Giving Back: How Pro Bono Work Opens Doors to Pro Assignments

Giving Back: How Pro Bono Work Opens Doors to Pro Assignments


New Jersey commercial photographer Ron Wyatt is wise and strategic. Wyatt has had an illustrious 30+-year career covering the NBA, NFL, MLB and Beijing and Athens Summer Olympic Games. His photos have appeared in USA Today, Black Enterprise magazine, Time, Newsweek, TV Guide and on ESPN. In addition, his pro assignments include a diverse corporate clientele, including Six Flags, RWJBarnabas Health, CVS, PepsiCo, Verizon, MetLife and Capital One.

Wyatt photographed the Work of Art Dance Studio pro bono to create a portfolio to show professional dance companies.

Why describe him as wise and strategic? Wyatt’s keenly aware that in addition to helping others, pro bono work has created job opportunities he might never have had were it not for the quality work he produced on pro bono projects. His career illustrates the many ways pro bono work can benefit pro photographers.

Door Opener to Pro Assignments

Every year, Wyatt shoots the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) New Jersey Chapter’s awards ceremony for a fee. Recently, they asked if he would cover an upcoming monthly meeting free of charge. “I accepted the assignment because it helps the group and there’s always a chance that one of the other ad agencies or PR firms will need photography at some point,” he explains. “When they see that I’m easy to work with, they often hire me for an assignment.”

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The Girl Scouts of the Jersey Shore presented Wyatt with a Good Neighbor Community Award for his photography.

In addition, one of the local councils of the Girl Scouts of America is his biggest pro bono organization. Wyatt worked with Erick Rommel, chief communications officer for the Girl Scouts of the Jersey Shore, when Rommel was head of marketing and PR at a hospital. “When he joined the Girl Scouts, Erick asked if I would help him with photography,” says Wyatt. “Sometimes he has a photography budget; other times he doesn’t. Because of the good work they do, I’m glad to help with photography.” Earlier this year, the Girl Scouts presented Wyatt with a Good Neighbor Community Award for his photography.

Expanding Skill Set

Back in the ’90s, when Wyatt joined the Faith Fellowship Ministries in Sayreville, New Jersey, he wanted to give back with his photography. Recognizing he had an eye for composing good shots, the church videographer taught him how to use a video camera on a professional level. “Next thing you know, I was hired by MSNBC, Comcast Sports, News12 NJ as well as others as a camera operator,” says Wyatt.

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Volunteering at his church led to paid assignments at large ministries, including Joel Osteen’s.

Volunteering at his church also led to working with some large ministries. They include Joel Osteen’s organization, which hired him for a few paid assignments. “Being in that circle, I got to meet people who took me to the next level. I was even hired to travel to Brazil, Costa Rica and other places for similar projects.”

Furthermore, in 2016, Wyatt shot the Moscow Ballet for the first time. “They wouldn’t have hired me without seeing dance work I’d done in the past,” he says.

Wyatt’s photos from the Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker tour.

GB-Wyatt-5“Knowing they were performing in a theater in Somerset, New Jersey, I called and said I’d like to shoot for them. I showed them ballet and other performing arts photos I had shot free of charge—or for less than my usual rate—for the State Theater of New Jersey and Princeton’s McCarter Theatre Center. They gave me an assignment to cover a two-month tour, which led to two additional tours.”

With Gratitude

Wyatt shoots with a Sony Alpha 9 and a 7 III; depending on the assignment, he uses a Sony G Master FE 24–70mm f/2.8, G Master FE 70–200mm f/2.8 and/or the G Master FE 16–35mm f/2.8 lens.

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To get back into shooting for the NFL, Wyatt offered to shoot Rutgers University games pro bono.

He cites his support of the Drum & Bugle Corps as a prime example of giving back out of gratitude. Because he credits the Corps with saving his life, this year—his 50th year supporting the Corps—he’s shooting eight shows pro bono for Drum Corps World. The newspaper does not have a photography budget.

In addition, Wyatt recalls the time, in 1969, that his bus driver father drove the Drum Corps to Wildwood, New Jersey, for the American Legion weekend parade. His dad insisted he come along. “Despite resisting at first, I fell in love with it,” he says.

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Wyatt shoots pro bono for Drum Corps World newspaper.

“Most of my friends from that time are either dead, addicted to drugs or in jail. Joining the Drum Corps got me away from all that negative energy. It also taught me discipline; how to perfect my craft as a drummer; how to get along with people; and how to strive to be the best at what I’m doing. It has a lot to do with my success as a photographer today.”

His Advice

As he tells photographers at camera clubs, camera stores, PhotoPlus Expo as well as WPPI, “If your dream is to do ballet, concert, theater or sports photography—even weddings—you have to get your foot in the door. Accept some projects for little or no fee and show that you can produce quality work. Eventually you can start earning good money. Pro bono is the key.”

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