Capturing Beauty in Unexpected Places: Photography to the Glory of God

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In many vocations, you can clearly see how God is using your work for his glory. A construction worker builds a home that families can live in. A teacher invests in the next generation. A doctor saves lives.

In other vocations, the connection seems less clear. What if your work involves carrying a camera around? What if you spend most of your working hours in an office, editing photos on a computer screen?

Maria Estes is a photographer at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and many of her days involve such tasks. Recently, we had a chance to chat with Maria about photography. In our conversation, you’ll see how God can use her work for his glory — and how he can use yours, too. Here’s our conversation.

What does a photographer do?

Maria Estes. Photography to the Glory of GodThe answer to that question depends on the type of photographer. There are newspaper photographers, portrait photographers, nature photographers, product photographers, fashion photographers, public relations photographers. The possibilities are endless.

When it comes down to it, though, photography is ultimately about freezing a moment to tell a story. For some people, that might look like maternity photos for a family about to welcome their first child into the world. For others it might involve setting up the perfect shot of a pillow or lamp to show potential customers how great it looks.

I do photography for a seminary, so I use photography to answer the question, “What is happening at Southeastern?” We can tell them, and our writer does a fantastic job of that, but my job is to show them. I take pictures at our events that can be used in social media, print marketing or on the Southeastern website.

How did you become interested in photography?

I started taking pictures on family vacations in middle and high school. I enjoyed it, but I was using a film camera. At the rate I was snapping pictures, I quickly realized that my babysitting money couldn’t keep up with buying and developing film.

I asked my parents for a digital camera for my birthday one year, and I got my first 4 megapixel point-and-shoot. As simple as it was, that camera had a manual shooting mode, which allowed me to start learning more about photography, how a camera works and how to set everything to get the photo I wanted.

By the time I was applying to colleges I thought photography might be something I could pursue as a career. I looked for schools that had photography or photojournalism programs. I ended up majoring in photojournalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. That’s a big reason why I could start working as the photographer at Southeastern.

I’m trying to capture and highlight beauty — even in places people don’t think to look for it.

How does your faith inform your craft? How does your work give glory to God?

Because I work for a seminary, the obvious answer is that I believe the message I’m sharing. If my job is to answer the question, “What’s happening at Southeastern?” then my faith is how I know that that’s a story worth telling — a message worth getting out there.

Few people have such direct correlation between their faith and their work, but that doesn’t mean that other photographers (or anyone else) can’t glorify God through their work. When I take pictures of nature, I marvel at God’s creation and think of Psalm 8:3-4 that talks about his incomprehensible love for us.

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man, that you care for him?

I hope that people who look at my nature photography feel some of that.

When I take pictures of families, I celebrate with them the good gifts of marriage and children with which God has blessed them. I celebrate the season they’re in at that moment, even if it’s not all smiles and roses. When I take pictures at seminary events, I pray that the photos would encourage those who see them. For example, I hope other Christians are encouraged to know what’s happening within the body of Christ, and I hope prospective students would be encouraged to come here, learn and be sent out.

Above all, with any pictures I’m taking, I’m trying to capture and highlight beauty — even (and especially) in places people don’t think to look for it. If every good gift comes from God, then this recognition of beauty should lead to thankfulness and worship.

Whatever God has called you to do, do it well for His glory.

Some people have a hard time understanding how their faith connects with their vocation. What encouragement would you give them?

In some ways what we do is less significant than how we do it. Of course we need to be doing what God has called us to do, but he’s called us to do it well. From the high-powered business person to the missionary to the stay-at-home parent and everyone in between, we all have different things we must do every day. Some of these things might seem less important or impactful than others, but God hasn’t called us all to be overseas missionaries; he’s called us all to be Christ-like, faithful and obedient.

If you’re a Christian business executive, the way you do your job should be different than the way your co-workers who don’t know Jesus do theirs. Work cheerfully. Be kind. Think about money differently than the world. Strive for excellence, knowing that you’re an ambassador for Christ, not just your own reputation. These things glorify God in and of themselves, but they may also open doors to share the gospel.

If you’re a stay-at-home mom, be the best stay-at-home mom you can be. Take time to talk about the gospel as you discipline your children even when time and tempers are short. Work hard to be content and thankful. We can’t, and shouldn’t, all be doing the exact same thing, so whatever God has called you to do, do it well for His glory.

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The L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture seeks to engage culture as salt and light, presenting the Christian faith and demonstrating its implications for all areas of human existence.

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