Charity Profile: Shutter Mission

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Some months back, when The First 10,000 was still in the planning stages, I thought to myself that it might be a good idea to see what  photo-related charities and nonprofits might be out there. I’d do the occasional article, and at some point devote a page to what I’d found. Then I found that someone had beaten me to it, and in fact devoted an entire website and organization to doing just that.

That someone is Amanda Shoemaker, who started Shutter Mission when she began to realize how many people could benefit from the services offered by portrait charities, but might not be aware of their existence. Feeling that a mere directory would be “boring,” she decided to showcase the charities alongside the work of the photographers who volunteered with them, partly in the hope that other photographers might also be inspired to give back.

Gradually, Shutter Mission took shape. Over time, it’s grown into its mission, “[t]o highlight portrait charities and support photographers who give their time, talent, and heart.” It has likewise evolved according to a plan laid out before the charity even launched; Shoemaker envisioned, and grew, a central hub for photographers to learn about different options in photography charities, a directory of those charities for the benefit of interested photographers and individuals who could benefit from them, and a photo blog that has showcased organizations and photographers alike. She was kind enough to sit down recently and answer a few questions.

Chicken-and-egg question: I see that you and your husband work in the interactive industry. Since both of you spend so much time around graphics, was photography a natural outgrowth of that, or was it the other way around?

My husband, Eric Shoemaker, is an art director here in San Francisco. I’m a contract web developer and work from our home office in Alameda. We’ve both been into photography for years. I fell in love with it in my youth… my dad was a science teacher at my high school, and the photography club director. He was the one who taught me all the ins and outs of the darkroom. Ever since, I have always been involved in photography… with local clubs, starting a portrait business in Atlanta, and volunteering. As for my husband, I gave Eric his first SLR for his birthday back in 2005, and he hasn’t put it down since. Eric’s favorite subject is his ’67 Beetle, and he has an amazing knack for capturing textures and urban scenes. Often on weekends, we go on “photo strolls” together, around Alameda or in the City. Since we are fairly new to the Bay area (we moved here in 2009), capturing our new town is one of our very favorite things to do.

Of all the things you could have done with your photography, you chose to start ShutterMission. What was the spark for that?

Out of all the portrait sessions I had back when I had my business in Atlanta, my very favorites were the Operation: Love ReUnited sessions. I loved that I could really and truly help someone with my art. It was so touching to witness a military homecoming at the airport, to see a child hug her father who had been gone for so many long months, to see a couple kiss for the first time in too long. And to be able to be there to capture that was the best feeling ever. I fell in love with the idea of portrait charities, and the idea with Shutter Mission was to simply get the word out about all these great organizations. For one, so that families knew they existed and could utilize their services, and two, so that photographers looking to volunteer had a place to find the right organization that fit their skills and interests. I looked around the web, and could not find a site where all of these types of charities were collected, so the idea started with a directory of sorts, and grew from there.

I notice that it was six months between when you initially announced the project on Capturing Light and when it finally went live. Tell me about what was going on behind the scenes during that time.

Well, we had just moved 2,500 away from all our family and friends to a strange new city. You probably don’t want to know what was going on “behind the scenes” here! It was a big adjustment for both of us, and quite honestly, the spare time that I assumed I would have to work on side projects like Shutter Mission wasn’t as abundant as I had hoped. Between work contracts, I squeezed in some time to build it. And because I’m a constant tweaker, it took even longer. But hey, better late than never!

What was the moment when you said, “You know, I’ve really got something here?”

Ha! That hasn’t really happened yet. I’d love to carve out some more time to devote to the blog, and hopefully grow the community. Ideally, I’d like to reach as many photographers as possible, so that the charities can get the max amount of exposure for their causes and be fully “stocked” with available volunteers.

What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment thus far?

A mention on the Chicago Tribune’s site was pretty nice… and was a great way to spread the word about charity photography.

And what’s the next milestone you hope to reach?

My next goal with Shutter Mission is to partner with a few photography-specific vendors and host some giveaways for photographers. I’d like to do this as a way to show appreciation for the volunteer work that is being done for the charities, but I also want to attract new photographers to the site who may have not heard of portrait charities before. It will be a great way to educate photographers about the different charities out there and encourage them to get involved.

If someone’s thinking of volunteering with a portrait charity, but either isn’t sure of themselves, or of their skill level, what advice would you give them?

Great question! A lot of charities do require that you are indeed a professional in order to join as a volunteer, and the reason for that is that the people who are being helped via these organizations deserve the absolute best image quality they can get. NILMDTS [Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep] comes to mind… with an infant bereavement session, there are no do-overs. You have to get it right, be professional, sensitive and caring. However, there are volunteer opportunities available for photographers at every skill level. For example, Dog Meets World is open to any photographer who wants to “travel, take pictures, and give joy.” And Help-Portrait utilizes not just photographers, but they also need Adobe Lightroom experts, greeters, lighting technicians, print techs, makeup artists, and more. My advice is, if you want to use your talent to help someone… regardless of skill level… go for it! There is likely a charity that needs you!

Anything you’d like to add that we haven’t already covered?

“You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.” — Winston Churchill

Paul here again: If there’s a lesson to be drawn, it’s this: no matter what your niche or level of skill, there’s likely an organization that fits your interests and passions, and they could probably use your help. If you’re looking for a good overview of your options, or just want to learn more, Shuttermission.org is a great starting point.

Postscript:
As befits someone with over ten years’ experience building websites, Amanda’s all over the web. Of course, there’s http://shuttermission.org/. You can also find her on Twitter (@shuttermission), view her portfolio on the  Lane | Russell website, and visit her blog at www.capturinglight.com

The First 10,000 runs on passion (and an awful lot of caffeine). Buy me a coffee.