How to Photograph a Worship Service
We often fall into situations that call for us to photograph a worship service whether it's for archival purposes or promotional reasons. However, even if you're a more experienced shooter, you'll learn very quickly that the modern church isn't really equipped for a stellar white balance and can quite often have a massive lack in available lighting. Using a flash is obviously a no-go seeing how you don't want to be disrespectful as well as stand out during life-changing decisions and encounters. Here are a few pointers I've given over the last few years, most of which are ALWAYS practiced when I shoot a service.
1: Use Long Lenses
It's smart to move as little as possible during a worship service and even more so during the message (please, stop running around during the message). Find a nice seat and make that "home base". I use a Canon 100mm Macro f/2.8 as well as a Canon 85mm f/1.8 and have zero complaints about that focal length. Depending on the size of the building though, you may want to consider a 50mm instead. Unless you're into just heads and shoulders in your shots. I find that In my home church as well as large, hired, church events my 100mm and 85mm always become my best friends.
2: Fast Lenses
For some it's common sense, for newcomers this may sound like a term from Nascar. A "fast" lens would be something with an "f-stop" of 2.8 or lower, letting in more light and having a more shallow depth of field. You'll need as much light as you can get in these situations. Again, my 100mm f/2.8 and 85mm f/1.8 serve me just right in these scenarios.
3: High ISO
Higher the ISO, the more light you will let into your camera. Use this with caution though, too high and you'll have nothing but nasty grainy images that are most often times, useless. (PERSONAL Opinion!)
Unless you have a full-frame camera, I'd avoid anything over 1600 ISO (again, my opinion).
4: Shoot RAW, In Monochrome
I actually typically shoot JPG for the sole reason that it slows me down to think about my shot and get everything right in camera to avoid any lazy shots. However, I shoot in RAW for these services for multiple reasons, one of which is that if I shoot in a monochrome user profile, Lightroom will automatically convert it back to color. This is when I worry about my white balance. Due to white balances changes per-song in some cases, I'd rather not get bogged down trying to nail my white balance. Alternatively, you can shoot in AUTO for your WB but I find that I can focus on details better in B&W.
Etiquette & Stuff
1: Be Invisible
People are making "heaven or hell" decisions during worship or the message. They've had a rough week and quite frankly, they just want to spend time with God in corporate worship. The last thing they want is a flash, or a photographer in general, in their face.
2: Only Move When They Move
If people are coming up to the front, move. If people are walking around during a "meet and greet" portion of service, move. If the pastor is speaking, don't. We're back to being invisible. Use a firm mixture of common sense and ninja skills to get creative here.
3: Silent Shutter
A ton of cameras now offer a silent shutter option for non-intrusive shooting. This is a good time to find that setting and use it. A flip out screen can help you get creative and sneaky as well.
4: Know Your Limits
A simple conversation of "what can I do" goes a long way. Communicate to find out what is allowed and what's frowned upon during your service.
5: Two Cameras
WARNING: Don't do this unless you have the proper equipment (that you trust) as well as the proper experience with shooting in a worship environment. Switch both cameras over to RAW Monochrome and keep a difference focal length on each camera to ensure you're not constantly switching out lenses and causing a scene.
These methods are tried and true! I use every one of these almost every time I shoot in a low-light or worship environment. Some of these are my personal opinions and without a doubt there is a thousand ways to accomplish the same result. So get out there and give it a shot. (pun intended?)