Joining my local PPA affiliate, the Professional Photographers of the Greater Bay Area (PPGBA), was the second most-important step in my career as a professional photographer. The most important step: when I began volunteering within PPGBA and its school, the Golden Gate School of Professional Photography.
My intent was to give back to the organization that had given me a lot through seminars, personal contacts, and advice-the organization that really helped get me started professionally. Little did I know that volunteering (in my case, running for the board of directors) would actually be much more beneficial to me. Don't get me wrong: There are no special privileges for board members. Spending the money of the organization's members wisely is a high priority. But there's much to gain personally from volunteering.
Working with people who are like-minded in some ways, but different in others, is highly educational and often fun. That doesn't mean that it's always easy, but getting to the bottom of issues has helped me to develop and improve skills that are useful in many areas of my professional and personal life.
My responsibilities, such as running the print competition last year and arranging monthly speakers as program chair this year, have broadened my horizons and allowed me to meet interesting people.
I've also been exposed to the procedures and methods of being on a board. Since I grew up in a nondemocratic society, I remain fascinated by honest attempts of democracy on all levels.
I've gotten to know my fellow board members much better over the years, which also opened the door to more business referrals. Another board member appreciated my lighting skills and hired me as the lighting guy for her multi-day shoot for an international toy company. I also received a referral to take a large group photo for an organization which has since turned into an annual job.
Volunteering for the Golden Gate School is also intense, both for the week of the school and for the many months leading up to that week. First there's the educational component. Despite other, often unforeseeable duties, I have spent a lot of time in the classroom as a volunteer. Preparing the equipment for the class and being the first contact for the instructor intensifies the learning experience. With the ongoing changes in the industry, the need for education in many areas is undeniable. I found the atmosphere of a well-run school well suited for effective learning. Key advice from instructors, even received years ago, still resonates when I'm working. One example is Joe Buissink's statement,
"You're responsible for everything in your viewfinder." This continues to encourage me when I hold my camera [today].
Working as a volunteer, I've developed and improved many skills which are useful elsewhere, like learning how to deal with many personalities, as well as finding common ground and win-win solutions. Last, but certainly not least, I find that volunteering is a lot of fun and often a very fulfilling experience.
JOERG LEHMANN (www.lehmannphotography.com) has been a photographer for more than 30 years. Besides being an active member of the PPGBA, he is certified by Special Kids Photography of America. He also teaches photography and studio lighting seminars.