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Online photo sharing: communicating God’s love through a universal language

By Cheryl A. Hemmerle

SUMMARY: With 1.5 billion-plus people worldwide using the Internet to communicate in more than 75 languages, how can United Methodist churches share the message of God’s love without translating into multiple languages?

According to Walt Disney, “Of all our innovations for mass communication, pictures still speak the most universally understood language.” That is why your church needs to share photos online as it communicates the good news of God’s love throughout the World Wide Web.

Who doesn’t love pictures? From childhood, we learn to communicate by looking at pictures and associating words and phrases to describe what we see. As youth and adults, we store photographs of family and friends in albums and scrapbooks to record our lives and cherish the memories.

Photographs help us to remember the past; they evoke emotions and inspire others without requiring narratives to explain the importance or relevance of the images. Indeed, “a picture is worth ten thousand words” (Frederick R. Barnard, 1927), and this economy of expression is a great tool for communicating effectively in cyberspace.

What is online photo sharing?
With the evolution of photography from plates to film to pixels, today anyone can use a digital camera to capture a moment and share it with others in cyberspace with just a few clicks of a mouse. Online photo sharing is a free and easy way to edit, organize and distribute your digital pictures publically or privately. One of the best reasons to use online photo sharing is to have another place to store precious memories and to access them any time from any computer with an Internet connection. Some of the most popular online photo sharing sites include FlickrPicasaShutterfly and Webshots.

How do I use online photo-sharing services?
Although most online photo sharing services are free, you must register and create a user profile in order to upload your digital pictures and share them with others. An online photo-sharing site allows you to edit your pictures, categorize and assign keywords to them (tagging), and arrange them in albums for easy sharing. You have the options of sharing your photos with everyone on the Web or selecting specific people to receive your photos by granting access to your photos through an online photo-sharing site. Some photo-sharing sites also provide a way for you to create a photo slideshow to place on your Web site.

How can I use online photo sharing in ministry?
When you use online photo sharing as a part of your church’s Web ministry, you show how your church engages in ministry and mission. According to education and technology consultant Bernajean Porter, “People process visual information 60,000 times more quickly than narrative information.” By representing the ministries of your church visually, you can communicate more effectively in one photograph what might take two paragraphs to say. This is critical for communicating in cyberspace since people do not read Web pages but rather scan them for important information. They are more apt to linger on your Web site or online photo-sharing site if you have engaging photographs. People will be more likely to capture the message you show and to explore the other contents of the page.

Many churches display a photo gallery on their Web site or link to an online photo-sharing site that provides a visual story. Others use photographs in conjunction with social networking and blogging. Most arrange their photographs into categories, such as youth mission trips, fellowship gatherings and special worship experiences. Whatever your message, photographs can provide an immediate and engaging visual cue that communicates the ministry and mission of your church and reveals God’s love.

Important tips
It is important to follow some basic guidelines for sharing photos online in order to preserve people’s privacy. You will want to get permission from the people in your photos before you publish them on the Internet. Generally, if you take a picture in a public place, you do not need permission from the people in the photograph; however, it always is a good idea to get it. Either way, it is essential that you not provide identifying information with the photograph, such as the names of the people in the photograph or the location. This is especially important when displaying photographs of children and youth. Instead, use descriptive captions that identify the event or activity in general terms. In addition, always give your photograph an “ALT tag,” a few description words that can be read to someone who uses a screen reader due to impaired vision. 

---Cheryl A. Hemmerle is the technical training specialist for United Methodist Communications. She shares photos on her Facebook profile and uses Flickr.