10 Great Ways to Grow As a Professional Photographer

A word of caution: Some of these ideas involve taking images of groups of people. Public events generally permit photography by anyone of anyone, but if someone really does not want themselves or their loved ones to be photographed, you should exercise good judgment and diplomacy and stop photographing and/or delete the taken images. For private situations such as nursing homes and shelters, you absolutely must get consent of the leadership team and the subjects. Use these interactions to build your people skills.

1. High School Sports. There are so many sports events that go unreported. If you can get permission to shoot at the sidelines, and you have the right gear, you can get shots that will be memorable and exciting. These can be offered on a low-cost or sharing website to parents and the school or yearbook staff, and you can potentially work with the local papers as well.

2. Student Recognition Events. My kids are in National Honor Society and Scholar Athlete, as well as District Band and other events. It’s no big deal to ask for permission from the administration or advisor and take a photo of every student. Parents love getting a well-taken print, and advisors and yearbook teams love a CD. Whether you have kids in these activities or not, it’s good community exposure and seeing these kids excel reinforces your respect in the younger generation.

3. School Plays. Capturing a few practice shots and dress rehearsal is a great time to build a portfolio for the drama club or department. If you get in early enough, you can work up some really nice posters. Many print labs will print a bunch of 11×17 posters for a reasonable price. Hint – get your business name on there as a sponsor.

4. Humane Society. Who doesn’t love puppies? Often, these agencies need public relations. Whether it’s for a website, newspaper ad, brochures or display boards, any image you take that gets people to support these agencies will be a great service to the agency, and any brand recognition or use rights you can get will be good for your portfolio and reputation.

5. Church Activities. Many churches have baptisms, first communion, dinners, clergy recognition and other activities that involve the church family. Volunteering to be an available resource for these activities will be very much appreciated by the entire church community.

6. Retirement Homes. There are many older folks in retirement homes. Some of them have been soldiers, heroes and leaders. All of them would very much appreciate a discussion and a photo. Consider offering to make a book of biographies, photograph visiting families, and capturing special occasions such as holidays or milestone birthdays.

7. Homeless Shelters and Soup Kitchens. Everyone deserves dignity, respect and the opportunity to preserve their memories, regardless of where they are. Talk to the leaders and see if there’s a way for you to volunteer to produce portraits for families who are spending holidays in a shelter. See if you can capture candid images for them to use in their public relations. And roll up your sleeves and wash some dishes once in a while. It will certainly make you a better person inside.

8. Teach a class at a school or boys/girls club. Most young people have an unquenchable thirst to learn and experience life. Showing kids the basic ideas of photography is a great way to interact with kids, and teaching the subject will reawaken those brain cells and get you thinking about photography in new ways. Often you can get your lab to give you a special deal on prints for things like this. Consider letting the kids submit their best shots and have them professionally printed. It will be like Christmas for these kids and their families to have their work shown in such a great way.

9. Chambers of Commerce. Joining the local chambers will put you in contact with many business owners. Offering your services to the chamber will be a great way for you to contribute to the organization…and some of those other business owners may need some commercial work done.

10. Charity Fund Raisers. Whenever a local group tells me they are having a fund raiser, I donate a package which includes a session and several prints. The cash goes to the charity, the winner gets a great deal on the session, and I almost always get additional orders from the winners. Remember that you cannot deduct the value of the package, but you can deduct mileage and the cost of the prints.