After a little more than a year since our first photography workshop in Iraq, I have the honor to announce that The ONE-SHOT Project will have its first international exhibit!
The show is called “Developing Change”. We are not alone in this show, but are in good company with other wonderful humanitarian initiatives. Check out the attached image with their project names.

This exhibit will be hosted at the drkrm gallery in:
933 Chung King Road
Los Angeles, CA 90012

If you live in that area, love photography, and want to support our kids, please pay the gallery a visit. Please let me know if you can make it!

Thank you.


A New ONE-SHOT for Me

We just finished up the last two workshops for this month at ONE-SHOT–Iraq, and I’m already feeling sad and somehow empty. This might sound really crazy, but that may be one of the reasons why I love this project so much.

This was our second time running these photography workshops for children in Iraq, and the more I spend time on this project, the more I believe in it. It’s not even a year since we started in September 2011, and we have already witnessed an artistic/photographic growth in the students from last year. And we’re talking about students with an average age of 14! I can’t even imagine what they could be capable of when they reach 18. Well, that will be part of the challenge for the years to come; to stay close enough to the students so they can keep growing at their craft, as well as providing the necessary tools to become professional photographers in Iraq.

This past month, we carried out three different workshops, instead of just one as in 2011. We were running for most of those days, but with a group of foreign instructors and local volunteers, we were able to pull it off. We had a level 1 and 2 for the children at the local orphanage (same place we held a workshop last year) and a level 1 for children that work in the local bazaar (market).  Those children participate in activities at the STEP Drop-in Center (UK based NGO in Iraq) on their breaks from work.  For three weeks these children gave up their breaks to learn photography.

This year we had about 30 students total! Last year we had about half of that number. And the more we work with different children, the more I tend to believe that many of them are wired  to be some sort of artist, and in this case photographers. The problem I see is that possibilities for them are shrinking instead of expanding. I knew this was going to happen.  Their reality is what it is–it is their present, and it will take time for them to find purpose in photography or any other art. It will take time for families/relatives to understand that, it will take time for a society to start giving them a real opportunity or job at this craft. So my hope is to keep insisting, to keep pushing forward, to keep providing these opportunities through workshops, and to keep putting tools (gear) in their hands. The GOOD thing here is… they are starting to believe that they can! They are starting to believe that it’s possible and that they can count on us to keep fighting for their dreams.

As the title said, this is a new ONE-SHOT for me, because as I keep working on this project, I also realize things about my own passion, vision as a human being, and as photographer. I’ve been through a dry season, with no real inspiration for the past 4 months or so, doubting almost each step in life. I guess I still have to struggle a long way before that season is over. But there are things that are getting clearer to me too…

I love this project. I’d like to find more time for it, so I will make that happen with my humanitarian job. I’m looking at the idea of creating a type of photography “club”, so these kids can keep growing without waiting another 6 months to have a next class.

I love photography. That love keeps growing. I think the time has come to step in with everything I’ve got. So I may become a full-time photographer in the near future as well. We’ll see.

I love that my whole family is involved. Although it is hard at times, I think is worth the risk. I see how my family is getting “extended” somehow… we find new family members in the people who work with ONE-SHOT as volunteers. Elsbeth, Erin, Agnes, Zhila, Sarmad, Nawraz are a few of the names that my sons are calling “aunt” or “uncle” these days. We find new family members in most of our students, who graciously accept my own kids are their buddies.

Okay, no more words. Here are some images I collected during the past few weeks. To see the work of the students, you can either go to the ONE-SHOT blog, or stay tuned with my blog… more is coming.




This is just the beginning!

For the last couple of months, I’ve been involved in the most ambitious project ever in my life. And that also involves my family as well. I once blogged about it here, Photography for Good!, and today I want to share with all of you the very first fruits of our work at The ONE-SHOT Project. Enjoy it!
Thanks for all your support specially to the ones that have helped, donated and volunteered for this cause.

See the following video.

ONE-SHOT – 2011 Workshop Iraq from Heber Vega on Vimeo.

What do you get when you mix Iraqi students and volunteers from four continents with donated digital cameras, classes and photo walks? You get a set of remarkable images, three months of fun, and a lifetime of memories.

The ONE-SHOT Project staged it’s first workshop in the fall of 2011, in Sulaymaniyah, northern Iraq. The volunteers brought instruction in photography. The students brought an incredible eagerness to learn. And together they all learned a different way to see the world.

Photography: Heber Vega and ONE-SHOT Students.
Production: Oscar Leon.
Ukelele Smile
By Robert Critchley and Brent Robitaille
Copyright 2011
Used by permission.


Photographers – How to work with NGOs?

At Sulaymaniyah bazaar by Heber Vega

© Heber Vega | At Sulaymaniyah bazaar, Iraq. One of the last antique cleaners.

In my first day of blogging again I got two interesting emails, one about some images I had taken at local universities in Iraq and the other one about questions on how photographers can/should work with NGOs. I was planning to write something else for today, but it will have to wait, as I think these are important questions to share and discuss. It will be great if you can add your thoughts or experience on top of what I have answered below. That will help with this project.

Please take my answers with a grain of salt, because they’re only my opinion and I don’t have a PhD on this issue (not yet though ;-)).

I’m not going to reveal the name of the person who wrote that email to me, but I’m going to show you an extract it:

“In my final project, I have decided to go in a strange direction. I am going to be focusing on how professional photographers help and aid NGO’s. Because of my budget, I am sticking close to home, in Cape Town. I am researching how photographers go into NGO’s and take photos, thinking that they are helping but ending up not really grasping the feel or idea of the NGO and not really being able to deliver the right photos.
Things like the attitude of photographers or NGO’s have a huge affect on the photos. Also, being overconfident can ruin a relationship, from the sides of both parties. But, at the same time, researching the effects of right attitudes, ideas and heart can go a long way.
I was wondering if you could answer a few questions for my project.”

Here are the questions:

1. How can a photographer impact an NGO with their skills?

I’d say you could make an impact with NGOs, but go beyond your skills (assuming you know how to use your camera) with your own vision as a photographer. What I mean by this, is that there are many photographers that can get a good shot, a well done photograph of that x NGO project, but what can really set you apart from the rest is your inner vision. The why you do the things you do. Examples are your approach, your way of treating your subjects, etc.

Photographers that have worked on social projects are better suitable for NGOs, as they know how those things work. They have been there before. They understand the challenges for NGOs. So when you add to that a passion, for let’s say, humanitarian issues, then you have a plus for that NGO.
Why? because you both are on the same boat.

2. What do you think are the negative and positive experiences that NGO’s have had with photographers?

Usually miscommunication, not understanding of what to expect on the job, limited budget, and zero art direction from the NGO on the shoot are usually the negative side of things. The positive experiences relating to photographers, are that take more than photos, they try to understand the NGO’s need and at the end they come up with advice into how to use those images and other “consulting” practices. They become a consultant instead of just a photographer. They share their knowledge and art in the job.

3. What have been some Issues that you have had with NGO’s?

I think I pretty much answered that in the last question.

4. What are the expectations of an NGO with a photographer?

Really, unless it is a very important (large) NGO, with experience in these types of jobs, most of the NGOs don’t know exactly what to expect from a photographer. They don’t know the way photographers work and usually they don’t usually know what to do with the images taken for the job. Some of them come with a clear idea of some photographs they may want, but they don’t realize that a photographer can sometimes assist them with a better way of portraying the subjects or need.

5. What are the photographer’s expectations for NGO’s?

Well, to help to arrange the vast array of details that are part of a shoot. Have clear communication. Respect the value of the images by respecting the rights and copyrights of them. The clearer the vision of the NGO, the easier the job for the photographer.

6. What are the biggest mistakes a photographer can make?

Not investing time in understanding their client’s need. Not being respectful. Not having sensitivity for cultures and the differences that may arise on the job. Not being flexible or easygoing with things.

7. Do photographer’s attitudes affect their photos?

It depends. I’ve seen great photos from not nice photographers. I think the problem is more about getting hired again by the same people, about trust and building relationships. For sure you will miss other pending shoots if you have problems with your attitude. The nice, kind photographer get those shoots again and again, and every time with a better/deeper impact on their subjects.

8. What are the mistakes you have made?

Uff. Many of the things I have mentioned already.

9. What key points should a photographer take into consideration before agreeing to assist a NGO?

Starting with, “Who pays what?” and going until, “Who gets the future rights of the photographs?” and so on. It’s like a normal contract, – you need to think that unthinkable things may happen. Because of this, you have to revise a couple times. You learn with time and you can always update your contracts ;-).


Photography for Good! The ONE-SHOT Project.

© The ONE-SHOT Project | Shot by Heber Vega

I’ve been waiting for quite some time to write about this project. First I was waiting for the wonderful community at IGVP to launch their website back in July, and then because I was really busy working my last month in Iraq. I could hardly wait to be back in Chile to blog about it. But now, after 6-7 weeks in Chile, I’m finally able to start blogging again and I want to do it with this project because it’s a big part of my heart/vision.

If you have been following the blog at you are probably aware of this idea, as they were the first place to write about The ONE-SHOT Project. In fact, this project wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for the inspiration coming from those guys. Back at the beginning of this year I was chatting with Mario Mattei and Matt Brandon about an idea they had for a project like this, but in another part of the world. They were talking about donations of cameras and gear in general, in order to provide a group of children with the wonderful gift of learning photography and visual arts. At that time my family and I were looking for an opportunity to develop a similar idea with the children in Iraq, specially the ones marginalized from the local society. So as you can see, it was a perfect match.

So what’s the idea behind this project? ONE-SHOT is a project created for economically, physically, and socially disadvantaged 10 to 17- year-old Iraqi adolescents that are living in unfavorable conditions, without an opportunity for a decent life. At the same time, The ONE-SHOT Project is an initiative designed to create new visual communicators devoted to peacemaking and breaking down stereotypes by displaying the beauty and dignity of Iraqi cultures.” If you are interested in finding more about “Our Mission” you can clic at that link.

Now I want to share some thoughts I had back at the launch of ONE-SHOT’s website. This is so you can better understand our heart and possibilities for this project.

Don’t forget to check the blog at ONE-SHOT as we have some important updates coming. Also, you will find social media links to follow the progress of this project. Finally, you’ll find a link where you will see ways to Get Involved with ONE-SHOT.


Something that you’ve probably been wondering about is, what about the children who will be selected to be part of this program. Who are they? How are you going to select them? Who is going to select them? The truth is, I’m wondering about the answers to some of those questions myself.

It’s not that we don’t have a clue about how this is going to happen, it’s just that we haven’t started yet, and we’ll probably have to wait until the beginning of next year to really do this part of the project. The question is, what are we going to be doing in the next few months then? Well, first of all, we are planning to work on the ideas that we already have for this project. Let’s see, the team members behind ONE-SHOT have been here since 2003 doing humanitarian projects, so by now we know a couple of things about Iraq and the needs of its people. Still, we have to explore the different angles that this project has.

The one thing that’s very clear for us, and also the reason behind our name, is to be able to provide one shot, one opportunity, one chance for Iraqi children who are struggling with just living. Throughout this project we hope to find the children that haven’t been found by other initiatives, that haven’t been helped by the system, the ones left behind. The case of the “untouchables” in several places around the globe is well known. Some people here are just that; people with the same desires that every human being has. We believe that there are children in Iraq that are not being given the same opportunities as the normal children in the rest of the country. These are the best candidates to be part of this initiative.

When Mario Mattei from IGVP proposed this project for us to do in Iraq, we thought about teaching visual arts to normal Iraqi adolescents, giving them the opportunity to be exposed to the wonderful profession that photography is. But that didn’t totally satisfy my heart. You see, for years I have been wondering about those without privilege in this part of the world; those who are part of our society, yet not. I think in this case, ONE-SHOT is going to be an act of redemption from our “norms” to the underprivileged children of the world. What if one of these children receives a normal education? What if they are exposed to art? What if people care about them? What if they receive an unexpected gift, a heavenly opportunity to improve, to get out… these are some of the things that I’m wondering, but with the certainty that our project will work!

Why? How do I know this will work? Because we have nothing to lose! When you are at this stage in life, then there’s only one thing that can happen, and that is to win, to stand up, to progress; you got my idea, and probably you have been there as well.

During the past years in Iraq, there are groups of children that we have seen who live in adverse conditions. We have been in refugee camps, with dozens of children not attending school, among other things, with no other expectation than to receive help. We’ve seen children living in poverty, again, with no other expectations than just to have something to eat the next day. Lately, we have been exposed to the reality of big communities living in violence, with clans and gangs killing each other, raping, and other criminal things. What about the children there? Are we going to watch this happen on the news? Let them grow and become the next in the line? We have also been exposed to children with physical disabilities, some of them are not able to talk, or move, but, are they not worthy to try photography? Can they not communicate by images? They are mentally OK, so why are they being treated as if they can’t? They definitely need a chance! We have worked a couple of times during the past few years with the only group of orphans that we have in this area. They are just incredible! I have the best memories from playing with them in our past programs, and I told them I was going to look for ways to help them in the future. Well, here we are in the future. This group has no family, in part because of the years of war and suffering in this country. What if, some people in a different part of the world started a project to help these groups? What if we give them tools to live decent lives?

Are you excited? I am! I just want to start soon, but I know we have to wait until we have gathered the resources to do this well. First, we need the tools (cameras), and then, the most difficult part, select the kids that are going to be part of our first year, the first stage of ONE-SHOT. I hope to have you around during the next few months. We’ll be sharing all the info that we’ll find, including the advances and challenges. Help us in whatever manner you can by occasionally checking out this page. Let the children of this project surprise us! Let them teach us one more time that we are still human, that we have the power to love and to provide redemption to certain unjust situations in this fallen world.

Heber Vega, founder and director of ONE-SHOT.


How NGOs can use the images that Photographers produce! (5 ideas)

"The Iraqi Girl and the Center"

© Heber Vega | Iraqi girl sitting outside of an International NGO's center.

[May 20, 2010]

Have you visited any NGOs websites lately? What about other non-profit organizations? Have you found anything interesting? Aesthetically pleasing? How about their photographs? Do you think the non-profits are really putting their voice/cause out there in a way that causes you to engage only with visiting their website? Do you think that’s necessary for them nowadays?

We all know that NGOs, non-profits, and charities, are important, not because of what they can display on their website, but for what they can do on the “field”. There’s where the need is, isn’t it? Correct me if I’m wrong, but if the voice of that cause is not getting out, how is it going to last? What’s going to happen with what they have built?

Jeremy Courtney, CEO from the Preemptive Love Coalition, a non-profit organization working in Iraq, had some comments about this issue in our first 10.Q Interviews. He said some things that were Spot On. Let me share a few of them:

“If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

“Many NGOs don’t necessarily know what to DO with an image that they value immensely so that it will bring about a monetary return that will justify having spent hard-earned donor dollars on the photographer/image.

…not knowing how to leverage a phenomenal photo into funding for the people we exist to serve. Many organizations have great photos on their hard drives. Big deal. If an NGO doesn’t have someone dedicated to marshaling photographic fodder into a targeted message and call to action, then the NGO is no better off for having paid for (or simply snapped themselves) the highly impact-full photo.

So let me go out on a limb here for this photographic community. If you want smaller NGOs to pay for your services as a photographer, I’d guess many, if not most would be more willing to invest in the photographer who can help us take the beautiful image after all is said and done and leverage that photo into funding. The photographer with the biggest social network, direct mail list, blog following, and the best strategies to help me do that is the photographer who gets my organizational money.” [read more on Jeremy's comments]

Motivated by these words, today I want to speak to the NGOs, charities, and non-profits and give them some ideas on what to do with good photographs. How they can improve/boost their marketing by using good imagery. Please, photographers, feel free to borrow these ideas and present them to your clients. We can all benefit by doing this, can’t we?

First of all, I want to thank some photographers that have shared ideas and thoughts, on how to promote the work of NGOs through photography, by doing that we hope NGOs would be more open to hire good photographers. These ideas have been tested and they have worked!. Thanks to: Gary S. Chapman, Matt Powell, Mario Mattei, and Karl Grobl. These guys responded to an Open Letter that I wrote for NGOs and Humanitarian Photographers.

So let me give you some ideas. Let’s start.

Idea number 1: Start a photo blog and try to publish big photos.

You can share what the Boston Globe has done to share the latest news through only and most exclusively, photography! It’s called The Big Picture. Gary S. Chapman commented that he has challenged those organizations to track the website stats for a few moths to see if the well-tagged and captioned images don’t bring in additional traffic to their main site. He added: “Consistent blogs that are well crafted ALWAYS bring more traffic.”

Idea number 2: Go for Brochures!

Not a new idea, is it? But, what if this time we make it with good images; images that can captivate the viewer and make the people actually read the brochure. You can describe the benefits, services, donation opportunities, and values of their organization. Karl Grobl said, “Brochures are probably not cheap to produce, so it makes sense that if you spend lots of money on brochures, you really need good high quality images.”

Idea number 3: Make an Event,

An exhibit or art gallery per se. Gather all the important people that you want to support your wonderful initiative, and amaze them with a good photo essay projected on the wall. Have prints hanging everywhere, with a video and photography that can summarize what you do on the field. Invite the photographer behind the shots, so that he also invites his own fans to participate on your initiative. Invite the press don’t forget about them!

Karl Grobl told me: “Remember Compelling imagery is powerful… Do you remember Steve McCurry’s Afghan girl? That single photo raised millions of dollars. Here’s a quote from National Geo, “As soon as people saw the story, they asked what they could do to help. National Geographic put up money and matched the funds that were sent in. We’ve raised, I think, more than a million and a half dollars for the cause so far.” You see, a picture is worth a million words, and perhaps a million dollars!”

Idea number 4: Tell Stories! According to successful humanitarian photographers, “It all comes down to story, not pictures. Putting pictures ahead of a good plan can be wasteful. Great pictures aren’t enough. What story are you telling? Who are you telling it to? Does it speak well to that audience? Then, what are you asking them to do?” Think about creative ways to tell your stories, to let the people know why is so that your cause is so important.

Idea number 5: Make a Book! Nobody would reject a nice looking coffee-table book. At least I won’t! These books are very popular and people don’t get tired of buying them. There main purpose is decoration, so try to make multiples designs, colors, textures, stories, etc. At the moment, I’m working for a client and helping them to create their first book. It’s not about their project, but the people they work with. I’m planning to travel to the locations where they currently work and shoot portraits of the people there. You see, nothing fancy, but always compelling to see!

Those are just some ideas to keep you busy for a while.  I will try to post others in the coming weeks or maybe some other topics that can help to promote your world-saving initiative. Your work deserves the best, so please invest in it. Hire a good and smart photographer who can help you to meet your vision.

““If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

One last thing – don’t underestimate social media. Bring people around through social media, and then people will hear when your tree falls.



Conclusions, Tips, Resolutions on Pro-bono work!

Iraq Dinars, bills - Third part of Trilogy on Pro-bono

Time to take a stand! We can’t continue to ignore this situation (I don’t want to call it a problem). I believe as photographers we have to have an opinion about pro-bono work, and reasons to either do it or not. If you don’t understand what I’m saying, then you should go (back ;-)) to the last two posts of this issue. Read them and then come back here…

Why we should not do pro-bono work
Advantages of working pro-bono

Today’s post is a mix of resolutions, advice, and links to keep you reading and considering this topic.

I have to say, though, that my opinion about pro-bono is a not a black & white situation, where you pick one side and the other is totally excluded. I’ve learned that in several situations in life, the answers are found in some middle ground or better said, “In the balance.”

Here are the two statements (the most important ones for me) that led me to my decision on how to address pro-bono work in my life.

1. I believe that working pro-bono can bring down the value of the industry… IF… it is done with NO purpose.

Why do you want to do pro-bono work? Is there a concrete reason? Is it part of your vision? If your answer is ambiguous, meaning that you do pro-bono work because you don’t know better, or because you think it is always “good” to do, then I have a problem with that type of approach to working pro-bono. I’m not going to re-write all the reasons why, read my first post. But, I can say that if you don’t pay attention to the reasons for doing pro-bono work, then the market goes down, the NGOs sticks to getting everything for FREE, they don’t look for a photographer that knows how to tell their stories, they’re missing opportunities for fundraising, and probably bringing down the quality of their imagery as well. Again, this will keep happening if we do pro-bono work for no apparently reason, with no purpose.

2. I believe that photographers should help and do pro-bono work… IF… there’s no other choice for the non-profit organization.

There are tons of causes out there with no money at all, and with a handful of volunteers trying to “save the world”. Well, they deserve the work of humanitarian photographers. They deserve good photography to tell their stories for FREE! Again, free from their end, but at a cost to the photographer involved.

It’s because of these two statements that I believe we should “balance” pro-bono work on our lives. We can’t simply reject it or totally embrace it without making distinctions about these two statements.


A Situation: As I said in the second part of this trilogy, most of the non – profit organizations in this world have a budget that covered their expenses and salaries. Not all the money that you may donate for a cause goes to the people in need. Sometimes, depending on the organization, a percentage goes to cover all their expenses. If you see that the non-profit is able to rent nice houses, have cars, cover airfare to their workers, receive good salaries, etc. I don’t see the reason why I should do my work for free! There’s no point in doing that, and the non-profit only keeps growing, not putting value on the work that we do and/or on the photographs that we shoot.

There’s even another class of non-profit outfits that work based on getting grants or projects, where donations or donors are not the main income. In these organizations, the value of a photograph is only for reporting back to the grant/project giver, and, of course, for propaganda. Sure, these organizations do a great favor to the world, no doubt about that, but they have better resources to pay for your work, and as they hire consulting firms for their projects, they should invest money in their imagery!

Tip: Next time when you approach a non-profit, make time to understand the ways they are supported, see if it is based on donors, grants, projects, depends on the local government, is part of an oil company that wants to do good, etc.

Tip II: Next time when one of their reps approaches you asking for pro-bono work, ask why, and then nicely ask if that person is being paid for doing their job. If the person volunteers for their cause, then it earned your respect right there, but if not, then they will understand why they need to pay for it. Most of the time they only need to be educated and see the advantages of photography for their cause.

B Situation: I hope that you have been working with signed contracts until this point.  If not, this is a great time to start. Not because you have decided to work pro-bono, but because without one,  you and the NGO have no responsibilities. You should talk about expectation from both sides, and what the outcomes of this work will be for both sides. Also, you have to understand what will happen to the rights of your photographs.

Are they going to be used only once by the NGO? For a lifetime? Can you post them in your blog? Can you sell them as stock? And so on.

Tip: Read this article written by Matt Brandon “Don’t be an Ass, get a contract.” You will find why is so necessary.

Tip II: Retain the copyright of your images and the right to market those images to other clients. That’s a good way to stay in business.

C Situation: Every time that you think about pro-bono, even if you are starting out and desperately need a portfolio, think of ways where both of you can get something back, a win-win situation. You have to be creative and remember that to help them out not necessary means to work for free. Remember, you are still giving your skills for this cause. I’m going to give you some examples where you and the NGO can both have revenue:

TIP: Offer an exhibit, where people can donate to the NGO, who gets to tell their story while you sell the prints.
TIP II: Make a book where the profits can be split both ways; you and the cause.
TIP III: Make calendars, post-cards and all sorts of stuff where you and they can show your photos and their cause all together.
TIP IV: Make a workshop among their workers to teach them how to take better photos.
TIP V: If they can pay Airfare, or bring you to the field, ask for an extra day or two, all covered, and use that time to build your portfolio stock.


1. I won’t work pro-bono, with the exception of working for the organizations that cannot afford my services (Situation A) and that I also believe in their cause.

2. I will try to find/pick one of these humble organizations every year, so that I can help them with my photography and consulting.

3. If I accept a pro-bono work, I will try to find ways for the organization to somehow pay for my services (Situation C), because I believe that creates intrinsic value.


I hope this Trilogy has helped you to better understand the world of non-profit organizations, the pros and cons of working pro-bono, and that finally you can adopt a resolution for yourself for future offers of pro-bono work. The most important thing is to study yourself, your passion, your vision, and go for it!


The Advantages of Working Pro-bono

Faces on the Iraqi Dinars

© Heber Vega All Rights Reserved | Iraqi Dinars - Pro bono

[May 10, 2010]

If you thought that I was totally sold out on the idea of never doing pro-bono work, you are wrong.

After posting “Why we should not do pro-bono work,” and as the second part of this trilogy, today I’m going to promote pro-bono work, so I will highlight the advantages of doing so (Yes, there are pros!). Now, before I start writing these reasons down, I have to tell you that in the next and final part of this Trilogy, I will explain what I’ve have decided to do in respect to this Issue, and I’ll share some good ideas that I have learned as well.

I hope this series can contribute to you making up your mind about this dilemma. So, in the near future, whether you say yes or no to working pro-bono, you are going be able to understand better, what it takes, what it implies, and what the consequences of doing so are. Let’s get started then!

1. Pro-bono helps to build up portfolios.

This is probably the number one reason that I’ve heard from photographers, especially the ones starting out or trying to create a “name” for themselves in humanitarian photography. Just to give you an example, all the comments in favor of pro-bono work, from the first post of this trilogy, were all about building up a portfolio. How can you show your skills if you don’t have photos on the topic? That’s what is behind this, and I believe in this point, because it’s important to have a portfolio to speak for you (That’s why I’m building mine at the moment ;-))

At the same time, think of the “rights” of your photos.  Most of the time in a paid assignment you also sell the rights for using those photos. Most of the time you are not allowed to use those shots that you loved for personal use because now they belong to this non-profit organization. But, if you shoot pro-bono, you have the option to make it clear (we’ll talk about this next post) that these shots can be used for personal use, or in your portfolio.

2. Pro-bono provides experience.

As you can take advantage of pro-bono work by building up a portfolio, you can also get a lot of experience by working for different non-profit organizations in different locations and/or circumstances. This will prepare you for once the paid assignments come. Experience is very important for getting jobs.  It’s totally different to tell a client, “This is my first job… I will do my best”, compared to, “I understand… yeah, I’ve done that type of job in the past. Yes, I know how to deal with that”. Do you see the difference? Building up experience is a real asset!

If you go pro-bono, try to take as much experience as you can from each assignment. That will help you to be better prepared when similar situations arise in your paid job.  Also, you can better understand the “inside” of NGOs and charities, you get better at knowing how to handle a contract, for example, and what to ask before taking the next assignment. Remember, being a successful photographer is not just about the talent and the skills, but learning how to run a business.

3. Pro-bono keeps you away from becoming a robot

We are still human beings that are “moved” by people’s needs. That compassionate feeling is what we see as an option for helping others. One of the questions in the Humanitarian 10.Q interviews is an assumption that every humanitarian photographer is not there because of the money. As we want to make a living in this field, we also want to do good things, we want to help out; we want to help to hear the unheard ones. David duChemin said in his 10.Q Interview that humanitarian photography on a broader scale “is creating images used to move the human heart to broader issues of justice and compassion.” If you have lost sight of this, you are becoming a robot. I think it is great to get involved in a cause. I’m not talking about an assignment, but to give up some of your time, your life, just to help others less fortunate than yourself. And, if you are a photographer, why not give what you know best?

There are many non-profits that don’t have, and probably never will have a way to hire you. Are we going to let them down?

Are we going to let the money decide if we can help or not?

I’d say: “If we dare to use the word “humanitarian” as a description of what we do or what we are, then we have to live up to it!”.

4. Pro-bono is a good place for Creativity

This goes along with points 1 and 2. I’ve read that professional photographers, really successful ones with great jobs, still practice pro-bono work.  Do you want to know one of the reasons? (The main one in some cases?)   It freed them up to do other types of shoots that are not allowed in the type of photography that allows them to make a living. These photographers, most of the time, have to shoot the same thing again and again. Why?  Because they are good at it! Sometimes there’s no room for creativity, at least not in the personal and experimental way that they would wish. So how can they do that; by working pro-bono. They look for an assignment where they are free to experiment, they contact that person/group/cause and they go for it!

Somehow, this is another way of building up a portfolio or getting experience.

5. Pro-bono helps your marketing.

I wrote a while ago about cause marketing, because today, that is a reality for photographers. Long ago, companies learned that being associated with a good cause could also help them with their marketing strategies, providing them with more customers and better sales. According to Wikipedia, 89% of the population would choose a brand that’s associated with a good cause over the rest. Think about it!

If the word gets out that you and your photography are supporting X cause, and that it’s an important cause, you will attract new visitors to your site; you will get to places that you didn’t without that job. Social media is in the middle of all this. Many non-profits can help you find new customers once they start talking nice about you. Of course, your photography is still very important, but don’t overestimate what people or the classical “word or mouth” can do to your business. Good NGOs are always in partnership with others; they all like to be connected; so if one of them highlights your work, don’t be surprised if the other ones start to call you, and for a paid job!

There’s a lot more to be said, but I’m running out time… sorry.

Please, let us know what other advantages you see in working pro-bono, what you have seen in your experience.

Be ready for our last post on this topic, probably before the end of the week. I will share more links and my own impressions on this issue.



Why We should not do Pro-bono work

© Heber Vega All Rights Reserved | "Iraqi Dinars..."

[May 4, 2010]

Since I started to play with the idea of becoming a photographer, the question of doing pro-bono work has been an issue that I haven’t been able to address. For long time I didn’t have a concrete opinion, or let’s say, I didn’t pick a side. Now, through the Internet, I’ve found people defending pro-bono work, with good reasons, and others opposed to it, also with really interesting thoughts.

After having some time to chew on this issue, and after having done my research as well, I have come to my own conclusions that I want to share in a trilogy of articles. Today I have posted “Why we should not do pro-bono work.” In a couple of days I will post “The advantages of working pro-bono,” and probably next week, I want to share my personal conclusions as to what I’ve learned in this process and also some links where you can continue exploring this idea.

Before giving you reasons for not working pro-bono, I have to add that, as humanitarian photographers, we have to be ready to respond to this question. Be sure, non-profits will come your way asking you to work pro-bono. What’s your answer going to be? What are the pros and cons of working pro-bono? Am I helping to bring down the market? Am I harming the full-time photographers? Do I need a contract in cases like this? Are all the non-profits a charity as well? These are some questions that we’ll discuss during this trilogy.

Today, for no apparent reason ;-), I want to share the disadvantages or cons of working pro-bono. The list is not in any specific order of importance:

1. Pro-bono work brings down the value of the industry; it harms the marketplace.

This is probably the number-one reason for the opponents of pro-bono work. Their argument is simple.  if you give the option to a non-profit organization whose resources are limited, to choose between a paid photographer or one that’s for free (on their end) then most of the time, unless they value quality over price, they’re going to end up accepting the photographer for free.

With time, these organizations get used to it and they only look for free photographs, even though this could mean, mediocre images.

The people in this side of the fence says that the market is going down, among other things, to people that charge little or nothing.

2. Pro-bono devalues the importance of photography for non-profit organizations.

Let me put it this way, not all the non-profit organizations are charities. They work as a business, with the difference being that they cannot as a finance balance, go to profit. They have employees to pay, cars, rent, phone, Internet, website, airfare, consulting companies, etc. So why do these other topics deserve a budget but not photography? People see in this behavior, a “devaluation” for good images. If they value it, why is it not part of their budget?

Working pro-bono maintains this tendency among NGOs.

Matt Brandon gave us this example in his 10.Q Interview: “If I have a costly camera and have no earthy idea how to use it and just keep it on my shelf, then I don’t value it for what it can do. If I truly valued the camera I would read up on how to use it and make it pay for itself. But the reality is if while going into it, I don’t know how to use it, not see it’s potential, then I don’t value it and would never buy it in the first place”.

In the last 50 years or so, we’ve had several examples of how images have made a difference, raised awareness of a situation, or simply raised millions of dollars in donations. Images are powerful, but non-profit organizations need to be educated in this.

3. Pro-bono work sometimes promotes mediocre images.

While this depends very much on the photographer that’s working on the assignment, we can say that, most of the time, pro-bono work is seen as a favor, not as a contract.  More often than not, this affects the “severity” or “professionalism” of the job. It’s hard, from the employer’s side, to be demanding on the “volunteer”.  At the same time, volunteers, sometimes, are not fully committed to the job, because they are not paid to be.

On the other side of the coin, if you’re being paid to do a job, your reputation, career, and income depends on your performance.

In the end, we come to, “You get what you pay for”.

4. Pro-bono sometimes decrease the quality of images

This point is directly related to points 2 and 3. Most of the photographers doing pro-bono work today are photographers only starting in this business. They haven’t been around situations and experiences as the seasoned professional photographers have. Most of the time they don’t know how to address the needs of the NGOs, or simply don’t know how to tell the story behind the cause of the organization.

When you pay for someone that has been working in the industry for a while, you can be sure he/she knows how to do the job.

5. Pro-bono can harm your business plan

Usually when people speak about pro-bono, they automatically refer to it as working for free. But, as others have said before, this is an illusion, because “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Someone always has to pay the cost of it.  In this case, not the organization, but you, the photographer. You are giving time, expenses, materials, photos, etc. So, before you start taking pro-bono work, think about it and see if you have the resources to pay for it.

6. This is where you chime in… I want to leave space to comments. Feel free to comment on this issue and make your respective questions. In a couple of days we’ll talk about  “The Advantages of working pro-bono,”  and next week my own impressions and decision. (Plus links to keep reading)



10.Q Special Edition: Marco Ryan & Focus for Humanity

[March 26, 2010]

Today we have our first 10.Q Series Special Edition. Let me tell you about it…

Usually in 10.Q, we feature full-time photographers that specialize in Humanitarian photography. Soon, we will also have a different 10.Q Series based on Travel/Cultural photographers.

But now, I have the honor of introducing you to not only a new and great photographer, but also to an exciting new organization/foundation that he represents. The photographer is Marco Ryan, and the foundation, which will launch in a few weeks, is called Focus for Humanity. I have the privilege of being one of the first to announce this innovative foundation online and, as I am sure that it will quickly play a pivotal role in supporting the careers of travel and humanitarian photographers as well as under funded NGOs.

If you are a photographer and have a great heart for humanity, but are short of funds or don’t know how to take it to the next level, then you should check out this interview.  If you are a new or under funded NGO wondering how you can afford a top travel or humanitarian photographer, you’d better check this out also…

Because this is a Special Edition we have mixed some of our normal questions of the photographer with some additional questions regarding the Foundation

Please, tell us what you think about Marco and his initiative.

1. Tell us about you and your photography. What kinds of shooting have you done? Have you worked for any humanitarian organizations/magazines etc.? Could you name any current or former clients?

Perhaps differently from other photographers in your interview series, I don’t make my living from Photography. It is a full time passion, but for me it is more way to unwind, to explore my more creative side and more importantly it is a mechanism to experience the different cultures and ways of life that I see around the world. I am fortunate that I live in Egypt and my work as an eCommerce and Digital marketing strategist provides me with endless travel opportunities.

Most of my focus is on people photography and their environment  – which fits into what some call travel or humanitarian photography, but for me is perhaps better captured as world or cultural photography, although recently I have also started exploring landscape work. If I do get approached for paid work, then I tend to refer it to more talented photographers who make their living from this type of photography. There is sadly not enough paid work to go around, and I would rather that those who have devoted themselves to this full time benefit from this, rather than someone like me who is just thrilled to have an opportunity to be somewhere with a camera taking pictures.

© Marco Ryan |

2. We all know that you don’t get into humanitarian photography to become rich, so what does humanitarian photography mean to you? What’s your vision for it?

Firstly I think that this type of photography – irrespective of which label you put on it – is vastly under appreciated. The ability to capture in an instant an emotion that conveys a story is not just a question of being in the right place at the right time, camera in hand. Humanitarian photography is about relationships, trust, story telling. It is years of experience, of immersion in different cultures, of mastering the technical craft all mixed together when the shutter button is pressed, which requires a level of dedication and commitment from the photographer. Typically those successful in this field mix their compassion for humanity and a real desire to make a difference by visual storytelling, with the ability to market themselves and manage clients well. It is an unusual blend and difficult to achieve the balance.

Secondly I believe that with the increase in conflict, strife and natural disasters around the world there is a regrettable but increasing need for great visual storytelling. Whether it is natural disasters such as Haiti or Chile, or man-made disasters caused by religious conflict or the abuse of children or woman, there are still stories that need to be told to help raise awareness. Images – whether moving or still – tap into our emotions, and create for us a far deeper connection with the story as a result. I just wish that those that used these images – news organization, magazines, websites etc – shared this belief sufficiently to pay properly for the images they use. A new Foundation, The Focus For Humanity, will aim to help address this misconception.

What is Focus For Humanity?

Focus for Humanity is a grant giving US Based Not for Profit organization, that provides grant to help humanitarian and travel photographers (whether full time or hobbyist) to perfect their craft and to use their visual story telling skills for the good of humanity. It makes sizable grants on an annual basis  through online photographic competitions. It also provides significant quarterly grants to subside workshop place and mentoring  classes with leading full time photographers such as David duChemin, Matt Brandon, Gavin Gough, Edoardo Agresti, etc. FFH also works very closely with IGVP – and some of it s grants will only be open to member of the IGVP community – (which is open to anyone to join).

Our mission is to be an efficient and innovative fund raising foundation that helps globally to promote, support and match humanitarian and travel photographers to NGOs and other humanitarian causes that need their story told. We run the organization online and over 93% of our money raised is redistributed as grants or scholarships. As our donations exceed our target, so we will look to offer additional grants and scholarships.

Who is FFH for?

The short answer is The photographic community. The slightly longer answer is 5 distinct groups within that community:

a. Those photographers wishing to turn full time that need some extra help to make that final leap to “Professional”. The help might be financial, grants for equipment, subsidy for travel, a first client, mentoring or business advice – or some combination of these

b. Already established full time travel and humanitarian photographers that have a project that needs funding – this would typically be to shoot humanitarian stories for underfunded NGOs. We cover all the assignment costs and provide some business mentoring to both photographers and NGO

c. (Under funded) NGOs looking to find funding for an assignment and looking to find a photographer to undertake that assignment.

d. Members of the Photographic Industry – Equipment makers, Camera makers, bloggers, trainers, educators who want to get involved and be an active part in helping humanity through photography. This can be in the form of support, sponsorship, time etc

e. Members of the Photographic community who are passionate about photography, hate paying tax and won’t mind  giving a small donation – as little as the equivalent of a couple of latte or a tank of gas – which is then tax deductible.

What will the website offer its members?

There is really no membership per se. The website does 3 main things:

1. It allows anyone to make a donation in under 2 minutes. This can be as little as the equivalent of two lattes ( $5) on a one-off basis or monthly giving basis or as much as $20,000. We are happy to take either or anything in between. As a launch promotion anyone giving a donation of over $500 dollars will automatically receive an original , signed Gavin Gough print – itself worth $250 (whiles stocks last).

2. Photographers wishing to win one of the grants or scholarships will need to register. This will then give them one-way-access to our Photoshelter account, where they will be able to upload  a small portfolio of images, as well as a small synopsis of why we should win.

3. NGOS looking to be the recipients of assignment grants or looking to work with Scholarship winners will need to register so that we can ensure alignment in terms of vision, ethical code and to best to use the type of scholarships we will be potentially allocating to them.

4. Access to discount on kit and gear from our sponsors for registered members.

Joining FFH

When the website launches in April, they just need to sign up. It is free. When they are ready they can then enter one of the quarterly or annual competitions. One thing we are asking everyone to do is to help to spread the word. So anyone that joins we would encourage them to tweet, share on Facebook, blog and ideally make a donation  Although that is not obligatory and nor will in increase or decrease their chances of winning.

Where did the idea come from?

The idea for Focus For Humanity occurred when one of our founders, Marco Ryan, discovered the blog of Mitchell Kanashkevich at a time when Mitchell was sharing his struggles to afford a Canon EOS 5D Mk2 – the very body that Marco had just purchased. The coincidence made him sharply aware of the inequity: here was someone more talented and deserving going without.  Although well known as a difficult industry in which to make a living, travel and humanitarian photography attracts some of the finest photographers working today, producing some of the world’s most compelling images.

Surviving as a professional photographer is tough. Practitioners need to find the time to market, network, publish and explore their vision as well as travel and work on assignment. The Internet, with the increasing influence and reach of social networking sites and blogs, combined with the sophistication of digital cameras, has reduced the barrier to entry in an already competitive field. Successfully making the transition to full-time work as a photographer is frequently the result of one final boost over the hurdle: maybe something as simple as a workshop, the chance to travel, advice from an experienced mentor, the right new gear, or the recognition that comes from winning a competition. Focus For Humanity is designed to provide that extra boost.

That timely camera purchase, combined with our awareness of the need for more voices in humanitarian endeavors, led us to act: to create Focus For Humanity. We hope that our vision will inspire you to act, too.

© Marco Ryan |

6. Who’s been an inspiration for your photography? How do you stay inspired?

Do you read blogs? If so, which ones would you recommend?

I am an avid reader blogs and rely heavily on social media – especially Facebook and Twitter – to remain connected with many of the great photographic talents in the field. Thankfully many talented photographers also subscribe to this approach that makes it easy, wherever I am in the world to stay keep up to date. I have many of the traditional roots of inspiration: Steve McCurry, James Nachtwey, Richard Avadon But more recently, as I have been working on the foundation, I have forged relationships with some brilliant, talented humanitarian photographers.

I would urge your readers to at least explore the following great photographers (in no particular order!) Tom Bourdon, Esther Havens, Gavin Gough, Edoardo Agresti, Mitchell Kanashkevich, Matt Brandon, Ami Vitale, David duChemin, Karl Grobl, Tim Humble, Gary S. Chapman, Chris Orwig. I have a list of them that you can follow easily on twitter. Just go to @marcoryan and subscribe to he the NGO-Humanitarian Photographers list.

7. How do you normally approach people from other cultures? What are your limits at the moment of shooting people in need, or in a complicated situation?

I have 3 techniques I sue. The first  was re-enforced to me recently by Ami Vitale. Slow Doan. Get to the location  early – maybe a day before – and wander around, ideally without a camera. Talk to the locals, sit, observe, become part of their world. When you return with a camera you have already broken that first hurdle. The other version of this is to return to the same place again and again. I People start to accept you as part of their world and not see the camera.

Secondly I always carry a small Polaroid Pogo printer, which allows me to print a small credit card sized image there and them it gets over the awkward request for money, always bring s a smile to their face, and often leads to invitation for tea, a meal or to sit and chat – which is when the real storytelling begins.

Thirdly, I never take  pictures of someone that does not want their picture taken I never exploit the trust between photographer and subject. It might be a nod , a phrase in the local language , or showing them some images on the camera  or an iPhone and then gesturing tot take their picture. Nearly every time I follow this approach, I am invited to take their portrait – images that as a tourist or snap happy photographer I could never get.

8. How do you promote your work?

I don’t really. I write a weekly – sometimes twice weekly blog; I use Photoshelter to display my galleries, which has superb Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tools that help people using Google to find me; I update to Facebook and flickr groups and sometimes I leave a blurb book of my work with someone, if I think they will show it others.  Locally, I go back to a shoot location with some postcards made from the image and distribute those. It’s amazing however those are the most effective!

© Marco Ryan |

9. Tell us about the last piece of gear that you deemed important enough to buy. How about the one that’s been most important in your career? (It can be a lens, camera, accessory, etc.)

The last piece of gear I bought was a Spider Pro-1 Camera belt. It is an amazingly secure mechanism for a camera that sits on a waist belt and has been tested extensively by someone I trust, Karl Grobl. My last “holster” based solution resulted in a broken camera and lens!

10. What would be your advice for a photographer who is just starting out in this field?

Follow your heart. If this is your passion and this is something that you really want to do – to live the dream – then go for it. Don’t let anyone stop you. But do be aware that this is not a path paved with gold; nor is it an easy path. It requires determination, resilience, self-belief, compassion and integrity.  The reward is being to help others less fortunate and to earn enough to make a living in doing so.

Secondly – get a mentor. Build a relationship with some already in this field through social networks, a Focus for Humanity grant, or your  own endeavors. Use that relationship to help you .

Thirdly it is not about the gear. Some gear is important, but it is more about your ability to build relationships, to tell stories and to use your craft to take compelling images. To quote David duChemin; “Gear is good, vision is better”.

© Marco Ryan |


Now is your turn to talk…