The Joys of Finding the Perfect Pro Bono Client

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During my (many!) years of running a photography business, I have always made a point to support a charity that’s close to my heart by providing my services pro bono. Typically, I have an organization that I’m working with at any given time, and when it’s right, for many years. Like many who share this view, I feel it provides balance in my life, and I walk the world knowing my talents are contributing toward the fulfillment of a chosen organization’s mission. Or, maybe it’s more selfish than that – maybe it just makes me feel great inside.

A significant part of my business is with attorneys and law firms, and as a result, I’m closely tied to the Hillsborough County Bar Association, serving as their photography benefit provider for the last bunch of years. I got a call from Corrie Benfield, Marketing Director at the HCBA one day last year telling me they’d referred me to Bay Area Legal Services, who’d called them to get a referral for a photographer. Alexandra Crews emailed me as well and we talked the same day about what BALS does. As Alex says it, “The rest is history.”

We quickly set up our first photo shoot, which produced enough solid imagery for them to populate their updated website (not yet published as of this writing) and flagship brochure, blast out through all social media outlets, produce posters for public events, as well as a series of prints that they just hung up in their uber cool office spaces in Ybor City. It was maybe 3-4 weeks later I arrived at BALS’ main office in Ybor to shoot a video of one of their clients providing his testimonial of how BALS rescued him and his family from a life of debt, foreclosure and even divorce. During my 200 foot walk through the offices, I kept hearing this whisper: “This is the photographer who did those pictures!” I noticed. Then there’s Rose Brempong, the queen of sincere praise and acknowledgement, who came into the room and hugged me and thanked me no less than 6 times for the work I did and its impact on their ability to say who they are and what they do. Then Dick Woltmann, the CEO of BALS, stopped by to shake my hand and thank me, thank me, thank me.

It was truly during the live video shoot of the BALS client that I got hit right in the heart by this lovely man who was laying his heart and life on the line with his story. I was tearing up during the actual shoot (I wasn’t the only one!) and it was then I was hooked. I am now an advocate, loudspeaker, and proponent for this amazing group of professionals who help good people who have hit some tough circumstances get through the most challenging times of their lives, and most importantly, in a way that preserves their dignity and restores their personal power. I’ve seen it several times now. I’m all in.

Not to kick a dead horse here, but then I received a persistent and loving invitation to BALS’ annual Holiday Party at the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City. Almost suspiciously, Rose and Alex made darn sure for weeks that my wife Kim and I (my son was also invited but couldn’t attend) were going to attend. We were seated at a table up front and were happy to just be there in such a lovely setting. When the event began, my jaw hit the floor when I realized that the opening remarks, which lasted for 5-10 minutes were a presentation of the video we did for them, followed by more praise and recognition than I think I’ve ever received for anything I’ve ever done, complete with a presentation of a gorgeous trophy! Shocked doesn’t even come close to describing how that felt. But ‘full of love and appreciation’ does.

So what’s the point here? If you’re working pro bono for a client, and you don’t know in your heart of hearts that what you’re doing is a difference maker for that organization, it may be time to find another outlet for your generosity. But mostly I think the point is that pro bono work should make you feel great, and make the organization you’re serving feel even better. Right Alex, right Rose? THAT’s what pro bono is all about, at least through this photographer’s lens.

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Marketing Photography Case Study #7 – Raymond James Corporate Shoot

I’ve been doing work for Raymond James, a global financial services company headquartered in St. Petersburg, for well over a dozen years. I’ve produced everything from head shots to annual reports to event work, usually working directly with their Marketing Department. Chris Bennett, Creative Director, and Grace Powers, Senior Account Executive, called me in to scout a project for imagery to populate a new website focusing on career opportunities within Raymond James.

Challenges: The main challenges here weren’t that unusual for us: we used employee models, so no professional modeling talent was used. This requires making them appear professional and comfortable even though none of the models had any prior photo shoot experience. Over a two day period, we were to shoot over 40 people at 6 different locations around RJ’s expansive campus, and in addition to the imagery for the website, we also produced environmental portraits of all employee models who participated in the shoot, so the number of images to produce meant we had to move fairly quickly, something else that isn’t very unusual!

Client: “Bob did a fantastic job handling six separate photo shoots over a period of two days. Working with people who are not professional models, he was great at making them feel comfortable and getting them to come to life – so much so that most of them looked like professional models by the end of it! We started this project with the intention of using the photos on one website, but because the quality and diversity of the photos were so great, we’ve used them on a number of other projects throughout the company.”

Grace Powers, Senior Account Executive

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For this Marketing Photography Case Study, my assistant Stephen Zane, doubled as videographer, putting on display his array of serious talents while assisting in all aspects of the multi-location shoot. Here is the product of his creative efforts, and for the record, he shot, edited, put the music in – the whole enchilada.

Marketing Photography Case Study #6 – Air Animal Pet Movers

Every once in awhile a project comes along with way more facets than ordinary photo projects. This is one such project!

Client:  Air Animal Pet Movers is a company that specializes in the arrangement of domestic and international travel for pets, to include at least dogs and cats. Their family-owned business was founded by Dr. Walter Woolf, a licensed veterinarian in 1977. I was brought in to this project by friend and client Karen Frashier of AdvocateMarketingPR, who had been hard at work helping Air Animal with their brand presence and marketing message. After several conversations it was determined (and driven by magazine articles Karen had pre-arranged in both Lufthansa Cargo and British Travel Magazine) that we needed to shoot 3 key images to get the magazine articles to snap: one at Tampa International Airport that showing an Air Animal Van entering the Airport, a pet examination shot for a dog that was actually traveling to Brussells in real life, and a shot of a ‘stand-in’ dog (looked the same!) being checked in at an counter inside the airport. We also produced studio portraits of all staff posing with their personal pets – a clever way of playfully shooting what would typically be head shots to give their website more personality.

Challenges:  At the top of this list was the fact that all shots but one featured live animals, which automatically increased the ‘trickiness’ factor exponentially! We needed the assistance of the TIA marketing and security departments to help manage incoming airport traffic as we shot our images at sunrise at the main junction entrance of the airport, one of the busiest times for the airport. We had our newly wrapped Air Animal van drive very slowly in a pre-scouted lane during morning rush hour at the entrance to the airport for four or five laps.

Client Comments:  “The planets aligned and offered Air Animal not one, but two international magazine features. Thompson Brand Images got the shots we needed in two very focused shoots inside and outside one of the world’s busiest airports. Bob talked with me about the brand and the article, and we built the shoot around Lufthansa’s story.

We ignored the old showbiz warnings and worked with two weimaraners, three people, a van, an airplane, airport traffic and airport police during Florida’s unpredictable rainy season. Then, we did it again two weeks later with studio shots of Air Animal staff with their pets. The pets and the people look great in every shot and mesh with the brand—not an easy task. But that’s what Bob does! Another successful project by Thompson Brand Images…”

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Marketing Photgraphy Case Study #5 – Stetson University College of Law – Gulfport

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Davina Gould, Marketing Director for Stetson University College of Law, reached out to Thompson Brand Images recently in need of a new library of marketing images to use for websites, brochures and advertisements. Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport is Florida’s oldest law school, founded in 1900, and the campus occupies an historic hotel from the 1920’s. Because it had been some time since they’d done any photography, a 3-day shoot was scheduled, but this one had a bit of a different flavor to it.

Challenges: Almost all photography was accomplished during live classes, with the exception of a few sessions where we were able to place student models for set shots. This meant that we could use very little or no lighting at all in some cases. Given the live classroom environments, I had to blend in and be as unobtrusive as possible, and do what I could do not distract the students, and more importantly, disrupt the professors.

Solution: We went with extremely simple and battery operated lighting, often using a single light source bounced off of walls/ceilings to provide some pop and contrast, but which didn’t require any setup or leave cables on floors. Emphasis was also placed on getting in and out of the classrooms as quickly and quietly as possible.

Bob’s Comments: This was a fun shoot – Davina gave me a schedule of where to be and when, which accounted for about two thirds of the images – the rest were shot organically while roaming the campus between assignments. Free flowing, but with a gameplan – my favorite kind of shooting day! Some of my favorite images were the live classroom shots which captured the personality and delivery style of the professors in action, as well as the scenics of the campus with students sprinkled throughout to give those potentially static shots some life.

Featured Senior Portrait – Calvin

I recently had the pleasure of photographing the son of a good friend who used to work for us at Thompson Studios back when we did hundreds of senior portraits each season. Stacy brought her son Calvin to us after having had the typical school senior portraits done, which, as they often do, fell short of expressing the real Calvin. For the record, he is one of the most well-dressed, and most fashion-conscious young men I’ve had the chance to photograph.

He was quick to express his preference of shooting down in Ybor City, one of my favorite areas to shoot, and the opportunities Ybor City’s diverse streets afford did not disappoint!

Here is a slideshow of some of our faves from this special session! Enjoy!

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Marketing Photography Case Study #4 – MacDonald Training Center

MacDonald Training Center – MTC is a not-for-profit organization that provides adults with special needs productive paying jobs and a work environment that promotes contribution to society in a friendly, supervised workspace. I was recently working an event for Bank of America at MTC when I got to know the Director Rita Hattab. I’d noticed the photos on the website could use a boost, then being a dad of a young man with special needs myself, this place hit me where I live, and I quickly offered up a pro-bono session so they could better brand their organization with well-lit photos of their joyful workforce in action.

Challenges: Given the nature of the work environment, I couldn’t use much equipment, and none with cables. I only had a little over an hour to get all of our shots. Last challenge was including everybody who wanted to be photographed! This crowd loves to be in photos! (unlike most other places I go!)

Solutions: Lit all photos with a single, wireless, off-camera strobe to keep cables from getting in anybody’s way. As far as time constraint, I worked very quickly! But these subjects put up no resistance, so getting the shots was a snap!

Client Comment: “Working with Bob at Thompson Brand Images for our organization’s marketing photos was a wonderful experience! He was very easy to work with and skillfully brought out the best in the individuals we serve and our team members. We are so excited to start using our new photos in our marketing materials; they really reflect how we want our brand to be perceived.”

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Thompson Brand Images – Marketing Photography Case Study #3 – Florida Preparatory School

Florida Air Academy, soon to be Florida Preparatory School – Florida Air Academy is and has long been a prominent, historical boarding independent school in Melbourne, Florida that has a rich history of air cadet training alongside its highly international educational culture. Florida Air academy is in a transition to become Florida Preparatory School.

Challenges: There were several: First, where we typically capture live action, in this project a large group of student models was chosen and drawn upon for each shot, where each student was placed exactly and then coached in what to convey for each of the photos. The second challenge was to create a body of imagery for the school that took the attention off of the air cadet training and which put more attention on the international character of the student body, the curriculum and lastly their successful sports programs. Images needed to primarily concentrate on student interaction and closeups that conveyed intimacy in key spots around their picturesque campus.

Solution: For student classroom shots, we stayed very closeup to convey intimacy and emotional content, while when outdoors we opened the shots up to include the classic architecture and placed students where they would complement the surroundings. Although air cadets were still on campus, we shot ‘around’ them so as not to send that message that the school is an academy as it was in the past.

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Client Comment: “For 2 days, Bob led a large group of international student models around key points of our campus, indoors and outdoors, literally putting together and lighting staged shots in dozens of environments. The results were amazing – the shots looked natural, the kids looked engaged and authentic, and he delivered a library of images that will help us powerfully launch our new brand through a robust print campaign and new website. We finally got the images we knew we needed but had no idea how to produce ourselves.”

James Dwight, Head of SchoolFlorida Preparatory School

Marketing Photography Case Study #2 – Winters and Yonker

Winters and Yonker is a highly prominent Law Firm located in downtown Tampa that specializes in personal injury cases, and which has enjoyed for many years robust success behind a very comprehensive marketing and ad campaign that presents this firm as “The Aggressive Attorneys.”  This has served them very well, and you can’t travel far in Tampa without seeing their ads on billboards, bus stops, and many other outdoor display locations. This law firm is currently reworking its brand identity, although maintaining their ‘Aggressive Attorneys’ angle, and are soon to release a brand new website and identity. Winters and Yonker hired Thompson Studios (soon to become Thompson Brand Images! – Stay tuned!) to produce a series of portraits of the two partners in various modes and settings to align with their new brand.

Challenges: W&Y wanted portraits that said ‘aggressive’ but at the same time took a bit of the edge off of that stance, and presented them as compassionate, inviting and approachable. Due to

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the demanding schedule of the partners and associates, we only had a half-day session to produce all photos.

Solution: A half-hour scout of their offices gave us a tight game plan that included a series of headshots and portraits of both individuals and partner, with studio and environmental backgrounds as well as a series of ‘action’ shots that showed how the partners work and interact. A spontaneous opportunity to photograph one of the partners with an actual client presented itself, which drove home the concept of ‘compassionate, caring and inviting’ in a real-life image.

Client Comment: “We were unsure of how we were going to get the images we needed given our new brand angle, but Bob came in and completely knocked it out quickly, efficiently, and got the best out of our partners. Very easy to work with and we love the results.”  Anthony Raiano, Intake Coordinator, Winters and Yonker

 

Buddy and Lindsey – A Very Special Senior Portrait Session

As a photographer who has photographed literally thousands of high school seniors, there is one session that now stands out above the rest – my very own son’s session! Eric, affectionately known as Buddy, is about to graduate in June, so his girlfriend Lindsey, who’s also graduating this year, came over and we had the loveliest of sessions right here on our property. Now, as a Dad of a special needs boy, I’ve met and hung around dozens of kids and adults like this, but never, and I mean never, have I witnessed what Buddy and Lindsey share – a romance that, well, reminds of what romance really is. As for the resulting photos? I welcome any and all adjectives you’d like to share! Enjoy!

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