Reach Out and Touch…

Somebody’s hand
Make this world a better place
If you can

- Nickolas Ashford and Adele Simpson
Performed by Diana Ross

As photographers, we are bombarded with messages urging us to see the world through our own eyes, or find our “unique vision”. Apart from the photo club outings and occasional seminars, photography is primarily an individual pursuit. And as we all know from Diseases That Plague Photographers and other articles on Photography Life, photographers can be a bit consumed (ok – downright obsessive!) with their equipment, and have extremely strong opinions concerning it!

Along your photographic journey, however, I would suggest taking some of life’s detours, which include using some of your equipment and gifts to make a difference in the life of others. The opportunities are many and cost little, if anything, but can be worth their weight in gold to both you and those you choose to help. They also provide the chance for you to experiment and sharpen your skills in fun, low stress environments. Don’t be surprised if you experience some memorable moments along the way.

Don’t Leave Someone Out of the Picture

Whether it is a single mom or dad out with their child, a grandmother and her granddaughter, or simply a larger group, someone is usually left holding the camera, and thus missing from the photos. When people get back home, they have a slew of photos of one another, or nine of the ten people of the group, but not everyone together. When you observe such a situation, offer to take a picture of them with their camera (a good way to see quite a few camera makes and models, BTW!). Follow-up by taking a photo or two with your own camera. Why? Should someone have their camera settings in some odd state, you are not going to have time to figure out how to fix them given the myriad of unique menu systems and options associated with the plethora of point-and-shoots and DSLRs you are likely to encounter. But you should know your camera well enough to quickly change a setting or two and get a quality photo.

Naturally, you have to be a bit selective, lest you find yourself becoming the unpaid photographer on Washington, D.C.’s National Mall and not capturing anything other people’s family snapshots! But there are indeed plenty of opportunities to take a few photos for others without too much trouble on your part. I always carry 20-30 business cards with my name, phone number, and photograph websites. It is also helpful to have a small notebook with you as well, so you can write down people’s emails in case they lose your card and take notes regarding your adventures. Offer to send the digital images to those you encounter if they send you brief email indicating where you bumped into one another.

During one of our trips to Washington, D.C. a few years ago, I was milling about looking for a good angle on the Jefferson Memorial one morning when I saw a mom and her daughter fumbling with their point-and-shoot camera. I offered to take a look at it. Despite having a fresh battery, the camera apparently experienced an early death and wasn’t going to be of much help that weekend. Mom was clearly disappointed at the thought of not being able to take photos of her daughter during their trip. I offered to take a few photos of them with my camera. I took a few pictures and eventually sent them to her. It was easy enough for me to do, but I suspect it made a big difference to the mom.

Family at Jefferson Memorial

In the scheme of processing your photos, it doesn’t take much to do a few more and email a photo or two to those involved. Don’t be surprised to hear that your photo(s) turned out much better than any others taken that day (and they should if you know are a pro or serious amateur). And they will have something the others don’t – a photo of everyone together. Such opportunities can be fun for everyone involved, provide a few laughs, and give you the chance to share a lasting memory that may touch others in ways we can never quite measure. And it never hurts to attract a few extra visitors to your website as well.

“Excuse Me, But Can You Help Me With My Camera?”

I get asked this question quite a bit. During our long weekends to Washington, D.C. and other excursions, I often have two DSLRs and a white balance card dangling from my neck, a camera backpack, and occasionally sport an ASMP identification card. Given that I could pass for a walking advertisement for B&H Photo (or an example of someone that clearly doesn’t know how to travel light!), people often mistake me for someone that knows something about photography. So when things go wrong with their cameras, it is not unusual for people to make a beeline in my direction.

The stories are usually the same, “I can’t quite figure out how to turn on the flash”, “I just got this camera as a present, but haven’t had the chance to learn much about it”, “My husband couldn’t make it so I took his camera”, “I don’t know why, but it only seems to want to take black and white pictures!”, “I borrowed my cousin Vinny’s camera after mine broke, but it seems to work differently”, etc. Often I can figure out what to do quickly enough, since I have seen quite a few cameras in my travels (good training for future Mansurovs’ equipment reviewers!). But sometimes, the photographer wannabe has gotten their camera into some odd state that it can take me some time to resolve the issue. In summer months, the bright sun can wash out most LCDs, making it almost impossible to read the menu system unless you can get the camera into a shaded area. As such, I quickly offer to take a few shots with my camera and send the photos.

It was inevitable that when digital cameras first appeared, and morphed into specialized computers with shorter product lifecycles and increasing numbers of features, people would get a bit confused. This should come as no surprise, given that most people moved from VCR technology to DVDS and Blueray – without ever figuring out how to program the correct time on their VCRs! Even the cheapest point-and-shoot camera can be a bit daunting for the average person, who, unlike some of us that regularly pay attention (agonize?) to the more detailed aspects of our cameras’ operations, doesn’t care to spend much time learning, let alone mastering, the basics of their camera technology. Yet one more reason why smartphone cameras are replacing many point-and-shoots – they are much simpler to operate.

Whether I can or cannot resolve all that ails their camera in the few minutes, I will always take a photo or two with my DSLR, and hand them my card. I will usually get an email from them with a subject line with something such as “Confused in DC”, and a brief email regarding our bumping into one another. They are always appreciative of the help and the photo I send along. If the notion of helping others that struggle with their cameras seems a bit daunting or bothersome to you, think of it as, “performing mini equipment reviews under realistic field conditions”!

That Fortuitous Moment

Sometimes you take a photo of an individual or group of people that really touch you. I had one such moment at during our vacation in 2010. We spent a day in Colonial Williamsburg and decided to listen to a band named, “Slapwater”. They put on one heck of a show, and had people of all ages literally dancing in the street. I noticed an adorable little girl and her grandmother. Eventually, the little girl made her way out into the dance area. She was in pure rapture of the band and had the sweetest smile. I took a number of photos of her as she danced away with some of the other children.

My wife and I made my way over to her grandmother, introduced ourselves, and expressed how much we enjoyed watching her granddaughter dance. I gave her my card and offered to send her the digital photos if she would email me. Of the 50,000 plus photos I have taken in the last four plus years, the one that think of most often when I hear the word, “joy”, is the one below.

Wide Eyed Wonder

The little girl’s mom eventually emailed me and introduced herself. Oddly enough, my offer to send the little girl’s photos took on additional meaning, since in the email, the mother explained that her purse was recently stolen. In it was a camera and SD card containing all their family vacation photos. So it turns out that my photos of their daughter were some of the few they had from their summer adventures. If you are fortunate to take a photo of someone that touches you in some way, be kind enough to send a copy along to them or their family.

The Zen of Photography and the Rabbi’s Kids

Many people aspire to become professional photographers or earn a part time living from their craft. Before plastering our name and photos on the internet, however, it pays to learn the necessary photography, technical, business, and interpersonal skills some take for granted. The era of digital photography has ushered in a seemingly endless array of DSLR advancements and software programs that early photography pioneers could only dream about. But these same advancements and advantages can, however, also act like the mythical Sirens that seductively lured ships and sailors to rocky coasts. Whether out of self-delusion or naiveté, more than a few people have hung out the proverbial “shingle” of being a professional without sufficient experience in the areas of basic photography, technology, and business.

I once knew someone that attempted to pass himself off as a professional, but couldn’t muster a passing grade regarding his camera’s most basic functions. He simply didn’t invest the time to get to know his gear, and ensure that he could make the necessary adjustments in the field. As a result, he often complained of inconsistent results, blown photo opportunities, and a host of other issues all related to the lack of understanding of his equipment. Instead of inviting trouble by signing on for assignments he wasn’t prepared for, he would have benefited far more from doing some unpaid assignments, developing his skills, taking more time to become comfortable with his equipment,making some mistakes in lower stress environments, and gradually building up his confidence and contact list.

Kids Smiling

The good news is that you can learn such skills without betting the farm, and have plenty of appreciative subjects to practice on. Charity organizations, churches or synagogues, veterans’ groups, animal shelters, hospitals, as well as friends and family, provide great opportunities to refine our skills in a low stress environment. Such groups that run on tight budgets always appreciate those willing to help their cause. Some might think of this as “giving away” their talents, but I would urge you consider it “on the job training”, while also doing some good along the way. This advice doesn’t just apply to serious amateurs, however, but to seasoned pros as well. So why not experiment with that new piece of gear in much more relaxed setting by taking photos of your Rabbi’s or Pastor’s children? There is no shortage of such opportunities. Search for them and utilize them to become a better photographer. And in this age of social media, one never knows when a simple act of kindness or donation of one’s time can yield benefits beyond anything one can easily measure.

Who Photographs the Photographer?

The short answer is “no one”. Most photographers are on one side of the lens. Rarely, if ever, is someone angling a camera in their direction. When I am out and about, I will often make my way over to someone that appears to be a serious amateur or professional and strike up a conversation. At 5:30 AM on Washington, D.C.’s National Mall, they are not hard to spot! This is a great way to make some lifelong friendships and connections. If they live in the area you are visiting, all the better, as they can often be a great source of information regarding photo opportunities that might otherwise be hard to come by.

During one early morning jaunt in Washington, D.C., I came across a fellow photographer in the pre-dawn hours on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial. We chatted for a bit, and I asked him about some good references for photography. It turned out that he was in the process of writing a book on the very subject! We exchanged business cards. Sure enough, his book was released approximately one year later, and I bought a copy. It has been a great source of information. And while I can’t be certain, I believe he used one of the photos he took of the Jefferson Memorial that morning in his book, since the lighting and pattern of the clouds looks exactly like those I captured that morning.

So when you come across a fellow photographer, take a picture or two of them plying their craft and send it to them. Don’t be surprised if it they respond that the photo is one of the few they have of themselves behind the camera lens!

Photographer with 70-200mm

Expect the Unexpected

Sometimes my photos have led to some very interesting twists and turns. During another one of our weekend trips to Washington, D.C., my wife and I stopped by a political rally on the steps of the Capitol building. As I took a variety of photos of the colorful crowd, I noticed one beautiful young lady relatively isolated from the crowds. I later posted the photo on my flickr page. One of my flickr contacts, a soldier serving in Iraq, with a knack for taking stunning photos of the Iraqi children, noticed the woman’s photo, and sent me a message, “Hey, I know her!” I was floored. To think that I (from Pittsburgh) could take a happenstance photo of a stranger (from Oregon), during one of our weekend excursions (to Washington, D.C.), post the photo to flickr, and have one of my contacts half-way around the globe (Iraq) put me in touch with her? That is the definition of “amazing”…

Young Lady

Summary

It is easy to get wrapped up in our photography exploits, spend far too much time analyzing our equipment, and chasing down every new technology announcement. There is nothing wrong with any of these pursuits within moderation. But along the way, take some time to truly notice your surroundings and the opportunities to share a bit of your talents with others, without any expectations. You might be surprised at how your photography knowledge and skills, along with your sense of fulfillment, improves along the way.


Support Photography Life!

We constantly work hard on adding unique content, gear reviews and up-to-date photography news, in addition to continuously expanding the site with new sections and useful content. However, we need your continuous support to deliver the best content and allow our website to expand its reach. If you would like to help us out, please consider purchasing gear from our links to our trusted partners like B&H Photo Video and Adorama. It won't cost you anything, but it will help us pay our contributors, hosting and other expenses to run this website. In addition, if you feel like we do a good job, you can pledge one-time or monthly. We do not run any advertising at Photography Life to keep it clean for your viewing pleasure, so your support is extremely important for us to keep it that way.

Please see the Support Us page for our partner links and a donation form. Also, don't forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
Avatar of Bob Vishneski About Bob Vishneski

Bob Vishneski works in the media software industry and is an avid photographer. He has held management and technical positions during his career in such areas as computer manufacturing, imaging software and document management systems, enterprise systems development, and consulting. Bob rediscovered his love for photography in 2007, after picking up a Pentax K10D and realized that his background in the computer industry could prove useful in the age of digital photography. When he is not focusing on the challenges of the software development industry, he spends time traveling with his wife, Tanya, and family, golfing, and honing his photography and Photoshop skills. He is a member of the Pittsburgh chapter of the American Society of Media Photographers. Bob and his family reside in the Pittsburgh area. His work can be found at 500px.

Comments

  1. 1
    ) Pol

    Bravo!
    Thank you.
    A magnificent novel! Not only are you a photographer, and writer …

  2. 2
    ) Fernando

    Excellent post!
    And sometimes I would feel shy/embarrassed to offer myself, which is something I love doing… but from now on it will be different :). Thanks for this simple but extraordinary post.

    • Fernando,
      Nothing ventured, nothing gained? :) Good luck!
      Bob

  3. 3
    ) Mike

    Very common sense approach to improving what we imagine ourselves doing and inspiring us to keep moving forward and exploring our art. thank you

    • Thanks, Mike. Inspiration can come from many sources, often very unexpected.
      Bob

  4. Excellent write up.. We’re busy shooting at any opportunity & this is something to sit back & think

    • Prashanth,
      There are many “stories” happening around us. It doesn’t take much to tap into some of them during our travels.
      Bob

  5. 5
    ) Anthony

    Very nice…can you give us details of the camera and the lens you use when you submit such beautiful pictures :-)

    • Anthony,
      These were taken with a D300 and D7000. Both are much better cameras than I am a photographer! Given the advancements and quality of today’s crop of DSLRs, one can’t go wrong with any of the top choices in each of the camera categories – entry level, serious amateur, or professional. If you are going to invest your money – always skew your budget toward buying better lenses.
      Bob

      • 30
        ) Anthony

        Bob,

        I purchased a Nikon D200 with only one lens in 2007. It is time to sell the D200 for an upgrade. What would you suggest? D7000 or D800? I need a camera that will still be ‘great’ to use five years from now. What would you suggest I buy?

        I love to take pictures of the family at gathers, parties, church events etc. I consider it a serious hobby. I want to start with wild life and ‘architectural’ stuff.

        Since I only have one lens, which I will sell with the D200, I will need to invest into two lens. One for portrait with good bokeh and one for everyday family and gatherings. I will purchase Light room 4 for post processing.

        I can imagine my ‘dilemma’ is similar to many out there so an honest opinion will be appreciated – on behalf of all those who will benefit from it :-)

        Eagerly waiting for your recommendations…

        Thanks in advance.

        Anthony

        • Anthony,
          The D7000 is a tough camera to beat. I have to say that I am very impressed with what I have seen thus far regarding the D800, but I am also struggling with a justification for selling my D7000. I recently took a picture of the US Capitol building at night at ISO 800, handheld with a Sigma 17-50mm. From approximately 300+ yards away, and not even being able to see a flag in the photo, I was able to zoom in and count all the stars, and they were pretty sharp all things considered. I continue to be floored by the D7000′s sensor.
          Based on what you have briefly shared, I would recommend a D7000, a Nikon 16-85mm VR, and a Nikon 85mm 1.8. This combination would give you quite a bit of leeway for the type of shooting you mentioned. You could also substitute a Nikon 18-200mm VR II (for the 16-85mm), a sometimes maligned lens that I think is better than most give it credit for.
          Hope this helps. Let us know what you decide!
          Bob

          • 42
            ) Anthony

            Bob,

            Thanks for the info. Very educative and I am very appreciative of the effort you put to help me – the patience :-) Very grateful.

            Do you think the D7000 beats the D700? With the price drop, I am considering the D700 over the D7000. After reading Roman’s article “Is Nikon D700 Obsolete?” , my interest in the D700 has been ‘re-ignited’. Its cheaper than the D800 ;-)

            Given the choice between the D7000 and D700, which of the two gives better pictures in low lighting in situation up to 3200 or 6400 ISO? Which of the two will still give amazing pictures 5 years from today?

            P.S: I promise not to bother you again after this :-)

            Thanks in advance and take care …

  6. Excellent read. I agree with your recommendations of ‘learning on the job’. Highly recommend it.

    • Muddasir,

      Some have criticized the approach, indicating that it continues to “lower the bar” relative to the value of photography. But the simple truth is that in the last 12 years, since the introduction of digital sensors, the field of photography has undergone seismic changes. One of the unfortunate ones is that just about anyone with a DSLR can claim they are a “pro”! I have seen this quite a bit in the area of wedding photography!

      I once cleaned up the digital wedding photos of a colleague, only to be shocked by the EXIF data. Turns out the photographer had put the DSLR on “auto”, and used an entry camera and level kit lenses. While the camera was capable of taking good photos, it was clearly not meant for the job at hand. Most of the photos were shot at shutter speeds far too slow for the situation, resulting in a large number of blurred and grainy high ISO images. The couple didn’t have a single shot the creamy background that only a good wide aperture lens can provide.

      To add insult to injury, the photographer took well over six months to get the photos back to the couple. This “pro” would have been better off taking photos of animals at the local shelter until he knew what he was doing, rather than ruining a couple’s special day!

      Bob

      • Those who criticize the approach may already by seasoned photographers but for someone like me who is just getting their feet wet, its an excellent way to learn.
        THis past weekend I went and shot Japan Houston festival that attracts 25,000 folks with lots of folk dance events. I spent a good 4 hours there, took 1200+ images. I even took email addresses of interested folks and send them their pics. They put up my image on their facebook page and accredited to me. All of this was a learning experience for me as I had never shot an event before. At the end of the day, I can now study my images and see what I can do differently next time.
        I think this is a must for every photographer to go through this to see what the job demands.

        • Muddasir,
          This is a perfect example of how a good deed or two can yield benefits we likely couldn’t have imagined, including some great publicity, and an excellent learning opportunity! You never know how such opportunities might open new doors, either from a creative or business perspective. I am sure you had to find the experience very fulfilling. And if you are not having fun, what’s the point? :)
          Thanks for sharing your experience. ;)
          Bob

          • O yes. I had a blast. I also have sore legs, a pair of destroyed jeans as I crouched and lay on the semi wet grass before the stage, a tan. I slept for 16 hours straight once I gotback but boy it was the best time I ever had.

            • What is a pair of jeans compared to a lifetime of memories? :)

            • True that.
              PS: Waiting for you to post some more of your images on 500px.

  7. 18
    ) Phil

    Thank you sir. You made my day…this was the most inspiring blog post I’ve read all year from anywhere. Bravo!

    • Thanks, Phil. Just a few “tales from the road”! ;)
      Bob

  8. 19
    ) Leilani Paular

    Thanks for a great post. Whenever I am out with my family and see other groups of people (usually a mom and/or dad with 1 or more kids) with one standing out to take the group’s photo, I will offer to take a few photos with their camera. It seems such a small thing, but people always appreciate it.

    • Leilani,
      Good for you. It is a such a small effort but can sometimes make a big difference.
      Bob

  9. 20
    ) Matt

    Another wonderful post! This website was on my “must-read” list even before the new additions, but now it’s even better than ever!

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment, Matt. Glad you enjoy the site!
      Bob

  10. 21
    ) Amit

    Great pics and amazing stories behind them. You are not just a good photographer but also a gem of a person. This is definitely one of the most inspiring articles I have read on photography.

    • Amit,
      “Gem of a person”, might be a bit of a stretch, but thank you! :)
      Bob

  11. Just wanted to say, I have that same t-shirt as the lady in the last photo! (men’s version, of course!) Small world! :)

    • Alpha,
      And what a great shirt it is! :)
      Bob

  12. 23
    ) Martin

    Hello Bob
    you wrote a beautiful story and indeed, it is a gift to make a gift to somebody with a gifted photo taken at a unique moment

  13. 24
    ) Sid

    Amazing article Bob! I really admire you for your way of thinking as a photographer and your writing skills :) i think you have really changed the feel of this website with your articles. Kudos to Nasim&Lola for bringing you in! Looking forward for more of your articles… :)

    • Thanks, Sid. Glad you are enjoying the site!
      Bob

  14. 25
    ) Mike

    Thanks for the thought-provoking article!
    Seriously considering your recommendations on offering my free services to people/organizations in need.

    Anything to me a better photographer.

    Mike.

    • Mike,
      It is indeed a great way to get experience, recommendations, etc.
      Bob

  15. 26
    ) Mark

    Hi Bob,

    I went out this morning to get the sunrise and made a new photography contact.

    But when I saw a father take a picture if his 3 kids later in the day, I thought about offering my services but chickened out aggghh!!!!

    Well next I’ll man up and be more helpfull.

    Great post,

    Cheers Mark

    • Mark,
      Try again! I don’t recall anyone ever saying that they did NOT want their photo taken!
      Bob

  16. Great article Bob! I totally agree with you. I offer my photography services and skills free of charge to my friends,neighbors and relatives and have done so. I also have done a free photo shoot for the owners of a restaurant, my favorite local restaurant which I frequently eat at and I pay my food bill there. What I wanted more than anything is the experience of doing a shoot and also didn’t mind doing a favor for my favorite restaurant because I in turn would also gain some self worth,recognition and appreciation of others. I believe that some day a paying job or two might come my way perhaps by word of mouth and even if not,I will be shooting away doing something I enjoy anyway and enjoy my outcome/product of what I see hanging on my wall or in a portfolio.

    • Thanks, Bruce. It is often difficult to get experience in many fields, since you… don’t… well… have experience! ;) With photography, you can the experience by doing pro bono work in situations where people will appreciate your help. Many people get paid assignments as a result of someone being familiar with their work.
      Bob

  17. 29
    ) Shak

    Bob,

    Thanks for your posts on monsurovs on various subjects. I’m not an expert photographer but when I offered group of people to shoot them, I still remember how they appreciated and how they are happy to see all of them in their photo. I enjoyed all of your articles so far.
    I’ve off topic question request your response at your convenience. In your profile of 500px.com, can you please let us know what kind of skill and any software skills you applied for the following shot? I know street photography is very difficult and needs lots of patience and skill.

    http://500px.com/photo/5240001

    • Shak,
      Thank you. The picture in question was taken with a 24-70mm 2.8 if I recall correctly. Photoshop has a feature that enables you to produce a “zoom” effect from a point. I just lined it up on the face and hit the button. I have also seen people do something similar by focusing on a point and then rapidly zooming their lens. That takes some practice, though, so I the Photoshop approach was a bit easier in this situation.
      Bob

  18. 43
    ) Jane

    Thank you for your wonderful article Bob. You offer such insightful advice.

    Photography is my great hobby and I will never turn pro since I already have a busy career. I’m a pediatrician in a busy hospital and one of the ways I have fun at work is coaching dads to take pictures of their newborn (if all is well, of course). Often, the dad is standing there overwhelmed and forgets to take out the camera to capture the first moments of his son or daughter’s life. Sometimes they fumble around and can’t get the camera to work. If the baby is well and I’m able to, I take over and try to take some nice shots for them – something other than the standard ones everyone takes.

    • Jane,
      Thanks for sharing your experiences. There is little doubt that with the passage of time, people’s appreciation grows for the photos of such moments and those that chose to take them. Giving some photography tips to Dads sounds like a great way to relieve some stress and give some much needed advice! And one can certainly understand why camera settings might not be at the forefront of a Dad’s mind during the birth of his child! ;)
      Bob

  19. 44
    ) Marco

    This article was a game changer for me. Thank you for your inspired words.

  20. 47
    ) Sonia

    While reading this post I was muttering one line that, “Wow! this person is not only a v.good photographer but also a writer”. Really beautiful post, Bob! I consider myself a serious amateur (just returned from my homeland India) and will keep in mind your article. It’s shows your totally different approach towards life. :-) Thank you for wonderful writing!

    • Sonia,
      Thanks for taking time to write such an encouraging comment. Glad you liked it. Perhaps you will someday share a photo you took following some of the ideas? :)
      Bob

  21. 49
    ) Aiza

    Hi Bob, you’re article is awesome! the photos are beautiful. How did you learn photography? I couldn’t stop looking at the picture of the little girl in Colonial Williamsburg. I am sure that her mother was so impressed with your pictures. So beautiful!

  22. 50
    ) Neil

    This was very touching. Well done! :)

  23. Cute little girl. She is so adorable. No wonder why you and your wife got captured by her and you captured her photo in such a way that also captures our heart.

  24. 52
    ) VP Vaiphei

    Hi Bob,Nice photo as well as nice writing! Photos are exclusively good.I especially love the nice bokeh and the wide it cover in each photos.Here a full human length is covered with equal sharpness from the head to the foot.Can i ask what lens you’ve used here and one q-What lens shall i buy to be able to cover a full human figure with equal sharpness+nice bokeh? I currently own Nikon D5100. Pls advise me kindly.Thank you.

  25. Hi Bob! Great article. Very helpful. Bay the way, when and how do you ask them to sign a model release, or you don’t? I always feel shy for this approach. Thank you.

Leave a Comment

*