Notes for the Next Parish Photo Directory

The MMOC photo directory published in 2010 ("Our Parish Family") was coordinated by Sara Heffernan and Joseph van Oss. Their notes are offered as a record for a future committee tasked with publishing the next directory. You may also wish to view our FAQ page.


Project Timeline

We chose to make the "activity" pages collages of parishioners in action.  This requires a year or two of accumulating such photos at parish events. Because the company requires high-resolution images (240 DPI), action shots must be taken with a high-quality camera.

Contact the church-directory companies about one year before you aim to distribute directories.  In the Spring of 2009, Sara recommended and the Pastoral Council approved the selection of Lifetouch.  Lifetouch photographers took photos at MMOC in August, October, and November 2009.  (September is their peak time for school portraits.)  We received our proof book around Thanksgiving, and the proof went back to Lifetouch in early January 2010.  Directories arrived in late February 2010 and were distributed in March 2010.  So the total gestation was about a year.

Parishes do not conduct a periodic census as they used to, so your project will involve updating the parish member registry.  This is a big part of the project that the photo company does not get involved with or warn you about.  For us, this amounted to about one third of our total time spent on the directory project.  Most of that work will take place in the period between selecting a company and beginning to make photo appointments.


Forming your Committee

Sara became involved because her portfolio on the Pastoral Council was Family Life.  It was good for communication and support to have a member of the directory committee sitting on the Pastoral Council.

Involve people who know a lot of people.  For example, Sara and her husband Mark have been active in helping engaged couples prepare for marriage, and her wide span of relationships with those couples helped us get them involved.

You will need a lot of publicity, including mailings, bulletin and pulpit announcements, and so on.  So make sure that someone on your committee has some PR skills.  Also plan to involve the parish webmaster.  The website will communicate details, keep up awareness, and serve as a portal to the photo company's online reservation system.

You will need at least one person who knows computers well. You may need a parish volunteer with photo skills and a quality digital camera.  We found that a lot of photos needed some rework using Photoshop.  To design your directory book, you'll need some level of expertise in layout software; we used Microsoft Publisher 2007.

You will probably be tapping into the PCCW and Men's Club for help, so perhaps your committee should include people who have strong, active connections to those groups.

The parish secretary will help you in a variety of small ways (such as publicizing your project in the bulletin and receiving phone calls), but do not expect that person to shoulder major responsibilities.  The parish secretary's time is probably already fully committed to other duties.  Most of the project will be borne by volunteers on your committee.


Choosing a Company

We evaluated Lifetouch and Olan Mills.  These two seem to be the main players in church directories.

Olan Mills had published the MMOC directory in 2003.  Both companies offered terms and amenities that seemed very evenly matched.  In the end, Sara recommended Lifetouch based on two factors:  1, she'd had good experiences with them taking school photos of her children, and 2, her sense was that Olan Mills was the larger and more experienced company that might have become a bit complacent, while Lifetouch seemed more responsive and flexible.

In the end, we were mostly happy with the choice of Lifetouch.  One or two of their photographers had days of being cranky, and a couple of families commented that their prices seemed higher than they remembered Olan Mills being in 2003.  But the Lifetouch rep was very responsive, their HQ staff very courteous, and most of the parishioners we spoke with were very happy with their experience and results.

Note added July 2011: Office staff recently came up with a CD containing digital photos from the 2003 directory by Olan Mills. If you compare those photos with the 2009 photos by LifeTouch, the Lifetouch photos are clearly superior, with much more flattering skin tones and a softer background. Below are some samples for comparison. Your results may vary.

Olan Mills 2003       Lifetouch 2009

You'll Need a Lot of Help

Carol Breidel

You will need to recruit a lot of people to help with your project.  When you begin taking appointments for photo sittings, you will need a phone team and people to staff the sign-up sheets at Masses.  Before the days or evenings of photography, you will need a phone team to make reminder calls to people who don't have email.  During portrait sessions you will also need at least two people at all times to help parishioners with paperwork.  When directories are distributed you will need people at each Mass.

As we've mentioned, your project will involve updating the parish member database (ParishSoft).  This is a big part of the project that the photo company does not get involved with or warn you about.  For us, this amounted to about one third of our total time spent on the directory project.  You will need at least one person who can make a major time commitment, has great communication skills and attention to detail, is able to treat sensitive and confidential information appropriately, and who knows Microsoft Office well.

As with all church projects, the pastor will be involved; the question is how much and when.  There will be certain points where you really need him, such as recording a message for robo-calls, writing a greeting message for the directory, and making announcements at Masses.

During photo sessions, we took up the entire gym for about two weeks.  This can have an impact on the maintenance staff and on other groups and events.  Be sure to communicate and cooperate with the custodian and parish secretary to keep them informed and check for scheduling conflicts.  We had a parish breakfast right in the middle of October photos, so on a Saturday evening we needed teens in the Confirmation program to help stow photo equipment and set up tables.  There was a little frustration with us when a group we'd forgotten to notify had to move their event from the gym into the cafeteria.


Updating the Parish Database

You will find that over a few years, a parish database's quality, completeness, and accuracy decline.  You really need to get the database spruced up and this will take a lot of computer work and calling.

In our case, the situation was exacerbated by the fact that the parish had changed database software.  When the data was brought from one system into the other, some integrity was lost.  We hope you don't have to deal with that.  For example, our most painful moment came when we called a family listed as having three sons because they submitted a photo that included only two.  It turned out one of their sons had died years earlier.

Early in the project, you will publicize it by sending a mailing to all registered households.  Some households will respond to let you know they have left the parish or had a major life change or move.  Be aware that some people are sensitive about their life changes or household arrangements because they fear to be judged.  If possible, try to assign any calling duties to people who know the family personally.

At some point, you will probably download parishioner data from ParishSoft into a form that the directory team can work with hands-on.  (We used a series of Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.)  Consider how you will safeguard and use this data.  Weeks or months may pass while you are, in effect, maintaining and updating a second copy of the parish data.  Any new parishioners will need to be added both to ParishSoft and to your directory project.  Changes will be gathered by the directory team that will eventually need to be folded back into ParishSoft.

Set reasonable expectations for yourselves.  Inevitably you will not contact everyone.  People who have their portrait taken will get a chance to update their data that others will not have.  Do your best but don't expect perfection.

Company Photos and Submitted Photos

Burns Nigls

We set participation of at least 50% as our foremost goal.  We ended up with 454 company portraits and 69 submitted photos, a total of 523.  We believed that the parish was about 980 households (depending on how you count certain inactive households), so our participation rate was about 53 percent.  Take this into account when you negotiate how many photo days the company will schedule.  The more days, the more flexibility and the more households you can pull in, and you'll also need more volunteers.

Photo days contained 27 appointment times each.  The company wants at least 21 slots filled to consider the day well spent.  The more desirable slots filled first, and our phone team had to work to fill less desirable slots such as late on a Friday evening.

Some families find it difficult to pull together for a portrait sitting, so some will want to submit a photo taken elsewhere.  If a submitted photo is taken by a professional photographer, you will need a copyright release.  Two warnings to pass along to families taking a photo at home:  1) Make sure to arrange faces in Portrait or Vertical orientation (see left), not Landscape or Horizontal (see right), because vertical photos use the full space available and faces are larger.  2) The company requires 240 DPI resolution, so home photos must be taken with a quality digital camera.

Another of our goals was to include as many home-bound parishioners as possible.  During the summer of 2009, Therese and Joseph van Oss took 50 photos of parishioners in nursing homes and in their homes.  This required a lot of appointments and patience but was very worthwhile.

Lifetouch charged us $10 per submitted photo.  We asked submitting families to cover this and also donate another $10 to purchase their directory (they don't count toward free directories).  For the elderly, the Men's Club donated $500 to cover their submission fees and we used some of our free copies to cover them.


Roster Data and Photo Captions

Photo companies have one department that compiles the portrait pages and another that handles the roster pages. Normally, names that appear below each photo are taken from hand-written "sitting cards" filled in as each family comes in for their session.  This data is entirely separate from the name, address, and phone data that is derived from the parish database and appears in the roster section.  This separation explains why, in the 2003 directory, "William & Elizabeth Brendel" are listed in the roster, yet "Bill & Betty Brendel" appears below their photo.  We didn't want this.

The Brendels introduce themselves as Bill and Betty; anyone calling them William and Elizabeth would be indicating they don't know the Brendels personally.  Our project was to create a parish family album.  As family, we wanted to present people respectfully and on their own terms.  So we did not write names on sitting cards.  Instead, we sent the roster data to Lifetouch and had them take the photo captions from our file.  In the 2010 directory, the Brendels are "Bill & Betty" in both the photo and roster sections.  Note: Lifetouch did not automatically transfer our data into their layout system; instead they re-keyed the caption data.  This allowed a couple of typos to crop up.  Proofread your proof copy carefully.

John and Alicia

To give parishioners control over their information, we custom-printed a "Release Form" for each household that had a photo appointment.  This form gave people a way to tell us exactly how they wanted their names to appear.  They could also choose which address, phone, and email information would be published.  Two things to note about this:  1) When people made their appointments on line, they gave cell phone and email information (for reminders) that they didn't always want published in the book, although many did approve publication.  2) A bunch of people checked that they did not want their phone or address published whose address and phone did appear in the white pages.  Any address and phone that appeared in the phone book we went ahead and published.  Perhaps we should have designed our form better.

We wanted to be respectful of couples who have different last names.  For instance, John Richards and Alicia Skiles appear only once in the photo section (alphabetized by Richards), but we made sure that they both appear twice (alphabetized once by Richards, once by Skiles) in the roster section.


Designing the Book

Lifetouch has a complicated system for simplifying the layout of your directory.  We used very little of that system, which seems to be intended for congregations that are not ready to do their design work on a computer.

Our front cover required extensive work in Adobe Photoshop Elements to correct colors, remove skew, and merge separate photos of the stained-glass windows.  Photoshop was also needed to prepare all of the images on the activity pages, although the collages were assembled in Microsoft Publisher 2007. 

Usually, the company expects to receive your roster data in a spreadsheet and lay out the roster section for you.  We did this ourselves and sent the roster in as a Publisher file.  This gave us complete control over the appearance and data.  We used a mail-merge to bring the data from Excel into Word, then pasted it into Publisher.

On the last day of on-site photography, a clock starts ticking; you will have about 3 weeks to turn in all materials related to your book.  (This fell near Thanksgiving for us, but the Lifetouch rep was very flexible about arranging for us to have some extra days.)  Barring any problems, you should receive a proof copy of your directory about one month later.  You then face another deadline for returning the proof.  (We were again able to negotiate for extra time around Christmas and New Year's.)  Take your time and review everything carefully.  We recommend comparing each photo caption and roster entry against your Release Forms.  We found that Lifetouch left out names of some pets; some people feel very strongly about their animals.  Because photo captions were re-keyed from our data, typos can occur, so check each caption.

Verda & Buddy

Using Points for Amenities

The company gives you points as an incentive to get as many people to sit for a portrait as possible.  You can spend these points on amenities such as extra copies, fancy packaging, and so on.   With 454 sittings, we earned 6 points, which we spent on additional directories, greeting cards, a montage poster, and a "Compu-View" CD containing digital copies of all the portraits taken and submitted by our parish.

Update: As of November 2014, our Lifetouch representative (Mark Ruesch,, 715-323-4623) reports that they can produce the directory as a PDF file. That would be a highly valuable resource!

Distributing your new Directory

Our Lifetouch rep was able to give us (although we had to ask) the estimated shipping date of our directories shortly after the proof went back, and this estimate proved accurate.  When we scheduled volunteers to handle the distribution, we allowed more time for shipping than was needed.  So the cartons sat locked away for two weeks until we distributed them. This gave us time to frame the montage poster, which was a big hit.

We timed the distribution to coincide with a parish breakfast by the Men's Club.  This gave us more room (in the gym) to set up tables and put the montage poster on display.  It also gave people a reason to sit and chat over the new directory.

Your final responsibility is to put together some sort of record, like this one, to pass along what you have learned to your "next" committee.  Say a prayer for them, as we do for you.

Updated 27 December 2014