The Joys of Finding the Perfect Pro Bono Client

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During my (many!) years of running a photography business, I have always made a point to support a charity that’s close to my heart by providing my services pro bono. Typically, I have an organization that I’m working with at any given time, and when it’s right, for many years. Like many who share this view, I feel it provides balance in my life, and I walk the world knowing my talents are contributing toward the fulfillment of a chosen organization’s mission. Or, maybe it’s more selfish than that – maybe it just makes me feel great inside.

A significant part of my business is with attorneys and law firms, and as a result, I’m closely tied to the Hillsborough County Bar Association, serving as their photography benefit provider for the last bunch of years. I got a call from Corrie Benfield, Marketing Director at the HCBA one day last year telling me they’d referred me to Bay Area Legal Services, who’d called them to get a referral for a photographer. Alexandra Crews emailed me as well and we talked the same day about what BALS does. As Alex says it, “The rest is history.”

We quickly set up our first photo shoot, which produced enough solid imagery for them to populate their updated website (not yet published as of this writing) and flagship brochure, blast out through all social media outlets, produce posters for public events, as well as a series of prints that they just hung up in their uber cool office spaces in Ybor City. It was maybe 3-4 weeks later I arrived at BALS’ main office in Ybor to shoot a video of one of their clients providing his testimonial of how BALS rescued him and his family from a life of debt, foreclosure and even divorce. During my 200 foot walk through the offices, I kept hearing this whisper: “This is the photographer who did those pictures!” I noticed. Then there’s Rose Brempong, the queen of sincere praise and acknowledgement, who came into the room and hugged me and thanked me no less than 6 times for the work I did and its impact on their ability to say who they are and what they do. Then Dick Woltmann, the CEO of BALS, stopped by to shake my hand and thank me, thank me, thank me.

It was truly during the live video shoot of the BALS client that I got hit right in the heart by this lovely man who was laying his heart and life on the line with his story. I was tearing up during the actual shoot (I wasn’t the only one!) and it was then I was hooked. I am now an advocate, loudspeaker, and proponent for this amazing group of professionals who help good people who have hit some tough circumstances get through the most challenging times of their lives, and most importantly, in a way that preserves their dignity and restores their personal power. I’ve seen it several times now. I’m all in.

Not to kick a dead horse here, but then I received a persistent and loving invitation to BALS’ annual Holiday Party at the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City. Almost suspiciously, Rose and Alex made darn sure for weeks that my wife Kim and I (my son was also invited but couldn’t attend) were going to attend. We were seated at a table up front and were happy to just be there in such a lovely setting. When the event began, my jaw hit the floor when I realized that the opening remarks, which lasted for 5-10 minutes were a presentation of the video we did for them, followed by more praise and recognition than I think I’ve ever received for anything I’ve ever done, complete with a presentation of a gorgeous trophy! Shocked doesn’t even come close to describing how that felt. But ‘full of love and appreciation’ does.

So what’s the point here? If you’re working pro bono for a client, and you don’t know in your heart of hearts that what you’re doing is a difference maker for that organization, it may be time to find another outlet for your generosity. But mostly I think the point is that pro bono work should make you feel great, and make the organization you’re serving feel even better. Right Alex, right Rose? THAT’s what pro bono is all about, at least through this photographer’s lens.

Temporary

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I picked up my disabled parking permit today from the Tax Collectors Office. Took me almost a month to do this, but I did it. For those just getting on board, I’m recovering from Achilles tendon repair surgery and am in a boot and wheeling around on a knee scooter, unable to put weight on said injured foot. Anyway, I’ve always had a ‘thing’ about these parking permits, and those who use them without having any affliction or challenge, and how often I see someone of complete ability come springing out of their car parked in a handicap space and go dashing into a Publix. But I, for better or worse, am legit. I need this thing, and today I used it for the first time.

I was hanging it on my rear view mirror, when the word hit me hard, it hit me good, and it sunk in. Temporary. Temporary Permit. Now, I’ve been doing a pretty darn good job of staying upbeat and seeing the best of the situation and all that, but fact is, this has been life-altering, and it has challenged me like nothing I can remember. I’m learning things about myself I never knew, good and bad. I’ll tell you I have more compassion than ever for those with Permanent Disabilities.  And as much as I honor and respect injured veterans, this speed bump in my life has given me but a taste of what these folks have to contend with permanently. Permanently – this is a much different word.

In my normal everyday moments, I’m having to employ my ‘solution-finding’ skill set every step, or hobble, of the way. Before I received the incredible life-saving scooter, I couldn’t put the mustard back in the fridge on crutches, for example, or offer any other assistance to my family in daily household undertakings. Working out EVERYTHING when you’ve never before had to consider how to, let’s say, get off the stool and get a glass of water, is a very humbling, yet presence-inducing process.

I’m making my way, and finding my solutions every moment of the day, graciously (I hope!) accepting the assistance of those around me. I even believe I’m done once and for all talking myself into thinking that I can pull off some stupid stunt on my scooter that ought even be considered (i.e. “Sure, I can go outside on the lawn at night around the corner and turn off the hot-tub on my scooter, yeah, no problem…”). And for all the things I’m grateful for out of this game-changing experience, I am most grateful for the fact that it is indeed, temporary.

It’s temporary. This is temporary. And, digging a little deeper, oh yeah, everything is temporary. Not a bad thing to re-presence from time to time, no?

This is My Good Side – Take #1

Nothing gets in our head and acting nutty more than pictures of ourselves, and moreover, having them taken. As a photographer who has photographed literally thousands of individuals, I’ve pretty much seen it all. I’ve seen people cry on set, I’ve seen people show me the literal side of their head, saying “this is my good side,’ and I’ve seen people give up and walk away from a head shot altogether. This aspect of human behavior fascinates me, and for years I didn’t feel qualified (maybe the lack of a psychology degree?) to opine or give my view on the topic. Well, that has all changed. I am now an expert with my own personal study of an estimated 40,000 participants over the course of 20 years!

Next time you’re scrolling through profiles in LinkedIn or any other Social Media where we represent ourselves with a 3/4 inch square likeness of ourselves, notice the HUGE variety of shots you see as profile photos. We obviously are NOT aligned in our thinking of what constitutes a great head shot or else these would tend to look the same. I know they’re just head shots, but I have some things to say about them, about what makes a good one and what does not. But before I dive in with all of that, I want to hear from you. Ask yourself this question:  Is getting your head shot taken stressful for you? If so, why? What kinds of things are you concerned about, what drives you nutty?  Have you been scarred by bad photographers?  Tell your story!  You may have to let the guard down a bit to play here, but don’t be afraid.  Good things are coming…

Curveball

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Sometimes, life throws us a curveball. In this case, the curveball was a ruptured achilles tendon, which I just had surgery on this last Tuesday. Doc’s instructions? Stay off the foot, keep it elevated. Period. Not exactly how I’d planned on spending ANY time during this life. Okay, so here I am. On the couch. With a laptop. Stay tuned…

“So, what do you do?”

I have been asked this question most days of my 21 year career, and I’m quite certain I’ve answered this question a thousand different ways, if there are indeed a thousand ways to tell someone that I’m a photographer.  After a flurry of marketing and social media training over the last 2 months or so, I have a new answer:  “I free people from the notion that they hate photos of themselves.”

This was born out of the literally thousands of times I’ve heard this comment as someone steps up to my set (typically a head shot set).  I estimate, cuz I’m kind of a stats guy, that 40-50% of human beings make this type of an announcement upon arrival to my set.  I have made it my business to send those folks away from my set saying something different, for example, “Wow, that’s the first time I’ve ever liked my photo!”

Call it my mini-ministry, call it a subtext to the hundreds of head shots I shoot every year.  I call it a new way to relate to what I do that gives me a way to make a lasting difference with the people I’m fortunate enough to meet every day of my life.

So, that’s it for now – I’ll be saying more – lots more, about this topic in the very near future.  I just wanted you to know I’ve been listening to you all these years.  Oh, and welcome to my new blog!  We’ll talk soon…

Cheers,

Bob