I’m a firm believer in using your personal skills to give back to the local and global community. Some photographers have concluded either that they haven’t any useful skills or that they aren’t useful enough to benefit those around them. I don’t buy it.
In my travels I’ve seen doctors perform major surgeries, those gifted in finance help rural farmers with micro-finance programs and those trained in international development run critical programs in impoverished areas.
While all of those are beautiful skills to share, I’ve also witnessed the simplicity of someone holding a special needs child in Ukraine, a child who perhaps hadn’t before known the power of positive physical touch. I’ve seen change happen in the arms of someone who simply just cared. We all have gifts that can be used to better the lives of others, despite what we do for a living.
As a photographer and storyteller, I understand the power of the story told. It is the power to engage others and inspire them to get involved. This can be as simple as taking photographs of local families in need before the holidays (something my friend Kevin Kubota has been doing for 10+ years and has also been made popular with Help Portrait). Or something more complex like partnering with a relief organization to tell the stories of their programs and communities (here’s some work we did in the Congo a few years back).
After taking a few trips to Africa, it was surprising to me the number of people who asked how they might be able to do the same kind of work. They weren’t all photographers, but many were. Fellow storytelling friends Andrew and Marianne Nicodem and Kevin Kubota have similar experiences. We saw a need to use our overseas experience to teach storytellers how to work responsibly in other countries by partnering with NGO’s. We founded Workshops With Purpose as a vehicle to teach and empower creatives to work along side NGO’s who are changing the world. We’ve lead two workshops so far in Kenya and Bolivia and we are working on our third, slated for the Fall of 2017.
My wife Lauren and I decided it was time for us to begin teaching our own smaller workshops as well. This past August we launched “Heart And The Hand,” a humanitarian/experiential workshop. Our hearts reside with many of our friends in Kigali and Eastern Rwanda, specifically an amazing woman named Naome who is working hard to help transform her local community. Naome cares for widows and orphans and is very active in her local churches. Her dream of a school on top the hill in Ntoma in the Eastern Provence is slowly coming to fruition (if you want to help, let us know!).
With five students from around the US and two international students, we set out to tell the story of Mama, her family, community, the schoolhouse and Mama’s new motorcycle. Just weeks before the trip, we set up a GoFundMe account to raise funds for Mama to have a motorcycle. This moto would enable her to visit people in the community as well as deliver baked goods from the bakery she runs out of her house. The funds would also help pay for the cost of maintaining the moto.
The core of our smaller workshop is an intimate, experiential atmosphere where students are not only taught photography technique, but what it’s like to spend the day in the culture of these people. This may mean that something scheduled for 2pm may not start until 5pm. Something scheduled for 4pm may not even happen. It’s important for students to realize the world is predominately polychromatic (able to do multiple things at once socially, and not concerned as much with the clock) while those from the US and some European countries are more monochromatic (in basic terms, deeply concerned with the clock.) All of our attendees did an incredible job of going with the flow as they began to realize the importance of relationship in other cultures. It's a good lesson and one we all wanted to adopt more of back home.
One of my favorite technical things to teach is “off-camera flash,” or OCF. Many photographers state that they’re “natural light” photographers. While there’s nothing wrong with natural light (in fact, it can be some of the most beautiful light to work with) a photographer should have command and understanding of light, how to shape it and how to manufacture it if the image or situation calls for it. Not only do clients deserve for us to have this knowledge on hand, but it opens up numerous avenues for the creative to explore image making for personal projects. I like to encourage photographers who haven’t played with OCF to start experimenting and I become overjoyed when I see the lightbulb moments from those photographers when it all starts working for them.
My go-to wedding and travel rig for off-camera flash is from our friends at Photoflex. I’m honored to be one of their Light Leaders and have worked with them for many years. This rig consists of two shoe mount brackets, a grip swivel, Octo Connector, and a small Octodome. On occasion I use the Extra Small Octodome as it’s slightly more portable for traveling but still has a beautiful quality of light. My friend Kevin came up with a hack on the connector/speedring to enable it to fit two speedlights (I use the Nikon SB900 and Nikon SB800) with enough room to have receivers under the flash, such as the Pocket Wizard TT5. While the Octodome and speedlights give me my main light, I usually use a disk reflector or LitePanel (with white or silver fabric) for fill light, usually bouncing back the light from the Octodome.
We knew when we arrived that we wanted to photograph Mama with her new motorcycle, a keepsake for her but also a fun image to show those who donated to her cause. Below are a couple of behind-the-scenes images of the short session, and the final image below them.
Here you can see how the speedlights are arranged on the Photoflex OctoConnector. Two speedlights equals twice the power.
Josh, a workshop attendee is buff, so he's holding the OctoDome on a stand for me. Many times I will use a reflector to bounce light back from the soft box. In this case, the sunset was so yummy, we used two silver LiteDiscs to bounce the sunset light back onto the moto. In the final image below, the light coming from camera left is sunlight.
This is one of a few final images of Naome and her new moto. Thanks to all who helped make this happen!
Typically, the closer a light source is to the subject, the softer the quality of
light. By using a technique in Photoshop to blend two images/frames together, we can have the main light source as close as we want without seeing it in the final image. We take one photo with the soft box doing it’s job, then another photo without it being in the frame. A little Photoshop masking and boom, it was never there. But it was.
Here's an example of the frame blending technique. We photographed one of Mama’s friends near the Tanzanian border. This is Mama Baby.
The second example below depicts Ruth who is Mama’s daughter-in-law. We love Ruth and her Husband, Pascal. No retouching was done here, this is just a great way to show you placement. The large LitePanel on the right of the frame was used to diffuse the sunlight that was a bit harsh.
This set-up can work great for tighter portraits as well. Here’s a quick one we worked on for our friend Jabo, who was instrumental in helping produce the workshop. No retouching, I just used a nice B&W preset I made in Lightroom.
Here’s a final example of the OctoDome: XS soft box being used off camera left. No retouching was done here, just a quick Lightroom preset I made.
My Photoflex rig will be going to Thailand with me soon and I can’t wait to share the results. I look forward to having some time to talk more about Workshops With Purpose as well as The Heart and The Hand. Please remember, you don’t need to go to another continent to use your skills to give back to the community. Sometimes it’s a smile, sometimes it’s a hug, it may involve photography, but it’s always done out of love. Blessings.
After commissioning Kevin Kubota to photograph he and his wife Lauren’s wedding in 2002, Benjamin saw the power of the photographic lens and knew he had found a passion. Inspired by Kubota, Benjamin and Lauren opened Benjamin Edwards Photography and haven’t looked back, except to be grateful. Whether documenting a bride’s perfect day, the dangers of female genital mutilation in Uganda, or the crisis in the Congo, Benjamin relies on his Faith, caffeine and love of his craft to ensure the image is captured. See more of Benjamin's work at his website.