Make a Real Donation, Volunteer Your Time

Earlier this week I was complaining a bit about the load of pro-bono work I'd been doing lately. Looking back, volunteering, once all the work is edited and uploaded, feels pretty darn good. And as people that enjoy photography, let's be honest, its just plain fun to be able to offer our services. Here's a quick run down of the pros and cons of volunteer work:


  1. You're getting out and shooting; if you want to be at the top of your game, you should always be working!
  2. You build new contacts; it never hurts to have more folks that know of you.
  3. You might get new business; these relationships can be some of the strongest, and may profit for you in the end.
  4. You have free promotional material (you know, for your blog *wink*).


  1. You're out some time and, hopefully not, money.
  2. These new found contacts may wish to get more free work from you; it happens from time to time, but being clear of your intentions from the start usually prevents this.

Personally, the risk of the pros by far outweighs the risk of the cons. In the digital age where everyone  that owns a camera is a potential photographer, we professionals need a way to stand out in our local market. Let's look at a few real-world examples, shall we?

Some kitties love strobes, some hate 'em. "Cats for Xmas" Project

Last November, on "Black Friday" when I was done fighting off other men of size 32 waist for marked down pants at Express, I entered the food court to a sea of local causes that wanted Xmas donations. "Uh oh," I thought, "I'll never make it outta here without feeling guilt-ridden into the few dollars left in my bank account." But as I was walking past a not-so-well-laid-out booth by a local cat shelter, Paws and Whiskers, an epiphany hit me. "Damn, these guys would adopt out a bunch more cats if they didn't look so red-eyed, out of focus, and unhappy." So, I did what any other empathetic, broke photographer would do, I offered to take photos of the residents at Paws and Whiskers Cat Shelter.

In doing so, I learned a few important side notes about rescue shelter cats:

  1. If the cat has a name like "Fluffy" or "Muffin", chances are that it's not adorable, and wants to tear into your throat until you cease living.
  2. Cats don't necessarily like strobes in close proximity to them; also, Westcott umbrellas + nervous cats = umbrella fabric + scrap metal + blood.
  3. Cats that look adorable, act adorable, and have an adorable name that are in a shelter probably come with a tragic story or equally tragic medical history. See "Tilts".


Meet Tilts, he looks cute, but that's b/c of a tragic accident leaving his spine permanently curved. :(So how did the shelter shoot go? After I'd successfully treated all of my and my assistant's wounds, filled up a pet hair roller, and washed up, it was decided that it was overall a fun time. The director of the shelter was elated, and soon after the site was updated, they couldn't keep those fancily photographed felines on the shelves. By the time the Toledo Area Cat Show, on Feb. 14th, was in town, they were down to only 5 of the 40+ residents I'd photographed. If you look at the Paws and Whiskers website today, you'll notice only two of said residents remain. From a shelter that was overloaded during the holiday season with a retention of rate of over a year, it's more than just a hunch that better pictures had something to do with it.


Don't think you have the time for a larger-scale project like this one? Let's try an easier one.


Nicholas Powell, proud owner of a new profile pic."Free Facebook Profiles" Project

One of my more recent volunteer efforts took place last Sunday during the University of Findlay's Fine Arts Festival. I was 1 of 20 local artists present, 5 of which were photographers. With everyone there trying to get their cut by selling prints and original works, I thought it would be cool to offer passers by something for free. Facebook using patrons who were interested were treated to complimentary profile picture to be used at their leisure on Facebook. Providing this free service offered me several benefits in return:

  1. I get a few more Facebook friends. Never hurts to have more people watching you.
  2. These new contacts may like /use their picture, and might even know to contact me for further photographic needs.
  3. Again, I have more content to work with, instead of wasting away in the summer heat trying to sell strangers prints at prices I'm not exactly happy about.

I got all of this, for 2 min. of shooting, 5 min. processing, and 2 min. uploading. Now if you consider this a lot of work, maybe you should be a little more worried about your overall work ethic than volunteering. :p

Volunteer work not only gives you more chances to get out there shooting, it also provides you more free promotion than simply leaving a stack of business cards at a coffee shop. Haven't tried volunteering? Go out, give it a try; it only takes a few minutes of internet searching and maybe a few phone calls to get started. And hey, you might even have *gasp* fun!

For those already interested in doing some volunteer work, here's some great resources: