This post is an interview with Josh Bailey, co-founder of Lightstock, a startup providing faith-focused stock photos and videos. [Update: Over two years after publishing this interview, Lightstock has added an affiliate program. That means from now on if you purchase anything from Lightstock after signing up through a link on my site, I’ll get a commission. This post was created well before the affiliate program, and is completely unbiased. I still think they’re a great company!]
I’ve written before about my concerns about churches misusing stock photos, and I stand by those concerns. Mostly, I’m concerned about churches falsely portraying themselves as something they’re not, rather than telling the story of what God is doing among them as they are.
However, I think there is an important place for stock photos in the church, as long as they’re used well. If you are going to use stock photos or video clips, Lightstock is a great place to start. I love their slogan: Faith-Focused, Cheesy-Free Stock Photos & Footage. Their hearts are definitely in the right place. Enjoy the interview with Josh!
Share a bit about where Lightstock came from. What led you to start a company focused on Christian stock photography?
I un-officially began working at a church the day my dad pioneered his non-denominational plant in North Dallas. My twin brother and I lived “church.” We watched our dad cast vision, lead, teach, and give his energy to something he cared deeply about and it rubbed off on us.
As we grew up, we became heavily involved in our youth group and had a passion for creating an exceptional place to worship. We didn’t play sports and weren’t really involved in any other extracurricular activities in High School; our world was ministry.
I’ve been privy to nearly every aspect of “church” and stumbled upon a big need for ministries. That need came in the area of church communication, especially in terms of design. At the time, church media was awkward at best and repelling at its worst.
I think one of the gifts that God has deposited into my brother and me is the identification and appreciation of beauty. Nowadays we call it polish – it’s one of our core values at our new startup.
It was during our final year in High School that we discovered Adobe’s Photoshop, After Effects and Premiere and just fell head over heels. We self-taught ourselves and began creating media for our father’s communication pieces and services. Without knowing it, the quest for creating non-cheesy, faith-focused media had begun.
Shortly thereafter, my twin brother and I started a company called Graceway Media. It was a place pastors could get their hands on good-looking presentation graphics for their sermons. Our mission at Graceway was to help “magnify the message”, and we loved spending our days helping pastors all over the world present professionally.
Fast-forward six years later – we were approached by a kind and generous guy (Rob Thomas of RT Creative) about selling our company. God has the best timing because my brother and I had been wanting to scratch another itch in the church media universe. We sold and moved on to our next venture, Lightstock.
Our time at Graceway had uncovered a gaping hole in the faith-based market. There seemed to be a real lack of faith-based content for Christian designers to work from. We ran up against this problem daily at Graceway. We couldn’t understand why this was so. It seemed to us that a place should exist for creative, faith-focused, royalty-free photos & video, and it also seemed like there would be scores of Christian photographers & filmmakers who would love to participate.
In early 2012 we decided we would no longer wait for it to come to pass; we would build it. We launched twelve months later with 175 contributors participating to create a combined library of over 20,000 images. After a year and a half we’ve tripled our content library and contributor base. We consistently average over 300,000 page views per month and service over 4,400 customers.
Lightstock’s mission is simple – we exist to elevate the impact of our end-user. That’s it. That’s why we’re here.
Talk a little about how Lightstock’s images are used. What do you see as the purpose of stock photography for a church? Why would a church want to use stock images?
Lightstock’s images are being used in droves by the faith-based market for everything from websites and social media to book covers and billboards. Our users are thrilled to discover such a targeted library like ours. Churches, ministries and non-profits need stock photography just as much as any other for-profit business or organization. Think of stock as a building block or raw material. It’s not “the thing”, it’s just one of the key pieces. The better your raw materials, the better your final product. It’s all about communicating effectively. Here are 3 simple ways our stock helps:
- Stock helps when you’re not a pro photographer
- Stock helps you get more creative
- Stock helps because time is short
My biggest concern about stock photography is when it’s used inauthentically. For instance, having a picture on the youth group website page of a bunch of perfect looking group of diverse people who aren’t actually in the church gives a false impression. Can you talk about when using stock photography is appropriate and when it might not be?
It’s one of our biggest concerns too. That’s why we mention it in our FAQ on our site here.
When highlighting real people within your organization, never use stock photos; make sure they’re personal images. The photo may not be as professional or visually interesting, but it’s always the better alternative. Don’t misrepresent yourself or your organization.
What makes Lightstock unique? Why would a ministry want to use your site versus some other stock photography site?
This is easy. Anyone who has spent time trolling stock sites for faith-based images knows that it’s a chore; a mind-numbing chore that rarely pays off. When you search Lightstock you get the exact opposite feeling; you open yourself up to thousands of faith-focused photos on prayer, baptism, communion, authentic Christian worship and more. It’s our highest value proposition.
Finally, I appreciate the discussion on your FAQ page about Poverty Porn. Can you say more about that?
Hats off to Austin Mann and Esther Havens for bringing this issue to our attention. The term “Poverty Porn” has been used to describe any form of media that exploits people in poor conditions in order to evoke sympathy or support for a given cause. The subjects are usually children or individuals characterized as suffering, malnourished and helpless.
Poverty porn is designed to make the viewer feel good about contributing to a worthy cause, but in most cases the photo and the cause have nothing to do with each other.
We believe most churches, ministries and organizations have no intention of exploiting anyone. Most people have never considered it, which is why we want to educate others by taking a strong position against this increasing problem.
You should never see any of these types of photos or video on Lightstock. Our aim is providing photos and videos that portray people with dignity and respect.
Anything else you would like to share?
My brother and I love to build, that’s really the business we’re in. Lightstock has been one of the most rewarding endeavors we’ve had the privilege of undertaking. We’ve connected with hundreds of artists and developed friendships for life.
But we’re dreaming up other ideas and other projects even now. We’re making plans for our next build. I think we got this from our father. We watched him year-after-year as he grew his church from a dream-in-the-heart to a living reality. I think we also get it from our heavenly Father too. He’s the ultimate builder.
Thanks so much to Josh for taking the time to do this interview. If you’re interested in Lightstock, head over to Lightstock.com to download their free photo of the week and look through the rest of their library.