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Photography Blog Carnival – St. Louis Photographer

A group of talented professional photographers from around the country, who I’m blessed to know and talk shop with, have decided to join forces this weekend to share some insights with readers through a blog carnival. Because we all have both clients and fellow photographers following our blogs, the articles may be of use to one or the other, or both.  At any rate, you’ll enjoy the articles and come away a little more prepared when choosing a photographer for your next portraits. Because my article speaks to other photographers, it may give you a different kind of insight; maybe one you can apply to your own career and volunteer work. So when you’ve finished reading this, please follow the link at the end, and you’ll find yourself immersed in another article by my friend Marianne in Chicago.


I was recently talking with a good friend about volunteer work, and to my surprise, it prompted some comments about how my volunteer work is hurting the photography industry. While I completely understand the arguments against working for free, and I myself have been quite vocal on the subject, there is a difference between the working for free that damages the industry, and geniune philanthropic work. So let’s take a look at each of these.

Undoubtedly in the course of your business, you’ll find yourself being asked to provide your photographic talent for far less than it’s worth. You’ll also hear all kinds of reasons why you should. The companies, organizations, and individuals expecting this of you benefit greately, so listen to their reasoning with a grain of salt. They stand to profit heavily off the amount they don’t plan on paying you.

For-profit companies search out unsuspecting new portrait photographers to do the work of commercial photographers, in hopes of appealing to their ambitions to get published. The companies profit heavily from the work, and should be compensating the photographers for it. Sadly, they get away with it anyway, and photographers who do this for a living are finding it more and more difficult to get paying jobs. An ever-increasing number of those jobs are now going to the cheapest, not the best.

Not-for-profit organizations are doing the same thing. At first glance, you might think they can’t afford you, so you should volunteer. But “not-for-profit” doesn’t mean “non-profit.” That’s why the classification name of these charitable organizations changed several years ago. Their main objective may not be profit, but many of them do make profits. Whether they do or not, people are getting paid. Directors, staff, and other contractors. So expecting photographers to work for free is inconsistent with the manner in which they acquire other services. They’ll say “it’s not in our budget.” And it isn’t. You know why? They don’t budget for photography because they keep finding it for free. Not by volunteers, but by photographers who think that’s the only way to get the job.

And then there are always the inquiries from portrait clients looking for free portraits, or all the files included with a small session fee. This wasn’t the case just a few short years ago. But with the recent and continuous surge of hobbyists with websites, and new photographers who don’t know the first thing about the true cost of being in business, those who used to hire talented professionals are now either bypassing the pros or expecting them to give their work away for free too. If this current trend continues, there won’t be any decent photographers left for families to hire.  We will have all quit.

These are the arguments I heard from my colleagues, and I wholeheartedly agree! So why am I doing volunteer work? Because there are organizations who truly need volunteers. And they can use any skills you might have.

I happen to possess photography skills. I may not have a lot of money to donate, so my time is all I have to offer. I chose a charitable organization that is important to me, and one that I felt could really use some help. Sometimes it’s stuffing envelopes; sometimes it’s using my camera. Everyone running the place is volunteering their time. Of course in this situation, I can’t expect to be paid, and I wouldn’t want to be.

The line between working for free and volunteering may seem a little blurry to some, but I think it’s rather distinct.

You do have to be careful, and put thought into it, but do get out there and volunteer where you can. Don’t let semantics get in the way. When you decide that an organization truly needs volunteers and your time would be immensely helpful, then just do it. The world will be a better place, and nobody can argue with that.

The next article in this blog carnival is by Chicago Children’s Photographer – Marmalade Photography who has written about caring for your photographs…a must read, so go check it out!

March 21, 2011 - 9:09 am

marmalade photography - Well said Lauri!! I think the fine line between choosing to donate your time and feeling good about it vs. getting taken advantage of becomes more blurry with each passing year – I can’t imagine being new in this business and having to navigate what’s best for your business vs. being charitable to the point of having your biz go under.

March 21, 2011 - 10:34 am

admin - Thanks Mare! I can’t imagine starting a new photography business right now AT ALL, when it’s definitely a field that’s beyond oversaturated already. Not a good business move. But this article wasn’t written for new photographers. It was written for anyone doing work for free, and anyone expecting work done for free. It’s not good for anyone to do jobs for free just because it’s the only way you can get them. It doesn’t benefit your business; it doesn’t result in future paid work, and it hurts the industry. That is quite different from setting out to volunteer for an organization you want to get involved in, and helping them out in any way you can. To me the line is not blurry at all…it’s easy to see when you look at your motives for doing the free work. And nobody truly doing volunteer work shouldn’t be lumped in with those working for free and damaging the industry.

March 21, 2011 - 10:54 am

Julie - Very good information Lauri. As someone that has both worked for a non-profit group (but was a business based group), and volunteered for many years for an actual charity, I know it can be difficult to navigate when to “give” and when to say this should be paid work. It’s easier when the line is clear (the first group TRIED to always use that “non-proft” label to get discounts and free services but the mandate of the group was to increase business to its members…not a worthy candidate for donating your services. The other was helping young families, especially those struggling financially or culturally in a new country…definitely a worthwhile cause to donate to). I hope those that give their work for free in hopes of recognition or credit will first ask themselves what benefit the receiving organizations will get from my free photography. That will often clarify the distinction right there. Thank you for a very important topic facing the photography industry today.

March 21, 2011 - 10:57 am

admin - Good points Julie!

March 21, 2011 - 11:39 am

Danna - Thank you! THANK YOU!! I have been having these same arguments with photographers for years. I refuse to work for free and whenever I get a “we are a non profit organizations” thrown my way I respond with ” I happen to know not for profit is just a tax status and not an indication of funds available…do YOU work for free?” of course they don’t. Too many people are all goo goo eyed over the photo credit and the “possibility” of being noticed for it…trust me, the only people checking out the photo credit are the other photographers!
I truly hope some people read this article and take it to heart, saving them from giving away their talent for free. If we all say no, they will have to pay us what we are worth.

March 21, 2011 - 12:02 pm

Pamn - So well said! This is a topic that really needs a little more exploration than most people give it. Thanks for posting this!

March 21, 2011 - 12:08 pm

Ruthi David - Wonderful post, well said!

March 21, 2011 - 12:19 pm

Samara - Its so true that if you are volunteering your time and talent then you should feel good about it. Whether it is behind the camera or “stuffing envelopes” like you mentioned. I have been on a bad end of the deal before and it isn’t pretty. I would also throw in there that if you are volunteering your time, and giving the images to any organization to please always have a contract too. I once found an organization telling me that they would “own” the photos, that I could never use them for anything, that they could make artistic changes to the images, and it just gets worse. Just always be sure what exactly you are volunteering for before jumping in. Great post!!!

March 21, 2011 - 6:58 pm

amanda padgham - So well said Lauri!!!! Agree with Pam that this topic definitely deserves more exploration than many give it. Thanks for sharing.

March 21, 2011 - 7:13 pm

Barbara Breitsameter - Perfectly said Lauri! Thank you.

March 21, 2011 - 8:28 pm

Dena Robles - Thank you so much for your insight Lauri. I don’t know if I would have been equipped to navigate the volunteer aspect without reading this. I used to work as a paid employee for a not-for-profit agency and was often going on ‘asks’ for funds and services from other business, but I have yet to come at it from the other side as a volunteer.

March 22, 2011 - 9:23 am

CarrieS - This is so well said Lauri! Nothing wrong with volunteering but one should see the difference for sure.

March 23, 2011 - 5:44 pm

Michael - Perfectly written, Lauri! I especially like the clarification about not-for-profits, which I used to find somewhat confusing… Thanks for an excellent article!!

March 24, 2011 - 9:19 pm

MaryAnn - Excellent points Lauri!!

March 30, 2011 - 10:26 pm

Je Neuhaus - Thank you for clearing up the confusion that many of us feel when asked to give our work. I think any portrait photographer is sensitive to giving – after all, we’re in this field in good part because we love and care about people. So it’s nice to give where we can make a bigger difference with our time or skills.

Great article!

Wings in the City – St. Louis Art

Looking for something different to do this weekend? This Sunday, Wings in the City will be exhibiting at the World’s Fair Pavilion for one day only before the butterflies go into their cocoon for the winter.

What is ‘Wings in the City’? 54 local artists have painted giant butterflies that will be on display throughout St. Louis next spring. But this weekend, they’ll be on display briefly at Forest Park. On Sunday, the exhibit is free, but please consider making a $10 donation, because the exhibit is to benefit the Pediatric and Palliative Care programs at BJC Home Care Services. This organization helps countless families losing their children and other loved ones.

If you’d like to see the butterflies before Sunday, there is also a private unveiling on Saturday night that you can purchase tickets for. Click the image below for more info:

Last Call! Fall Portrait Sessions in St. Louis

After getting all inquiries taken care of this week, I only have 4 (FOUR!) full session appointments remaining available before the end of the year. The deadline for grabbing one of these dates, if they last that long, is October 15th.  The holiday card designs I’m offering this year are the most gorgeous I’ve ever carried…I can’t wait for them to start arriving in mailboxes!  To schedule your session, click on the CONTACT tab above and submit your request.

st louis family photography

October 4, 2010 - 1:24 pm

Julie - What a fun and colourful fall portrait!! Love it!

Love and babies – St. Louis Maternity Photographer

I had the pleasure of photographing this expecting couple recently, and got to meet their little guy just the other day. It’s one of the most favorite parts of my job. Here are a few from their pregnancy session, and a sneak preview of the baby portraits…not done yet with those though.

September 30, 2010 - 4:48 pm

Beth - These are lovely. I wish I looked like that when I was preggo.

September 30, 2010 - 6:16 pm

Sidney - Wow, beautiful photographs!

September 30, 2010 - 9:20 pm

Allison Marie - I’m expecting in January. Is it too late to schedule a maternity session? I want you to do mine.

October 3, 2010 - 7:17 pm

TonyaMarie - Oh! These all have such a fantastically wonderful feeling to them. Your processing is superb!

October 4, 2010 - 8:24 am

admin - Thanks everyone! Allison, it’s not too late, but contact me as soon as you can. Use the contact tab at the top of the blog, so I know how to reach you.

October 4, 2010 - 12:34 pm

Corey Sewell - These are beautiful, Lauri! Love the one by the tree!

October 12, 2010 - 3:44 pm

nina pomeroy - WOW, these are gorgeous!