Shooting From the Heart: Using your unique skills to give back

August 7th, 2013

You may have noticed a growing trend among small business owners, as well as larger corporations, to give back to their community. Instead of just making a profit for profit’s sake they are looking for ways to improve their communities by reinvesting their profits into worthwhile organizations and causes. What they’ve found is that not only can they be profitable; they can do so while also helping those in need.

No two companies seem to go about giving back in the exact same way. From certified fair trade beauty product companies to shoe designers that promise to donate “one for one,” businesses that practice philanthropy do it in a way that is unique to their organizational goals and beliefs.

Some businesses raise money once or twice a year by holding specially dedicated events, while others donate a percentage of their quarterly profits. The causes and organizations they support include those that help place workers in jobs, supply clean water, locate affordable housing, deliver education, and even provide bicycles to villagers. The beneficiaries, oftentimes located around the globe, couldn’t otherwise afford necessities that we often take for granted.

Now the same trend has begun to take root among professional photographers. For many, their success has brought gratitude that has translated into a desire to help others realize abundance. The ways in which they have gone about helping others are as varied as those of larger organizations. Some photographers use their Zenfolio websites as a way to raise money for children’s cancer research or for their local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Still others donate photo sessions to military families who are separated from their loved ones, in support of missionaries, and many other ways.Getting involved with a charitable organization not only feels great and helps others, but as a side benefit it can also be a great marketing tool for your business. You feel good because you are helping others; clients feel good knowing they’re hiring someone who gives back to the community; and of course, the organization to which you are donating your time and talent benefits. In short, it’s a win-win situation for all involved.

Take this example from Debbie Virgin Shook at SqueakDog Pet Photography. She helps a retired schoolteacher with her organization LUV A DOG Rescues and Adoptions by photographing the pets up for adoption. Debbie states: “I get the most out of this personally as I do anything I can to help. Professionally, I think my clients have really appreciated that I devote some of my time to helping rescue dogs.”

There are other, less obvious benefits to volunteering your time and skills as a photographer. If you are just starting out, donating your time and talent to raise money for a cause is a great way to gain more practice, build your portfolio, and grow your network.When choosing which charity/ organization to work with you should focus on ones that relate in some way to your field or target audience. For instance, portrait photographer Richard Paul of Saguaro Shadows Photography donates his time and talent to the PPA Charities event Celebration of Smiles. Here’s what he has to say about the experience: “Being photographers, supporting a charity that helps children have a happy smile, is a natural fit.”

Of course there are many different kinds of photographers out there, and there are just as many different types of organizations that can use your support. To illustrate this point, let’s take a look at talented pet photographer and Zenfolio user Susan Schmitz. Pet photographers often choose to do fundraisers for their local animal shelters. Susan, owner of A Dogs Life Photography & Art, decided instead to create a program to encourage people to adopt shelter animals. To do this she provides professionally shot images of animals to increase their chances of being adopted and then sells the images as stock photos. She says that 90% of the photos on her website are of rescue animals in need of a home.

Susan states: “Early into my business, I started volunteering my services to local rescue groups. I did this solely with the intention of helping those that have helped the animals so much. What I got back in return was something that I had never anticipated. My heart is full. I feel a great sense of accomplishment each time that I hear that I helped to save a life through my art.”

Another genre popular with photographers is family and children portraits. If you fall into this category and large portions of your clientele are families with children you might consider raising funds for underprivileged or disadvantaged children. Zenfolio user Laura Tillinghast, who worked with the Heart Gallery, an organization helping children who are looking to be adopted find families had this to say about her experience:

“Working with the Heart Gallery was an amazing experience. I was able to bring my love of children together with my desire to give back to my community. Working with this organization also opened my eyes to the power of imagery. Not only was I creating portraits to pull at the heart strings of potential adoptive parents, I was able to help the kids I photographed see themselves in a different light. One even told me that she did not feel beautiful until she saw how she looked in my images. Realizing the impact of imagery on individuals has only helped me to grow as a photographer. Getting to know the brave and hopeful children I photographed helped me to grow as a person.”

Another Zenfolio user, Pro Team photographer Ginny Dixon, created The Raw Beauty Project, a collaboration between 10 photographers and 22 women with disabilities. The photographers were challenged to create unexpected portraits that would change the way people living with disabilities are perceived. Here is what one of the models had to say about their experience and how the project changed her life in a positive way:

“Being part of the Raw Beauty Project was a true milestone in my life. Relatively new to the disabled community I was able to reclaim my sense of self, femininity and self-esteem. I realized that we all have similar struggles as women, those able-bodied and those disabled. The mission of the project was truly achieved. People, especially the able-bodied community, saw the photographed disabled women as powerful, beautiful and extremely extraordinary. “

Regardless of what organization you choose or create on your own, being a photographer who is involved in giving back to your community can only affect you and your business in a positive way. You feel good for making a positive impact and your clients can feel good about hiring a photographer who helps a charity.

So how do you begin? There are many resources to help you find the right organization or start your own project. Brand Camp, an inspiring blog written by Kristen Kalp, offers encouraging and informative marketing advice, and a great audio workbook called Change the World, Dammit! These materials are designed to help entrepreneurs gather the inspiration, courage, and focus to not only create but actually follow through on a project of their own. Projects that allow you to both make a difference and do what you love. Brand Camp also offers great tips for how to best organize your time and marketing efforts.

If you would rather start by joining an already established organization there are many resources to help you find the perfect one. Shutter Mission aims to support portrait charities and help photographers who give their time and talent to a worthy cause. Shutter Mission has done most of the research for you by creating a great resource list of available photography-related causes you might be interested in joining.

In addition, you may also consider using your photography to raise awareness and inspire social change. PhotoPhilanthropy, a site that addresses critical social and environmental issues, works with photographers to create images that drive social change around the world.

Regardless of what direction you decide to go, using your time and talent as a photographer to give back is a powerful tool to help make the world we live in a better place. Spread a little light. See how it changes you and your business for the photo gallery

Sunee is a professional family portrait photographer living in the San Francisco Bay area. She started photographing children and families when she worked as a nanny and honed her craft while studying fine art photography at the San Francisco Art Institute. Her preferred photography style is unique and candid, with a modern twist. In addition to running her increasingly successful part-time photography business, she has worked in Customer Support at Zenfolio over the last three years.