Monday, June 21, 2010

Volunteering Your Photographic Services

Occasionally I am asked to volunteer my services to charitable or nearly charitable organizations. My decision to participate is made on a case by case basis and several factors come into play in  the decision-making process. In the article, I will identify the key questions and thought processes that I go through every time a request is made.

Interspersed will be the photographs I worked on for the Mill displays and some photographs I took at the 200 year celebration of the Delta Stone Mill. I was asked to edit 12 old scanned photographs for display that was going into 2 window frames that would each hold 6 of the 5”x7” photographs. I was invited to the ceremony on  5 June and took a few photographs for my own pleasure.  I may donate some of these to the Mill later if they wish to use them.
 Set 1 of old photos

Note: As a photo restorer, it is always better if I can scan the old photographs with my equipment. There are 2 reasons for this. My equipment can produce better quality and has more technical features to retrieve all the details and tones in photograph. My experience assures that I will be able to retrieve that maximum amount of information from photograph or negative in such a manner that it will permit me to produce a better product. It will also save me time with the photo-editing and restoring parts later on in the process.
Set 2 of old photos

First and foremost, do I have the skills and equipment to produce excellent images for this work?
I know some might say “well they are asking for this for free so what can they expect?”  Most people do want excellent results but even when 'for free' the work reflects my abilities and my quality standards. There is just no way that I would ever produce a photograph or work-of-art that didn't reflect the best in me. No one is going to remember or even know when viewing the final product that you did this for free.  Even if they did, they will think that this is the best he can do, not knowing its not your preferred venue and apply that judgement to other venues that you do charge for.

My quality standards are a major part of my brand and that represents me and how I want to be remembered.
Members of the Fort Henry Guard – Firing the old muskets

How will my services and products be used and what copyrights will I be assigning to organization?
Does the organization reflect my values in life? As a business for hire you do not, in some countries, have the right to refuse work but when free, that changes things.  When I donate funds to charities I give to the  organizations that I like. These same with my services. 

If producing photographs or works of art, how will my products be used and what copyrights am I assigning to the organization?
Do they want all rights in perpetuity? There is nothing wrong with giving away everything as long as you are aware of this ahead of time. I always ensure that I have a  licencing agreement that specifies exactly the rights for their use by the organization.
Members of the Fort Henry Guard – Fife and Drum group

What liabilities, if any, am I undertaking?
For many, this will not be easy to answer because this is where experience comes into play as to what  can go wrong.  If photographing people or expensive objects, who is responsible if someone gets hurt or an object gets broken or if a person trips or I bump someone and damage gets done because of my activities. What if one of my lamps overheat and a fire starts, who pays for repairs? What if someone expected privacy at the event (didn't know someone was going to photograph them) and they take exception to the images posted publicly and used commercially and they decide to sue you. There are so many what ifs that only experience can tell which ones may apply in this situation.
The dignitaries lined up for their speeches at presentation ceremonies
The people in the photo, from left to right, are:
Steve Clark, MPP Leeds-Grenville; Bob Lavoie, Ontario Trillium Foundation; Dr. Larry Ostola, Director of National Historic Sites; Elizabeth Robinson (original trustee DMS); Gord Brown, MP Leeds-Grenville; Ron Holman, Mayor Rideau Lakes Township; David Boyd, Rideau Lakes Town Crier
Paul George, Director/curator, Old Stone Mill N.H.S.

Check the insurance coverage of the organization and find out if it covers you for certain activities. Does the ticket to event grant use of their image at event. Always have your own liability insurance coverage. I cannot stress how important this is, as one day something will go wrong. There is a  difference if you are a business providing a free service as opposed to a volunteer donating your time. But negligence is negligence and the rules are different for almost every state and country. Seek legal advice, as it will be money well spent.  Just like paying for a course at college.

Who pays when a patron breaks one of my pieces of equipment?
Does their insurance cover your cost or will they reimburse you to repair or replace items. This is one area you definitely need to ask about as this happens more often than you think. Large events are crowded and if drinking is involved, it becomes too easy for someone to stumble around and knock over and break one of your photographic items.
A Mill worker photographing the ceremonies outside

Are others volunteering and What are they paying for other services?

Am I the only one providing a free service or are others also participating for free. I am not a big fan when I am the only person donating a free service and everyone else is getting paid well. But again it really depends on the event.
Are they paying top dollar for other services or are they getting a discount for some? If everyone else is getting the going rate, why am I at least not being compensated a little? Is it because they expect to get it free from me?
One of the booth vendors wearing historic garb

What is their funding envelope?
This is somewhat tied to the question above but if it appears that the organization has sufficient funds, but they have a policy of always trying to get work for free first then that may not sit well with me.

Don't be Afraid to Ask for some funds.
If you need an assistant or to rent some piece of equipment. If you are a business earning revenue then you could ask for a tax receipt if they are a charitable organization.

Even when free there are opportunities
There may be opportunities at the event to display your promotional materiel. Don't be afraid to setup a display area if you have the materiel.  This could range from sample images, brochures and business cards.  I don't recommend that you aggressively promote yourself to everyone you meet as I believe this is just in bad taste. But if someone asks, then sell your services.
This is  IR image created in Photoshop from colour photo

Always dress appropriately. If its a wedding then and suit tie might be in order and the same for a fundraiser. If its sporting event  then a vest or nice T-shirts with your  logo or websites or services printed on  is OK.

Donate your services wisely and eventually good karma will come which will lead to new work.

Niels Henriksen

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