St. Petersburg, Florida-based Chuck Vosburgh began his career as an art director and photographer in 1985; he eventually transitioned to photography exclusively. Specializing in travel, lifestyle and commercial photography, as well as executive portraits, he has been named Tampa Bay Commercial Photographer of the Year, Tampa Bay Professional Photographer of the Year and Tampa Bay Business Journal’s Top 10.
In addition, today Vosburgh works full time as a realtor with his wife, Pat, and supports multiple local causes with his photography throughout the year.
Commercial Photographer Goes Pro Bono from the Start
Giving back was always a way of life for Vosburgh. “It’s how I was raised. It’s important to help if you can. I choose worthy causes that resonate with me,” he says. “Nine years ago, my wife and I heard about Help-Portrait, a ‘global movement of photographers, hairstylists and makeup artists who use their skills, tools and expertise to give back to their local communities.’
“When we discovered that no Help-Portrait event was planned for St. Petersburg, we organized one; we partnered with a church that serves the community we wanted to help. We photographed everyone who asked. That day, 175 families and individuals went home with finished 8×10 color prints. We’ve done it every year since then.”
Help-Portrait was founded in 2008 by celebrity photographer Jeremy Cowart; each year on the first Saturday of December, more than 2,000 groups participate worldwide. The City of St. Petersburg’s Healthy Start program contributes food and drinks; moreover, the city’s teen technology program, TASCO, provides teen volunteers, computers and printers.
Helping Out Locally
Vosburgh also supports St. Petersburg’s Morean Arts Center, which holds myriad educational events for the public. “My favorite was a hands-on event that started in 2011, where participants made Warhol portraits of themselves,” he explains.
“First, we photographed each participant against a white background. Next, we ran a Photoshop action I made to create a very high-contrast black-and-white image. We printed those images on 13×19-inch heavy-weight paper. Then participants took their prints to one of the tables we set up to add their own colors with paints. The event was a huge success. We ran it four more times and raised a lot of money for the Morean.”
In addition, Vosburgh helps other organizations with event photography and donated gift certificates for sessions, prints and framed art pieces. “I’ve lived in St. Petersburg my entire life and have had the pleasure of developing great relationships with local people who do a lot to help our community. They know they can count on Pat and me to help.”
The equipment that travels with Vosburgh to his pro bono shoots varies with the project. For example, for Help-Portrait they have at least five professional studio setups with backgrounds and multiple lights. Many volunteers are professional photographers who bring their own equipment. He teams them up with other pros, so each station has at least three people.
Moreover, he brings his two Canon EOS 5D Mark IVs, an EF 50mm f/1.8 STM, EF 16–24mm f/2.8 L and an EF 70–200mm f/2.8 L lens. He also packs two flashes and sometimes portable strobes; various Photoflex light modifiers, especially umbrellas; lots of Canon and rechargeable eneloop batteries; and memory cards.
“I always bring lots more equipment than I anticipate needing—which usually stays in the car—so I’m prepared for the unexpected. No amount of planning will eliminate the unforeseen. I’ve learned to accept it and go with the flow,” he says. “Trying to do it all yourself is unnecessarily hard. Ask for help. It’s amazing what people will do for you if you ask.
“Most of us take photos for granted, yet there are people in our own communities who have never had a professional photograph taken of themselves or their families,” adds Vosburgh. “Their stories are powerful. It’s wonderful to provide something they will cherish for generations to come.”
If It Feels Right, Do It
For photographers considering pro bono work, he suggests, “If it appeals to you, do it! But do it for the right reasons. There’s a business model that involves doing charity work in hopes of meeting rich people and being able to generate paying clients. I feel it’s disingenuous to use good works as a way to promote yourself and your business. If you want to help, do it. If you want to promote your business, advertise. Moreover, if you’re a sincere person of good character, people will sense it and want to hire you.”
A final thought: “I don’t do anything without the help and support of my wife. She has a heart for helping, and it inspires me to help more. There’s nothing better than having a partner who inspires and supports you!”
For more information and images from Chuck Vosburgh, visit ChuckVosburgh.com.