Religious Freedom

Religion has been much in the news over the last couple of weeks. Some of the flurry surrounds Christopher Hitchen’s best seller: God is Not Great and the tenth anniversary of the death of Mother Theresa. Organized religions down to the local level publish in print and/or online. What images are the most successful for these wide and varied uses in news and religious publications?

© Anzav

A quick review across the magazines and websites of many faiths shows that the most popular stock image subjects fall into three categories:

a. Non-sectarian, concept images such as the common one of a person reaching for the sky and images of family and social issues that don’t necessarily tie to a particular belief system except perhaps by model’s style of dress.

b. The second group is images from nature that evoke a spirit of faith or hope such as a pristine forest or beautiful sunset, often tied to a current season.

c. The third type of image incorporates direct religious references-the subject of this post.

Our challenge is to create images that will serve the needs of a multitude of different belief systems and to do so accurately. Study the publications that your church, mosque or temple provides to you. Go the websites of various religious groups if this is an area that you wish to target. Are these images that you can create? In your travels, document religious celebrations and houses of worship around the world.

Start with what you know best: your own religion. You are familiar with its icons and practices. You have a decent chance of gaining access to photograph inside your house of worship if that is allowed at all. You know how your fellow worshipers position their hands when they pray and if they hold rosary or prayer beads. You are familiar with religious holidays and their symbols and you have access to them.

Some of the most important holidays for the three major US religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are in the fall and winter. Now is a good time to create images that will be downloaded by church groups and religious publications and websites for use during those holidays.

Ask yourself what your religion means to you in visual terms. Can you illustrate that belief in a style unique to you? What emotions does your faith bring to you? Can you illustrate them? Go beyond the obvious? Can you capture the feeling of awe or peace or even doubt that you feel without falling back on cliches?

The call for images and symbols related to specific religions isn’t as strong as is it for more general concept images that imply faith and hope. These images will have a broader appeal, as they will enhance religious publications as well as more secular publications dealing with non-religious retreats.

As I wind up writing this piece, on a cold, very grey and foggy day in the Northwest, the afternoon quiet is broken by the not unpleasant sound of a single drum being slowly and repeated struck. I don’t have to go up to the road to know what I am hearing. It is Bainbridge Island’s resident Buddhist monk on his daily walks around the island, beating a drum to remind all that hear him of the need to focus on peace of all kinds. What a beautiful image: the Japanese monk in his bright orange robes slowly walking along a country road against a completely grey background of trees and nature. Where’s my camera?


Carry your research further. If you have already shot images in a certain genre like this one, search Dreamstime for the most prominent keywords such as faith, religion, church, prayer etc and your name. See what images are the most downloaded. Now do the same search without your name. Not only will you know how your images stand up next to others with the same keywords, you will see themes that have been repeated again and again. The images used in religious publications are generally conservative but can you bring a new view to this oldest of subjects and still create images that will be targets for multiple uploads?

Photo credits: Abba Richman, Amygdalaimagery, Anatoly Zavodskov, Aronbrand, Sinan Isakovic, Andrew Chambers, Jean Schweitzer, Steveluker, Stocksnapper, Elena Yakusheva.

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Interesting topic. Being from a secular country I didn't realize that religion can be such an interesting marketing area worth popularizing in a blog like this. Although I myself am quite involved in taking faith related pictures... For me, the pain of model release issues as well as the sensitivenes of the worship context almost excludes shooting people.
For buyers: there are some galleries/collections around at DT that cover this area. Anyhow, thanks for this encouraging post!


Those are good ideas. Most religions ultimately believe in the same or something similar, just the details are different. Images of someone deep in thought, prayer, or meditation can be used for a wide variety of denominations, as well as spiritual shots such as moving images of nature. Thanks for sharing this post!

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