The Death of Charity and VirgilVision

Update: Sept 2014 — To quote Monty Python… I’m not dead yet.  I’m gearing up with renewed energy. After taking some time off, I’m ready to get back to select charity work. I do indeed get a lot of satisfaction out of it. If you have read this far feel free to read on.  Stay tuned for more in future posts….

When I went into photography everyone said to have a plan, figure out what you want to shoot, how you want to shoot it and price it accordingly. If you don’t charge what you are worth people won’t understand or appreciate the value they are getting. Naturally, I knew better and I could ignore all that.20120323-1639_DSC_2821-Edit

I honestly “thought” I didn’t need a plan since I don’t make my living with my camera. I already have a career job and my career provides very well for my family, money isn’t free to me, but I don’t want for anything either.

My plan instead was to just shoot things I liked, anything I could find, and in the end do some good with it. I figured over time I would learn what I wanted to shoot (more on that later) and I could also give back by using something I loved doing. Also knowing a lot of local photographers that do need to make a living to eat, I’ve always approached it in a way that I was never competing with them. Do no harm!

I really really wanted to give back to charity through Photography. Instead of paying $30 to run a 5K road race on my own, I could instead take photos of it, give those back the the charity for use in self-promotion and also allow any proceeds of the photos to go directly to the charity. That was surely worth more than the $30 I would have given them if I ran/walked the race. Right?20120915-0925_DSC_5354

I also gave back to local schools when they ran out of money to hire a photographer. I did many local charity events. I short portraits for friends and family that wouldn’t otherwise have had professional photos taken. I shot the local Orchestra. I shot all sorts of things to give back to my community and to friends and family. All at no cost.

In the end I was left with one undeniable fact. I was left feeling mostly unappreciated for my efforts. Maybe this is just my own insecurities kicking in, but really, I think it was more of an attitude that “I helped” foster. No one understood the value of what they were getting. I was offering it all for free as if I were lucky to be there shooting it. But I also had expenses they never saw – insurance, gear, software, subscriptions, time and of course skill. Hummm… Almost like a real business.

Meanwhile I would find myself at an event and someone would come up to me and ask me to go fetch a bottle of water. Really? I’m there with two cameras, big mucker pro lenses and I’m providing a service to the event and your asking me to go get you a bottle of water just before I need to take a really important set of photos. I’m a really nice guy and I realize this happens now and then, but still it slowly chisels away at you as you realize the perception of people undervalue you as a photographer.20111030-1240_DSC_7989

In terms of value understanding, I thought that having a pricing model on my website to show what I would charge to a non-charity would be sufficient. I did in fact price it so that if people wanted to hire me at those rates it would be worth my while and I would actually take the job. A real pricing model that worked for me. Of course my real flaw was not my pricing model, but to not treat my photography as a business. I was giving my work away, and I was doing it in a way that I didn’t get any appreciation in return to offset this.


Has my work always been flawless and perfect? No, but I’m not a complete amateur either. Was my work better than anything else  these organizations could get for the price? I would like to think so!

So… all that said, I have decided to give up on charity work. The personal satisfaction and personal rewards were actually met with more strife and more difficulty than its been worth. I’ve learned a ton about photography, but the effort to reward ratio just isn’t there for me. I have failed to deliver a concept of value that is different than someone with an iPhone. And I have no one but myself to blame for that. If you don’t have your own value concept cooked into your photography model from the start then you can’t expect anyone else to have it either.

So let that be a lesson to all you photographers out there. You need to charge what you are worth and come up with a model that returns value to you – even if you want to give it away. I hate to admit it, but money is something people understand, and with money or at least knowing how much money a person is saving, you’ll get the respect you crave. And yes, I’m actually saying that money gives you respect and thats not easy for me to say.20120921-2148_DSC_6136-Edit

My next move… I’m not giving up on photography, but you’ll need to read about that in my future posts. All I’m going to say right now is I’m going to tightly focus on one area of photography that found that I love doing and have found rewarding. Stay tuned…

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