Taking the “Bah-Humbug” out of Donation Requests

by Wootness



“Tis the season… for shopping and baking and vacationing and celebrating… and donation requests. With the cover story that this is the time of year the budgets are set, but with the ulterior motive that the holiday season will put you in a generous mood – this seems to be the season for donation requests.

In the beginning, I donated to just about everyone that asked. I supported a variety of groups and organizations all in the name of some cause. I was sure this would be a win-win situation and wootness would abound.

Over the years, I began to notice that certain situations just didn’t work out well. Session certificates for raffles & door prizes were losers. I found better success with donating to fund-raising auctions, and the best results were from the live auctions as opposed to the silent ones.

Some groups were easier to work with than others. Some asked that the donation have a certain value. Most didn’t let me know who the end recipient was and hardly any wrote thank you notes. Sometimes the resultant session was a joy, sometimes it was a train wreck.

There’s been a lot of articles out there about how to choose who to donate to and what things work if you’re a photographer – that’s all been hashed out – so here’s just a few extra of my own personal pointers on the matter:

Don’t feel obligated to donate to everyone that asks. Pick the causes that mean something to you, the ones that are near and dear to your heart. So, if the recipient turns out to be a bit of a hassle or if the organizers didn’t get around to doing thank you notes, you’re not all bent out of shape about it. You don’t ever want to regret a donation. You may not love it, or even like it, but arrange it so you never regret it. You want to give from the goodness of your heart and feel good about it after it’s all said and done.

You don’t have to donate photography services. If a cause is holding a fundraiser where the audience just isn’t your target market, or you’re not in a position to donate a session, but you really want to support the cause, donate a tangible item, like a frame or a photo album, or just write a good old-fashioned check. Or here’s a novel idea, donate your time. Volunteer. You’re good for other things besides holding up a camera.

It’s called a donation, not a discount. For the most part, you’re probably going to be donating a certificate or coupon of some sort. I’ve heard a lot of variations on this and one thing I want to really drive home is that a donation is a donation. There should not be any strings attached and the recipient should have something tangible to take home. Donating a $50 gift certificate to your studio, when your minimum purchase/package is $500, will not endear you to anyone. Do not require an additional purchase for the recipient to walk out of your studio with something in their hands.

Do not upsell. The overall intent to upsell or make money off of a donation just makes me cringe. Donate because you want to help and not because it might turn into an income opportunity. Make your certificate good for a session and a product/package, go through the process, deliver the agreed upon product and shut up.

This advice probably won’t sit well with some – but think about this – if you donated a certificate for a session/package that was auctioned off – that new client has already paid a sum of money for what’s on that certificate. Now maybe they got a good deal and maybe they didn’t. I’ve had bidders pay more than the value of the certificate because they supported the cause and they wanted the certificate that badly. Any attempt at upselling to these folks is going to be offensive. They already paid. What they paid is not your business. The donation is between you and the organization, not you and the certificate recipient, so looking to the recipient as a source of income to recoup your donation is misguided and ill-advised.

Go above and beyond what you’ve obligated to. If you want to guarantee that a donation will be a totally win/win situation, go those extra steps to assure that your donated sessions are such a spectacular example in hassle-free customer service that the recipient is well pleased, and in turn tells others about their fantastic experience with you.

Now, go be merry and stuff!


The Most Honest Advice You’re Gonna Get

by Christine
Image: Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image: Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Not sure if ur willing to give me any tips but any suggestions would be great im gonna do some photography on the side to make some extra money and a better camera just starting this up im having trouble deciding prices on pics if u could give me some ideas that would be great
Its something I love to do


Dear Emmy Lou,

May I call you Emmy Lou? I don’t know your name since one wasn’t provided to me, so I’ll just call you Emmy Lou. That’s my cat’s name, but she won’t mind.

So, Emmy Lou, I think you need advice. And the advice I’m going to give you is not the advice you want to receive. But, it’s going to be the most honest advice you’re gonna get.

My advice to you is to forget it. Do not pursue photography as a career, even if it’s part time, on the side or on weekends.

If you want to take lots of pics with your camera and pursue photography as a hobby, that’s wonderful. Go for it and have a great time.

But honestly, Emmy, I don’t think you have what it takes to make money the right way from photography. And I’m certainly not going to encourage you to do it any way but the right way.

First of all, you wrote a professional photographer a letter using bad English, grammar, punctuation and spelling. This alone tells me that you probably weren’t a very good student and your writing and communication skills are probably not very good. It’s okay if you’re not perfect, but when you’re a photographer, you have to know how to write things very well. You have to communicate with your clients in emails and in advertisements, contracts, invoices and anything you post on the web. You can’t do that in the manner you used above.

Being a photographer isn’t just about taking pictures. You have to be a good student at a LOT of different things.

Seriously, there is no way to make money at this business unless you’re good at a lot of other things besides photography. You need to be able to set up a web site and write all of the content. You have to learn how to handle accounting stuff that will drive you crazy. You’ll have to keep track of every penny you spend and every mile you drive in your car. You’ll have to juggle your family schedule around your photography jobs and trust me, you will be working long after the rest of your family has gone to bed. You will have to be scheduler, accountant, driver, web master, advertising rep, marketing person and retoucher. You will have to pay for, and then learn some of the most expensive and difficult software I’ve ever come across. You will have to file legal documents, buy insurance and pay taxes.

Being a photographer is expensive and it takes up a lot of time. Before you go into business you will have to study and practice a lot. You will have to go to classes, and those aren’t cheap. I know there’s stuff on the internet, free webinars & stuff like that. Do not be fooled! You cannot learn to become a great photographer from the internet. Honest. And these days, even the greatest photographers are having trouble making ends meet.

Before you go in business, you will need to spend a lot of money. Don’t be tempted to do photography for people until you have the right equipment. You’ve already admitted you need a better camera, why in the world would you be wanting to set prices on pics at this point? What you need depends on what you are trying to do, but rest assured, you will have to spend thousands and thousands of dollars before you even start worrying about prices.

Before you go into business you will have to be a VERY GOOD photographer. Please don’t be fooled by your friends and family who will tell you very nice things about your photography. Of course they will say nice things. They love you. But for the most part, folks do not have natural talent and it must be developed and honed with lots of work. Please don’t think you’re the exception to the rule. If you were, you would have known it by now, and would have been plucked from mediocrity and placed into the public eye by someone greater than yourself.

Also, don’t be thrilled with the compliments you receive on your photographs of flowers and sunsets. As someone told me recently “Mother Nature’s parents don’t pay very well.” A love of nature photography does not necessarily translate well to earning a living. It also doesn’t mean you’ll be able to take good photographs of people, and people are what you need to know how to photograph well. They are more likely to be your clients than the rare calendar company who buys 12 nice nature photographs a year, you know?

And don’t be fooled by photographers who travel around and tell you how wonderful it is to be a photographer. They have lots of city tours and sell CDs and have a huge fan page on Facebook, right? Stop and think for a minute. If photography is such a great career for them, why are they traveling around like this and selling stuff?

You may have heard the advice to put your best foot forward. I’m sorry, Emmy Lou, but you did not put your best foot forward, and what little you did put forth was not enough to convince me that you are serious enough about photography to give it the time and attention it needs and deserves to become an income source for you.

That was pretty harsh, huh? I’m sorry about that. I just don’t know how else to say it in a manner that isn’t going to give you false hope.

The truth of it is, photography looks really easy, but it isn’t. It’s hard and expensive and unless you are the very best photographer you can be and constantly work hard, you won’t have much of a chance of being successful.

You go right ahead and try to prove me wrong, but I’m going to predict that if you decide to go ahead and go into business, you will start taking photos for money before you’re ready and you’ll sell them for somewhere in the $35-$50 range. You won’t get a business license or pay taxes. You’ll most likely get some clients, it seems like all folks in your situation do, but in the end, after working too hard for too little, you will understand why I’m saying what I am.

So, save yourself a lot of time, money, heartache and headache. Keep it as a hobby. Period. Don’t take money. Ever.

 Christine’s Final Thoughts:

At first, I thought this letter was a joke. And I laughed. And then I got pissed. And then I was just sad.

I think these days we need to be a lot more honest with some of the new folks out there. This is a freaking hard industry to earn a living from. And the waves of folks pinning their hopes on photography as the easy road to fame and riches with minimal effort has got to stop. Stop blowing smoke up people’s asses and start telling the truth. There’s not really a tactful, PC way of telling this truth. That’s not permission to be mean, it’s permission to be honest, with care. Most of the time, you’re probably going to be right, but if you inspire someone to prove you wrong, how bad is that really gonna be?

Bullies on the Competition Playground

by Christine

There’s some crap going on out there that disappoints me, greatly. Through my involvement in print competition I’ve met many photographers whose work I admire, highly. And for along time, I admired them highly, too.  But over the years, I’ve observed some behaviors and heard some words from those I admire that didn’t reflect very well on them.

When a photographer is honored, with either an excellent score, a ribbon or an award, they’ve earned it. Under the rules in effect and the discernment of the judges, it is rightfully theirs. Let them cherish it and be proud of it, just as you would.

This isn’t the time to mutter comments about “luck” or “paid re-touchers.” It’s not the time to insult the intelligence of the jurors. It’s not the time to accept your 2nd or 3rd place trophy with anything less than a smile.

Image Competition helps raise the bar in photography and you should be proud that your peers and colleagues are part of that process.

There’s a few photographers out there with chips on their shoulders, a few that don’t deal well with some of their local competition and a few that just can’t handle not winning all of the time.

Stop it, just stop it now. Deal with whatever your own personal angst is, but don’t vent it against your fellow competitors.

I recently learned that a competitor I know received an anonymous email from someone trying to undermine the joy and importance of  an award that the competitor received.

Seriously? This is what we’ve become? A bunch of 6th graders pushing each other around on the playground and slipping unsigned notes through locker vents?

I’m ashamed. And angry. One sour grapes-filled photographer made all the rest of us look bad.

 I apologized to the competitor and I can only hope that this incident doesn’t prevent further competition participation.

Cut the spoiled-rotten crap out. We’re supposed to be grown-ups. Professional ones. Act like it.

Know When to Quit.

by Christine
A light meter. If you had to look down here to see what this was, we need to talk.

A light meter. If you had to look down here to see what this was, we need to talk.

#15 in the series, 30 Ways of Wootness.

Sometimes you just gotta say “eh, screw this!” and take your attention and energy to something else. You’re gonna try some stuff that you wish you hadn’t. Some stuff is gonna seem like the best idea, ever. Until you do it.

You might get a brilliant idea for a 30 series column and stay excited until the daily readership dips to 5 before you’re willing to hang it up and cancel the series. Hey, networks do it all the time, right? You might have another brilliant idea for a mini-session that turns out to be way more work and higher COGs than your normal session. Oops, time to revamp the pricing on that. Over time we make decisions or begin projects that turn out to not be the stellar idea we originally thought.

You know what? It’s no big deal. We focus that energy elsewhere, somewhere that’s going to give us a better return on our investment.

Is there a dead horse out there that you’ve been beating? How many years have you donated your services somewhere in the expectation that the gig would eventually pay off? If it hasn’t, time to get rid of it and explore a new option. Is there a type of photography that you really dislike, but still accept appointments for? Stop it now!

Stop wasting non-productive energy. Make room for positive change. Quit the stuff that needs quitting.

Shoot With Purpose & Refine Your Workflow

by Christine


#14 in the series, 30 Ways of Wootness.

One of the early lessons I learned was about overshooting. Oh. My. Gosh. My early years where one hour sessions resulted in 400 captures kept me busier than I wanted to be on the computer and session proofing became a chore I greatly despised. I don’t know what the heck was wrong with me, but I wound up with 6-8 shots of each variation of each post. What a horror! In the beginning, I remember being hard put to come up with 50 proofs. Oh man. The memories are bad.

But, over the years, I’ve vastly improved, so the number of viable captures has increased, but I’ve also started shooting with a purpose. I will refine the pose, background, lighting etc before I push the shutter at all. It results in way less images captured per session, but darn near 100% are saleable. It results in less images to cull through for the final selection and the opportunity to present the best of the best. Less work, less stress.

In order to keep myself in-check, I use 2G cards for my sessions. They only hold 120 or so images from my camera, which is way more than a one hour session should result in using the shooting method I now employ. If my camera stops shooting because the card is full, I know I’m overshooting. 2G cards help me reign in my “spray and pray” tendencies, you know?


Shoot for Fun!

by Christine
copyright christine walsh-newton

copyright christine walsh-newton

#13 in the series, 30 Ways of Wootness.

While I’ve been on my Facebook/online break, I’ve done some extra things with the time I’ve saved. One of those things was a session just for the heck of it. I wasn’t trying to learn something new, I was just having fun with Amy, an old friend visiting from out of state. She had recently celebrated her 2nd year as a breast cancer survivor, so we had an afternoon of shopping, sweets from the bakery, chinese food from the deli, some local wine and a session in the studio just for the fun of it. I only wish I had thought to take one of us together. Oh well, maybe next time.

So, put all the stressful stuff aside and make time to just shoot something for the fun of it. This was pretty much a spur of the moment idea a few days before hand, so it doesn’t have to be elaborate. It was a lot of fun for me and reminded me of what a joy this profession can be when I forget about sales, marketing and some of the other not-so-fun parts of being a photographer.

Take A Facebook Break!

by Christine
image courtesy concordiatheology.org

image courtesy concordiatheology.org

#12 in the series 30 Ways of Wootness.

Yes, I’ve been missing in action. No, I did not get banned from Facebook. Yes, it just so happens that Facebook had me under a 7 day restriction (not allowed to send friend requests or PMs to people I didn’t know) because someone reported that they did not know me outside of Facebook when I friend-requested them. Yeah, whatever, like we all personally know every single person we friend request. Whatever. I’m over it.

But, in the midst of all of that, I was already on a self-imposed Facebook restriction. As of 8AM on Friday, March 29th, I decided to go offline as much as possible and just take a break. I found that I was letting things I read on Facebook hype me up. I was getting angry, sad and frustrated with a lot of what I saw scrolling through the news feed. And I asked myself, “What do these people matter?” These people, most of whom I don’t know “in real life”, that Facebook introduced me to, who says I’m not supposed to be friends with them, well, heck, maybe Facebook knows what it’s talking about, you know?? 😉 I was letting their political, religious and sometimes just stupid rants and stati updates throw me into a tizzy.  Time to nip that in the bud.

So 17 days later… where am I?

Oh my gosh. I am so de-stressed, it’s a miracle. My work is caught up, my house is clean, my office is clean and Christine is a happy camper. I have found so many more hours in my day that weren’t there before. I still catch myself doing a quick catch-up with friends via the smart phone, but the hours and hours I spent online with the laptop have been greatly reduced.

So, try it. It’s brought me more Wootness in 17 days than I’ve had in the past year.

Stop Breaking Your Studio Policies!

by Christine

wootness062#11 in the series 30 Ways of Wootness.

You know, there comes a time when lines are pushed and tweaked and bent and flexed and finally… they’re crossed. And you just gotta say “I’m sorry, that’s against studio policies.”

And that shall bring you Wootness.

You designed your packages and pricing around your financial needs and goals. There are certain costs you must cover and overhead must be accounted for. The next time you discount a package for someone, remember that. You have a reason for your pricing, and it’s valid. If you tweak things for one person, you’ll wind up tweaking for everyone. That’s a decision you are going to regret.

The same goes for your hours of operation. Perhaps you’ve decided that Sundays are for family. Period. Then for crying out loud, don’t shoot on a Sunday when asked. If you start making exceptions now, you’ll make them down the road, too. You may as well have saved the time you spent deciding on your business hours.

If you only shoot a certain type of photography, you have definitely made a conscientious decision, as those choices are not made lightly. So, if you don’t photograph newborns, don’t be tempted to bend your rules just this once for a friend. What, do you think it will come out better for a friend than for a complete stranger? What exactly is the mind set on that one?

If you went so far as to develop policies, guidelines, pricing menus, etc. for your studio, stick to them. Do what you say and say what you do. That’s just good common sense and will serve you well in the long run. It will lower the amount of stress in your life and enhance your Wootness quotient.

Learn to Say “No”

by Christine

no#10 in the series, 30 Ways of Wootness

Today’s WOW is brought to you by Martha Stewart. Sort of.

The other day, while I was futzing around with the living room, I accidentally put together this NO. Mr. Wootness noticed it, mentioned it, and as I was on my way to retrieve the items and deposit them artistically elsewhere, I changed my mind and decided to leave it that way as a reminder.

I need to say “No” way more often than I do.

One of the first things I began to say “no” to were requests for donations. Oh my gosh, when I first went into business I was inundated with requests for freebies for charities. Gift certificates, sessions, etc. That’s dwindled off. I assume it’s because I started turning down these requests and was removed from the “sucker” list, or more likely, because there are 30+ other photographers in my area that can be hit up, instead

I decided that each year I would choose a non-profit agency to help. And that agency must be one I was familiar with. Right now, Hospice is on that short list because of the care they helped my husband’s family give his parents. There are a few other agencies I would help, if asked, but for the most part, I turn down these requests.

One of the reasons is budget. There’s only so much free stuff I can give away before it starts impacting my bottom line. So, there’s a budget in place and once I exceed that, I’m done donating for the year.

Another reason is that sometimes the “winners” of the donated item are not clients that I normally would get. If the item is “won” in a rafle or door prize situation, it will be valued way less than an item that they bid on in a live action. Sorry, folks, but silent auction items aren’t that cool, either. So, you’re much more likely to get a donation for a live auction that is well publicized. At least I’m guaranteed that the client coming through the door has attached a value to what I donated and they respect my work and time. That’s WAY less stress than the other type of client and is much more likely to bring me Wootness.

Things I need to learn to say “No” to:

  • Requests for types of work that I don’t do
  • Requests to shoot session on days that I am closed
  • Requests from friends that ask for something outside of what I give clients
  • Requests for my time that will be uncompensated

So, what it is that YOU should learn to say “No” to more often?

Make Time for Guilty Pleasures

by Christine

1570936-10-1344975554509#9 in the series 30 Ways of Wootness

Yep, the secret is out. I watch Grey’s Anatomy. I really don’t have all that much time for television shows, but ever since season 1 of Grey’s, I’ve been a pretty regular watcher.

So, what does that have to do with anything?

Because of my business and the schedule I keep, I regularly miss out on fun stuff. I made it a rule a long time ago that every television season I would pick out ONE series and make the time in my schedule to watch it. And that time was sacred. One hour a week that, without fail, would be mine.

So, Thursdays at 9PM EST has been my little oasis of selfishness since 2006.

Now, I’m not a die-hard fan and don’t go crazy if I miss an episode, but I make sure, as much as possible, that I am available on Thursday evenings. It is the only day/time that I will turn down a photography gig. Even when I shot evening events in the past, Thursday evenings were off-limits unless I could get home by 8PM or so.

Yeah, that’s kind of stupid, but I don’t care. In the grand scheme of things, nothing will happen if I miss it. I can catch up with it online if that happens. It’s not so much the show, but the fact that I have carved out a space in my schedule for something that brings me pleasure.

So, if you have something that brings a smile to your face, make time for it. Make a regularly scheduled date with yourself and don’t let photography interfere with it.