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|| News Item: Posted 2006-01-25

Pushing Pixels: Doing Good by Doing Good
By Reed Hoffmann, Blue Pixel

Photo by Reed Hoffmann

Photo by Reed Hoffmann

The Youth Symphony of Kansas City.
Every now and then you stumble onto something that helps everyone - one of those classic "win-win" situations. That's happened to me over the last few years through my son's involvement with the Youth Symphony of Kansas City. When Nathan first became involved in the group, we parents got tapped for various volunteer activities. I offered to help with any photos they might need to promote the organization. "Thanks, but no thanks," I was told, because they already had someone shooting group shots each year.

The next year, I got a phone call. They asked if I was still willing to help with the group photos. The photographer they'd been using was no longer available. It was the beginning of a great relationship.

What they wanted wasn't challenging. They asked if I could come to the holiday concerts for the half-dozen groups over a day or two and do shots of everyone on stage. I needed to set up my big strobes and shoot after their rehearsals, before the big concerts. They planned to provide forms people could fill out to order prints, collect those forms, call me with the order, and have me deliver the prints to their office where they'd sort them, print bills and pack and mail them all out.

Photo by Reed Hoffmann

Photo by Reed Hoffmann

Hoffmann offered to do portraits of any kid, with no obligation to purchase for the Youth Symphony of Kansas City.
I learned long ago that one of the best ways to get clients to love you is to save them time and trouble (and money!). I explained that I'd rather run all of this through a service like, which would take care of orders, billing and delivery. All Youth Symphony needed to do was put a link on its website to the gallery on Printroom. No more handling order forms, sorting, shipping and billing. They were shocked. They said they'd save about a week of office time. Plus, I offered to let them set the price for the photos, and they'd keep the profit. That's when they fell over.

Next step was to make better use of the time spent waiting to shoot the group photos. I already had the lights set up, so why not shoot photos during rehearsals? I asked if they'd like to have some photos of kids playing. "Are you kidding?" they responded. "We'd love that!" So I shot during the rehearsals and started thinking the parents would love to get their hands on these pictures, too. Easy enough to add a second gallery at Printroom - one for the group shots, one for the individual rehearsal shots.

Bottom line? The organization was thrilled. Group photos had never been easier, they made some money with no effort. Plus, they also got shots for brochures and programs. The parents were thrilled - they no longer had to try to shoot pictures of their kids performing, from out in the audience, and could easily get nice photos.

The following year, I realized I still had time on my hands on the concert days, and could offer the parents even more. I set up a small studio in the lobby, using a couple of Vivitar 283s, a soft box and one umbrella, with a background. I offered to do portraits of any kid, with no obligation to purchase. The parents loved it. I priced the photos very reasonably and made a fair amount of money from the sales.

Photo by Reed Hoffmann

Photo by Reed Hoffmann

Hoffmann set up a small studio in the lobby, using a couple of Vivitar 283s, a soft box and one umbrella, with a background.
This December was my third time shooting the Youth Symphony group photos, along with rehearsal shots and individual portraits. Being careful with exposure meant no adjustments needed in Photoshop. It took me only about an hour using Photo Mechanic to crop nearly 200 photos to 8X10 aspect ratio and save them out with the new crops. After that, it was just a matter of posting them to Printroom and setting prices. As an extra touch, I asked the Youth Symphony to email me the list of who's in each orchestra, and I added that along with the group's name, conductor, and a black border to each group shot. That took a bit more time, but made the photos more valuable and the families really appreciate it.

The Youth Symphony administrators are so happy they've already asked me to continue after Nathan goes to college (I will). The parents love the ease with of getting a professional portrait of their child and instrument (I get lots of nice phone calls). And I fulfill my volunteer requirements with the organization, and even make a little money (on the individual photos).

This is a recipe that many of you can follow in your communities. Find a group that needs some photography and offer to help out. A smart digital workflow and a website like Printroom make the whole thing almost too easy, and you'll be doing good while doing good.

(to see the Printroom galleries, go to

(Reed Hoffmann usually writes about digital issues for Sports Shooter. A newspaper photographer for over 20 years, he's now a partner in Blue Pixel (, a company that specializes in digital photography, training and workflow consulting. If you have an idea for a good column, please write him at

Related Links:
Hoffmann's member page

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