Q: What permissions are needed for photography or videography at congregational events?

With photos and video serving a popular means of promoting congregations through social media, congregational leaders often ask about obtaining permissions for photography and videography at congregational events. Here are some of the tips that I usually give (with the caveat that I’m not a lawyer and can’t offer legal advice!)

If children are going to be photographed or videotaped, written permission must be obtained from a parent or legal guardian of each child. When the photographs or videotapes are published, consider leaving out the names of the children. Some congregations only film children from the back, so that their faces are not visible.

On the UU Growth Blog, Peter Bowden has posted a collection of sample release forms for photographs of children. The forms are all from Unitarian Universalist congregations.

If adults are going to be photographed or videotaped, advertise this fact on all promotion materials for the event at which the photography or videotaping will take place. For example, if your congregation is recording the installation of a new minister, note on the fliers and e-mails about the installation that it will be videotaped. You may even want to make a brief announcement before the ceremony begins (at the same time that you would say “please turn off your cell phones”).

In his interview with Don Skinner for InterConnections, Peter Bowden offers excellent advice on how to secure implicit permission for videorecording and photographing at events:

“When filming crowds at public performances and other large events we generally post signs at entrances to the event notifying those attending that we are filming,” [Bowden] says. “By entering the event they are thereby giving consent. When we do this we take pictures of the signs to document they were posted.”

In short, make a good faith effort to notify event attendees through all possible channels in advance.

If it is feasible, you may also wish to demarcate a seating area that will not be visible on camera, for those who want to attend the event but do not want to be seen in the video.

For events at which people may normally have an expectation of privacy, or events with which people may run some risk by being publicly identified, take the extra step of obtaining written permission from each person in advance of that person being videotaped or photographed. Such events, depending on your community, may include support groups, BGLT dances, or other congregational events.

If your congregation receives a request from someone featured in a photograph or video segment to have that photograph or video segment removed from a congregational website, Facebook Page, etc., do your best to honor that request.

When asking permission, ask for blanket permission to publish and distribute photographs and video. Don’t ask for permission to publish the photographs or video in only one place (i.e. just in the congregational newsletter, just on the congregational website, etc.).

There are two reasons to ask for broad permission:

1. Communication technologies are constantly evolving. Even if right now, your congregation only has a website, in a few months, you might have a blog too, and want to share photographs there!

2. Once a photograph is published, especially online, you can’t completely control where it will be shared. People can very easily take a photograph that they see on a congregation’s website and post it to their Facebook profile, even if doing so violates copyright. You cannot ensure that a photograph posted on your congregation’s website will remain only there.

If you are recording a worship service or other presentation that may include copyrighted material, respect copyright laws. Read “Copyright Issues Related to Worship” for more information.

Have fun with photographs and videos! These media offer a wonderful way to share the story of your congregation with members, newcomers, and the general public.

Congregational video tips and samples

I’ve been inspired by Peter Bowden’s posts on the UU Growth Blog encouraging congregations to produce videos. “Not having video content in the 21st century is like not having a sign on your building,” Peter writes. “It is now standard operating procedure.”

In another post, Peter makes the point, “You don’t have to go crazy with a complex production. Instead, focus on capturing compelling stories.”

Peter has highlighted this video, from the First Unitarian Church of Providence, Rhode Island, as an example of how congregation’s ministers can introduce themselves to newcomers online:

I’m not a video expert, but I notice many things that as a viewer I find appealing about this video:

  • The video is only a minute-and-a-half long. (Because the length of a video is displayed clearly in the YouTube player, it is one of the things that a viewer sees before deciding whether or not to hit the play button).
  • James and Kathy start speaking immediately; there’s no lead-in.
  • James and Kathy speak clearly, slowly, and with expression. They exude friendliness and warmth.
  • They look at the camera.
  • The video is not shaky; the camera was on a tripod or some other stable surface.

And the video has all of these wonderful qualities without being a “complex production.” It’s filmed in one single, beautiful location. There’s no image slideshow, background music, or special effects.

Now, on to the  “complex production” options, for those congregations that have the resources and need. Below are a few more congregational videos that I enjoy, and that I hope will inspire you to find an approach to video that works for your congregation!

Easy-to-share videos about Unitarian Universalism

Looking for videos about Unitarian Universalism that you can promote via social media and on websites?

Below are recommendations for finding new Unitarian Universalist videos that are high-quality, compelling, and easy-to-share:

1. New videos are added on a regular basis to the YouTube channel of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). Select videos from the 2010 General Assembly are now available there, including footage of the Banner Parade, the Ware Lecture, the Sunday morning worship service, the Award for Distinguished Service presentation and acceptance, the President’s Report, and remarks by Al Franken, Keith Ellison, Mark Ritchie.

2. The Standing on the Side of Love (SSL) campaign YouTube channel features videos of SSL events and messages from SSL leaders. 

3. Speaking of Faith Observed has produced Vimeo videos featuring interviews with Unitarian Universalists at the 2010 General Assembly. The first two videos are “What is a Unitarian Universalist?” and “How did you become a Unitarian Universalist?

4. An extensive collection of shareable videos about Unitarian Universalism is available on UUPlanet.tv The videos on UUPlanet.tv come from a variety of congregations and Unitarian Universalist organizations, providing a wide selection of content.