Photographer Charity Projects – Working with Models

I am currently working on my fourth Hope Calendar (my annual campaign to benefit charity), and in those 4 years I’ve learned that one of the most important aspects of the project is how you interact with your models.  From my experience, here are a few tips to keep in mind when using models for a charity project:

  1. You must have a model call (or casting call) and use it to its full benefit.  If you intend to raise money/awareness for charity, you must publicize what you are doing.  The greatest opportunity for publicity is the model call – it gets attention.  To some, a lot of promotion feels “uncharitable”, but in the end if no one knows about you and your project, no one is going to be able to support the charitable cause you are working toward!
  2. Request the benefiting charity help you publicize the model call (and the project). Their mailing list consists of people who already support the cause and who will be committed to making sure a project that benefits that cause is a success – even better because now they are involved in it!
  3. Do not use clients’ past sessions or pictures from your past work.  By selecting models you are working with people that are excited about being part of your project and helping you spread the word about it.  If you use pictures you already have on file you negate a BIG portion of your word of mouth – the models do not feel invested into the project or its success.  I am sure I don’t need to mention that this also pulls in new sessions for you – because wouldn’t that be nice?
  4. Decide on the number of models you want to use and whether to conduct full or mini-sessions.  A calendar, for example,  needs to fill 12 pages –  this would require 12 – 30 photos depending on how you design the pages.  You can photograph just what you need or photograph LOTS of models and conduct a vote to make final selections.

  5. Use an application – this is good advice for any model call but especially for a charity related one.  An application takes time to complete and ensures they really want to participate versus a post comment “hey pick me”.  My applications include the question “why would you like to participate” and asks for photos.  The fact that they take time to answer tells me more than the answer itself and weeds out a lot of people who answer casting calls just to get free pictures (surely you realize the “public” is keenly aware that casting calls = free pictures…)
    {bonus tip – decide how you will handle sibling applications.  I get tons of applications for 2 or 3 children from the same family, sometimes I pick both, sometimes I choose to only work with one}
  6. Charge for your model session.  Even though it is for charity, charging a “donation” for the session can give your project/charity a nice chunk of change or fund your project.  In my this money goes toward the printing of the calendar.  Bonus: charging for your session ensures again that they want to participate and are not just raising their hands for free pictures.
  7. Let them purchase prints. Even if you conduct mini sessions, be sure to get a variety of images so if they purchase prints they’ll have something to choose from!  For the benefit of my model release, I do give them a print for their participation (bonus tip – do NOT give digital images as their gift!) but they purchase additional prints.  A percent off makes them feel special and encourages an order, but that is up to you.
  8. Speaking of model releases… it is a requirement or they cannot participate.  Make sure yours indicates ANYTHING you might EVER do with that image.  You never know what might happen and you don’t want your charity project to suffer because one of your models balks at being used on a billboard or find yourself having to locate everyone involved for additional permissions when your work gets published unexpectedly.
  9. Give every expectation of your models upfront… model sessions are not the same as client sessions… you direct the session, not them.  If you need them to be photographed by July, say so in your application.  If you require a donation, mention that right up front.  If you need them to wear certain clothing or show up at a certain location, mention that upfront.  The model’s job is helping you to accomplish a charity project and they should follow your requests or not participate – but you should make those requests known.
  10. Give detailed instructions for the session. Unlike regular sessions, you might have very specific ideas for these images.  Give specific instructions.  “I need you to show up 10 minutes early to put on angel costumes.  Your child should wear a white thank top that is fitted, no shoes, hair left down, no bows in hair…” etc  This also helps the session go quickly.
  11. Family or no family? Decide ahead of time whether you will offer to photograph their family or other siblings since they’ll be in studio already.  This could mean portrait sales for you but your schedule may permit you to only concentrate only on models.
  12. Have a stated policy for re-shoots. Anyone can have a bad day – would you rather not use that particular model for your project or are you willing to re-shoot?  Who decides on whether the images are acceptable?  If you are doing a one day marathon for your models it might not be feasible to re-shoot later on.  But charity project or not, if a session does not go well the parents are going to ask when they can come back.  You need to have this policy written before it comes up so you can point to it when needed.  I’d suggest including it in their instructions for the session.  This does not have to be the same policy you use for your regular sessions.

Biggest tip of all… Have fun! This goes for you and for your models!  Especially with a charity project, you want the family to leave knowing they have participated in something special and that good feeling encourages them to let everyone they know about the wonderful project they are participating in!

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Debi Gomez owns Life’s Images Photography in Houston and is publishing her 4th annual Hope Calendar, a wall calendar she publishes and sells to benefit charity.   The first three years brought in over $19000 in donations and quadrupled her photography business.  To share this success with other photographers, Debi publishes a marketing guide and template, Charitable Marketing for Photographers, with over 60 files showing photographers step by step how to produce their own calendar.  Runner up in the 2008 AN-NE marketing awards, this guide gives photographers the tools to give back to the community while building their business brand and generating “buzz”.

You can follow Debi on Facebook – www.facebook.com/marketingforphotographers
or learn more info about Charitable Marketing at www.lifesimages.com/photographers