When I first started my real estate photography business, one of the ways I started to build my portfolio was by volunteering my time for a local non-profit who “changes lives through design”.
I found Dwell With Dignity online while searching for Dallas Interior Designers. I wanted some material for my portfolio and thought an interior designer would be my best bet – their spaces look incredible!
When I first contacted Dwell With Dignity (DWD) they were working with a photographer. I understood their reluctance to switch to someone new – after all, how do you tell a volunteer that they are going to be replaced by someone better suited for the job? I told DWD that if they ever run into a situation where they need my help, to let me know.
Let me step back a second and tell you a little more about Dwell With Dignity. They partner with temporary housing providers, and organizations who help families get back on their feet. From home fires to recovering drug addicts and being in trouble with the law, families are given an apartment to help restart their lives.
“Wow, I wish this was my home!”
The magic happens when DWD is given an apartment/family. Their eager team of community volunteers are tasked with repurposing furniture, creating art, and utilizing donated items to transform a bland apartment into a space that makes us all think “wow, I wish this was my home!”
Throughout the week DWD hosts a work night – anybody is welcome to attend and volunteer their time. They have projects to work on that all focus on the end result, adding designer pieces into a future apartment for a family in need. They reupholster furniture, paint dressers/bed frames, create custom art pieces and acquire appropriate bedding. One of the projects that you’ll see in the majority of their designs is the use of a flat, no-panel door. They transform the door into a piece of art using fabric, or they paint it with chalkboard paint and leave a welcoming message to the new family.
My start to volunteering for DWD came when their current photographer was unable to photograph their latest install due to a scheduling conflict. They asked me if I would be able to photograph a shared housing community space for women. It was a home that was divided up into apartments, but the dining room, living room and kitchen were open for all residents to enjoy. DWD was in charge of designing and putting together a welcoming environment for each of the three spaces.
I was quite overwhelmed when I was there. Volunteers were everywhere finishing up last-minute details. Hanging drapes, cleaning mirrors, setting the table.. Folks were everywhere trying to get the project to completion. When I arrived, they focused on a single room, the living room, so I could start taking photos while they finished the other two spaces. For each space, I shot overall/wide views, and also tight vignette views.
(Side Note: unbeknownst to me, a group called the Real Estate Staging Association [Dallas Chapter] had volunteered to help with this particular DWD project. While on-site, I met some members of the chapter and it wasn’t until weeks later that I actually attended a RESA meeting and put two-and-two together. I would have never have guessed that the mystery stagers that I met at my first DWD project would not only develop into strong business relationships, but outstanding friendships as well.)
After I delivered the photos for my first DWD project, I started to get more opportunities to photograph their apartment installs. Eventually I was doing every single one as their original photographer faded out due to scheduling/availability. To this day, I complete one or two photo shoots for them per month.
As you begin to grow your real estate photography business, think of ways you can help give back to your community. In my example I initially was looking for ways to build my portfolio, but in the end I am able to volunteer to a great cause that gives families in need a place to call home in my community. The overwhelming joy you receive by donating your time to those who need it most is unmistakeable.
Look for an organization like Dwell With Dignity in your area. Find a group of designers who might be helping families in need where you can lend your own skills to help them reach out to others who need a hand in your community. Volunteering your time for a good cause will keep you grounded, giving you a break from the everyday real estate shoot, and make you smile on the inside knowing you are helping a family get back on their feet.