Charity events are happening all the time. I’m always seeing photos in the newspaper from new events that I’ve never heard of. Some of them are really small and others have a thousand people in attendance and raise over a million dollars. If you’ve been a photographer for a very long time, you’ve probably been asked to photograph one of these charity events, and it’s almost always for free. Yes, we should all be nice people and it’s good to help out, but this is a business, so the question is should you be photographing charity events? I believe you should in the right conditions. I’ve been photographing charity events for over 4 years now, so I’ll share some of my insights and how to make photographing charity events profitable.
How to Make Photographing Charity Events Profitable
Now, this information is geared toward how to make money or get something beneficial from shooting charity events, but this doesn’t mean you have to follow this advice all the time. If there is a charity out there that you believe strongly in, feel free to ignore my advice and just do it out of the goodness of your heart.
Picking a Charity
As I said a minute ago, there are tons of charities out there, so how do you decide which charities to help? There are two big factors that I would consider. One, how many people will be attending the event? If the event is only going to have 50 people, there’s not a lot of reason to go. On the other hand, if the event brings in 500 people, you have a lot of opportunity there. Two, how fancy is the event? I know that seems really shallow and I hate talking about this, but again, I’m a business, so I have to think this way to a degree. The fancier the event, the more likely it will be filled with the middle to upper class. Also, if it’s fancy, people tend to get dressed up and are more likely to spend money, which we will talk about soon. There is another factor that plays into the choosing process: do you care about the charity? Passion is a powerful thing. If you really care about the cause, you are going to feel better about being there, be more interested, and people will be able to see you care just by looking at you. Mix all of this together and you’ll find the charity event perfect for you.
Getting the Job
Even though most photographers volunteer for charity events, there is still a lot of competition to getting the job. Some of these charity events have been around for more than 10 years, so they could already have a photographer. In many cases, you won’t be the only person contacting them about their event. So, what can you do to get hired?
Getting hired to be the photographer at a charity event will take some work, but once you’re in, you’re probably good for life. If you keep doing a good job, they will keep bringing you back. The first thing you need to do is some research. What is the charity about? When you contact someone, you need to talk about the cause and how it affects you. Remember, if you’re passionate about the cause, this is even easier. Next, find out who to contact. Usually there is a list of board members or people that take care of certain things. Don’t contact the president of the charity. Find the person that coordinates the event or is in PR. Do a little Facebook stalking and see if you have any friends that are connected to these people or the event. A few kind words from a well connected friend could get you in the door. If you’re reaching out to a bunch of charities, email will save you the most time, but the best approach is going to be making a phone call. People can ignore an email, but it’s hard to ignore a phone call. Also, it’s a lot easier to explain who you are and what you do on the phone. Once you get the right person on the phone, be passionate, share your connection to the charity, and explain how what you do will be beneficial to them. Explain that you'll take photos of the event, the auction items, and the people attending, and then the charity can use the photos for promotions. If that doesn't seem to be enough, you can offer a charity auction or 10% of the sales you make. Now, you still might get turned down, but keep trying this process and you will get hired.
Connections and Referrals
Photographing a charity event is a great opportunity for someone just starting up his or her business or someone trying to break into a new area. If you picked the right event, it will be filled with tons of people, many of which are well connected and high ranking in businesses. From my experience in the wedding world, simply having a good relationship with someone could be worth thousands and thousands of dollars. If one solid connection is made, then the event was well worth it.
How do you go about making these connections? My first advice is to not try too hard. People will recognize when you are looking to get something from them or the relationship isn’t real. While photographing the event, be real, be outgoing, and work your butt off. That will get people’s attention and cause them to remember you. Second, make sure have a good relationship with the people putting the whole thing together. They might be willing to blast out your info to their email list from the event. Third, offer something for the people attending. You can hand out cards and have people go to your page to get free photos. People like free stuff, and they’d be visiting your site and have your information.
When I was first approached about photographing a charity event, I had no idea what I was doing, but luckily for me, they told me that I needed to photograph the attendees and offer prints. This has been a big money maker for me, and I probably never would have done it without them.
Not all charity events will allow you to do this, but if you can, you need to set up a portrait station. It’s basically a backdrop (yours or the foundations), with lights, and a computer and printer. You photograph an attendee and then you show them the photo on the computer and if they want to, they can purchase a print or digital download right then. From my experience, people love this! They are all dressed up and want to remember the night, and many of them haven’t had a professional photo taken in a long time. It’s become so popular that at some events we set up two stations.
As far as the setup goes, there are a few things to remember. One, you need to shoot tethered and be able to print on site. People like things instant, and if they can’t see it right then or if they have to buy prints later, your sales are going to drop drastically. For most, it’s an impulse buy. Don't expect them to contact you in a week to buy the prints. Sell it now. Two, bring an assistant. These events can get really busy and crazy. I also bring at least one person with me to handle the computer and printing while I shoot. If you don’t, the lines are going to be really long and people will walk away. Three, have backups. You’ll need extra ink, extra paper, maybe a few extra flashes. Things go wrong and if you don’t have a spare, the portrait station is done. Four, make buying easy. One gigantic mistake is to only accept cash. Most people today don’t carry cash, so you need a card reader. You also need to have change ready for those people that do show up with a hundred dollar bill. If you take care of those four things, your portrait station is a great way to make a lot of money from events.
For the past several years, I’ve been shooting two events regularly, and they both have been awesome. I’ve enjoyed it so much that I’m currently looking for another charity to get involved with. Charity events might not be your big money maker, but they can definitely be a nice addition to throw in there. Follow my tips for how to make photographing charity events profitable and you’ll be good to go!