Animate: Photography Toolbox Session

This week, I taught a photography class to a new generation of worship leaders. Animate is an annual camp created by Samford’s Center for Worship and the Arts. This incredible center provides practical resources, connections and spiritual components for high schoolers seeking to discover the intersection of theology and the arts. It was a joy to share some of my photography experience with them this week! Here is the transcript of the “toolbox” workshop…

I’m Eleanor Stenner. I’m 25 and a full time Wedding + Portrait Photographer based here in Birmingham. Just so you’re not trying to figure out my accent the whole time, I’m actually from England. My accent is a weird combination of British and Southern!


I grew up as a pastor’s kid, so I love the local church. I grew up serving, leading worship and being at church every time the doors were open. Now I’m on staff at my church as a part time graphic designer. Church has meant a variety of things to me over the years, but primarily family, growth, serving, work and worship.


That’s why I’m thankful to be here at Animate this week. I’m actually a Samford alum, former Samford employee, pastor’s kid, worship leader, graphic designer and photographer. It’s like all my loves coming together for the good of the church!


Photography is my dream job and I’m so thankful to be a photographer. It was a side hustle that grew into a full time job, which is such a gift from the Lord. But for me, it’s not just about capturing the beautiful bouquets, love stories and pretty details.
I believe that everything was created to bring God glory. I believe that everything has purpose, and God gives us gifts to be used for evangelism, edification and also for pure enjoyment. I believe that art is meant to evoke emotion and capture a response from us. It should spur us to think and stop. To marvel at the beauty. And I believe that photography is a powerful tool and art form to remember and preserve memories.


I know you guys are here this week to gain practical skills and spiritual takeaways to serve the church through worship arts, and I believe photography can definitely be one of those elements.


Animate’s theme this week is “Behold the Beauty.” And it’s fitting that today’s theme is “The Beauty of Creation.” All the beauty we see on earth is straight from the Lord’s hand. Just like we are image-bearers of God, we are also beauty-bearers that help show people God’s beauty and glory.

We’re going to be discussing a few different elements of photography, frame that within serving the church and then practice a little bit! We’ll start from the beginning.


It’s probably the biggest component that makes a picture even possible. Without getting too technical, a camera’s purpose is to freeze a moment in time. Simple. But it does that by capturing the light that comes through the sensor according to the settings and producing a still image. Different types of cameras have different capabilities, which is why people hire professional photographers instead of using their iPhone.
There are a few different types of light that anyone can implement…
  • Backlight. This is when the light is behind you. Pretty simple! You’ve seen that “angel glow” that people sometimes have behind them in pictures? If you position the subject correctly when the sun is right behind them (especially when the sun is shining beautifully), you can capture that too.
  • Front light. Front lighting can be really fun. If you want to experiment with harsh shadows, go for it! Face your subject toward the sun and watch how light will either even out their face or create harsh shadows. Shadows can often create beautiful dimension and be a little more artistic.
  • Cloudy Days. If you’re unsure of where the sun is on a cloudy day, ask your subject to spin around in a circle and see how the light hits their face. Position them so that the light is even on their face.
  • Golden Hour. The most preferable time to shoot is “golden hour.” It’s the hour before sunset when the light is still out, but slowly setting.
To get a little more technical, there are three important components of light that you’ll find in a camera. All three of these components control how much light is let in, but each has a different function.
  • ISO. It stands for International Standards Organization. Sounds really boring! But it’s a standardized industry scale that measures sensitivity to light – most obviously a camera sensor’s sensitivity to light. Cameras have different capabilities. For instance, an iPhone 8’s highest ISO is 1250. Whereas, my Canon 5D Mk III can go up to 25,000. You adjust this setting to let in more light (indoor setting — set it higher without it becoming grainy; bright midday sun – as low as you can go so that the image isn’t blown out).
  • Aperture/F-stop. You may have heard this before, but aperture controls what is in focus. The lower the aperture, more light is let in and the focus point is smaller. The higher the aperture, more is in focus and less light is let in.
  • Shutter Speed. The faster the shutter speed (it’s measured in seconds… a safe shutter speed for capturing normal activity is one 160th of a second), the less light is let in, but the more action you can capture.
This is how leading lines, symmetry, rule of thirds and artistic angles all draw the eye to the subject and create intensity.
  • Leading lines: Ever seen a picture of a horizon? I use to draw them when I was little — a picture of a long road fading out into the horizon, with the road getting smaller. The focus of the picture is not the road but the sun. Creating lines that draw the eye to the focus is important.
  • Symmetry: I love symmetry! I can’t stand when things aren’t straight and when they’re unintentionally off-center. Try to position people symmetrically if you so choose.
  • Rule of thirds: If the picture allows for it, put your subject in one third of the picture instead of directly in the middle. It shows off the background while being pleasing to the eye. But, if you like symmetry, you can ditch this rule!

Now… we’ll address why you’re all here. How do we use photography within the church as an art form that directs people to worshipping Jesus? Any ideas?
  • Highlight stories of God’s faithfulness in people’s lives. My church started a campaign a few years ago entitled “Shades Stories” that highlight’s people’s stories. We have a volunteer team of photographers and writers that meet with these people to capture their stories. We then print them and distribute in the weekly bulletin. It’s an encouragement to the church and a way for members to testify to God’s faithfulness.
  • Social media: We can use photography to highlight events, encourage community, connect people to each other and provide encouragement on mediums that often be discouraging.
  • Have you ever seen a short film or YouTube video that made you cry or illicit some sort of emotion? Photography can do the same. When taking a picture, you can think, “how do I want people to feel when they see this?
There are lots of ways to use the gift of photography through the church, but also in your personal life too. Here are a few ways I do that:
  • Because of my following through my photography business, I see it as an opportunity to connect with clients, share my story through my platform and encourage others.
  • I started a hashtag, #flowersandthegospel a few years ago. I love pictures of flowers, but like I said at the beginning, I always believe that every picture should have purpose. So I pair a picture of a flower and write encouragement.
  • In family sessions, portrait sessions or even wedding days, I’m intentional about conversation. I use the time that I have with them to encourage them, be interested in their life, walk through seasons with them and even pray for them. I see my job as ministry.

Thanks for reading, friends! We went outside and practiced some of these concepts and had a great time. Thankful that this is my job!