to be the go to free photo service as it scrapped all of Unplashes photos too, but that didn’t happen (Unplash changed its terms and conditions to specifically address what Pexel were doing.)
We wrote a list of 7 high quality free image services you can check out. One of those will at least help you to find different images that the same old Unsplash photos.
Pay for Stock Photos
You could pay for some stock photos and some services have some very attractive and affordable bundles now. Admittedly, that is a cost and stock photos can have a terrible style as well. Plus, you can still give off a misleading impression.
Options / services include:
- Depositphoto (sometimes you can buy discounted bulk )
- Storyblocks (unlimited for a year)
- Lightstock (Christian stock)
- ChristianPics (Unlimited Christian Stock)
Have a Photographer on Staff / Volunteer
There’s a good chance that your church has someone who enjoys photography, even if it is just taking a few snaps with their smartphone. You might be able to get them on staff, if your church is that big, or ask them to volunteer once in a while.
f you can’t think of anyone, you may discover a volunteer when you ask. Even if they aren’t particularly skilled at photography yet, this may be the impetus they need to develop.
Hire a Photographer for a One-Off Event
If you really don’t have someone suitable in your church, you could look to hire a photographer to take photos of specific church service or event.
This has the advantage of professional results, without the reoccurring costs, and a chance for someone new to get connected with your church. You never know what divine opportunities may arise from a one-time hire.
You could also hire a photographer with a specific brief for a series of social media or blog images you need.
It’s Good To Have Options
Unsplash is a great tool to have at hand, but it’s not perfect for every situation. Luckily there are other options that you may want to choose.