Volunteering feels good, doesn’t it? At least it should. Because at the end of the day you are trading your time to help others in some way. Volunteering makes us feel good about ourselves. There are many benefits to finding a way to help others. As a photographer, because of volunteering in that role, I’ve noticed an improvement in my photography. Therefore, for this week’s article, instead of talking about some technique or editing tool as a way to improve your photography skills I thought I’d share how doing good has helped me learn and grow as a photographer.
First off, a little background about me.
I moved from the midwest to northern California in October 2017 and started my own photography company. Starting your own company means you get to determine what you care about. For me, one of the most important things was giving back to conservation organizations.
I break volunteering into the Three T’s: Talent, Time, and Treasure.
Do something that you are good at so that you can maximize your contribution
Spend time working with the organization, whatever that looks like
Give financially to causes
Keep in mind, these are things that work for me.
Finding an organization with which to partner.
Being new to California I had no idea what options were available to me. Thank goodness we have the internet. Am I right? Some research led me to the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority (OSA). I remember being super nervous walking into their building for our first meeting. However, the folks were very kind and excited to have a photographer be proactive in setting up a time to talk. Keep in mind, this was also very early on in my business and I had this constant feeling of “What in the world am I doing?” But that meeting resulted in the first shoot with them. Now, more than two years later, we have created a great partnership that continues to grow and develop year after year.
I’m a landscape guy
Most of my portfolio is predominantly landscape photography. I joke that I spend a lot of time outside, by myself, waiting for the right moment. However, volunteering with the Open Space Authority meant that I was going to be photographing people interacting with landscapes. Honestly, that was a little terrifying at first. My earliest photos showed people at a distance, almost lost in the landscape. However, on a shoot in 2019, I had a breakthrough.
The OSA had just launched a new program called Trail Masters and wanted some photographs of the volunteers. Trail Masters is a group of volunteers who receive extensive training in the tools and techniques required to create and maintain trails in the open space preserves. Going into the shoot I was a little nervous because I knew the team wanted to focus on people and I still wasn’t the most comfortable photographing people. However, I grabbed my gear and set out on the trail.
At first, the nerves won out and I kept my distance from the group. However, as the day wore on and we established rapport I slowly crept closer with each new shot. Finally, as we neared the end of the workday I found myself feeling relaxed and shooting frame after frame of happy, smiling, working people.
After the event, I headed home to import the photos and was blown away by the difference in the photos from the start of the day to the end. The lighting helped the end of the day shots, but by focusing more on the people I felt like I told a better story.
This is just one example. But the lessons are numerous.
Working with models
- Become comfortable photographing people
- Learning how to tell a story with a few key photographs
- Learning what elements of a photograph of people in nature
Working with art directors
- Finding common goals
- Creating a vision for the content
- Forming partnerships
How I’ve benefited
Volunteering with the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority got me out of my comfort zone. Getting out of my comfort zone has had a direct benefit both personally and professionally.
My photography skills have improved
Integrating people doing things in nature makes for more appealing images (commercially)
My photography style has matured
Colors, locations, lines, locations, editing consistently, etc.
I’ve been able to generate new portfolio images
While I have seen these benefits they are not the reason I chose to help. I wanted to help because I agreed with the work and mission of the OSA.
These are the indirect benefits of volunteering. As I said at the beginning of the article volunteering makes you feel good. It is nice to help out with a cause with which you can relate and care about.
Follow your passion
Find an organization that is in line with your talents and passions. Volunteer with a heart for service. I hope you too reap the benefits of serving others.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you found it interesting, informative, and maybe encouraging. If you have any questions feel free to ask in the comments below.
Until next time. I’ll see you on the trail.
Matt is a creative fine art landscape and commercial photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He stepped away from a successful engineering career in the midwest and moved to California to chase his dream of becoming a full-time professional photographer. Over the last two years, Matt has traveled the world chasing light and capturing one-of-a-kind landscapes.
He enjoys sharing his adventures with family, friends, and strangers along the way. When he is not hiking to a remote location, Matt enjoys volunteering for local and national conservation organizations. His mission is to share the world with people, inspire a sense of adventure, and to make a difference for the planet.