Helping companies tell what they're doing – visually


Photo full circle with United Way Day of Caring event

CSR photography charlotte north carolina at united way day of caring event

It’s always wonderful seeing a project come full circle. That happened this weekend when a pro-bono photo project we’ve been helping to drive came to fruition. On Saturday, the Lake Norman/Mooresville United Way held its annual Day of Caring volunteer event. We got involved several months ago to spearhead the communications work. Here are some of the images. For anyone interested in seeing more, I’ll post the link to the entire gallery at the end.

charlotte event photography of volunteer united way day of caring celebration in lake norman and mooresville

Several hundred volunteers showed up to spend the morning landscaping public spaces, handing out food at the Mooresville Christian Mission food pantry, working on Habitat for Humanity houses and more. So much more.

corporate social responsibility photography capturing employees and employee families helping their communities during the 2013 day of caring with the united way

My photo team jumped from work project to work project in order to capture volunteers in action. The United Way will use the photos to drive excitement for next year’s event and to help tell stories about how the United Way helps in the Lake Norman community.

Images to show how to photograph employee volunteers working in their communities at volunteer events

A few take aways I can share about the photography… Being involved throughout the event planning process gave me the chance to help shape a visually attractive event. We pushed for bright t-shirts and the colorful logo.

corporate storytelling and event photography charlotte north carolina, mooresville photographer, lake norman photographer

Notice there isn’t a date on the t-shirt. Avoiding the date was last-minute advice that will keep the photos evergreen. Imagine wanting to use these photos to advertise a 2017 Day of Caring event. Someone would have to PhotoShop the 2013 date away. Now they don’t have to.

photographs illustrating how to take strong event photographs at volunteer events. images made during the 2013 United Way day of caring celebration around the lake norman and mooresville areas.

probono photography and event photography by charlotte photographers patrick schneider photo. who is the best photographer in charlotte nc? who is the best event photographer in north carolina.

How to brand your event using photography. How much does event photography cost? How to find a great event photographer.

See the full gallery here:

Lowe’s jumps in with flooding relief in Florida

Photo of a Lowe's employee volunteer holding an American flag pulled from the mud during cleanup of Tropical Storm Debby in Live Oaks Florida.

In the 20+ years I’ve been covering natural disasters as a staff newspaper photographer (and now freelance photographer), I often come across companies and employee volunteers jumping in to help their communities recover from flooding, storms, forest fires, hurricanes, earthquakes and other catastrophes. Their instinctive responses are heart warming.

Still, even in today’s world of ubiquitous communications, I’m often struck by how few corporate do-gooders take time to document and share their efforts. Lowe’s (the North Carolina-based home improvement giant) is an exception worth pointing out.

Photo of the hoovercraft used by First Response responders. Lowe's donations helped buy the vehicle.

In full disclosure, I’ve been hired by Lowe’s dozens of times in recent years to create photos for annual reports, marketing materials, public relations/corporate communications needs, and also community-service activities like I’m showing in this blog. I’m hired as a freelance photojournalist (I’m not a staff photographer for Lowe’s).

Photography of Lowe's employee volunteers in action. Employee volunteerism and CSR photography.

In this particular event (Lowe’s employees helping to clean up Live Oaks, Florida after Tropical Storm Debby flooded the area in June 2012), Lowe’s donated money and products to the American Red Cross and first responders. Employee volunteers (called Lowe’s Heroes) jumped in to lend a hand. It was a spur-of-the-moment response, but Lowe’s also thought to give me a thumbs up to document the rescue and cleanup efforts. (I was in Chicago wrapping up a shoot for another client when Lowe’s called. A helpful US Airways ticket agent quickly got me re-routed to Florida and everything clicked into place).

Photo demonstrating how photography helps companies communicate their employee volunteers in action.

Lowe’s gets my professional respect not just for jumping in to help, but also for taking steps to tell employees elsewhere in their footprint about what’s happening in and around their Florida stores.

At many other events, such as with Rebuilding Together or Habitat for Humanity builds, Lowe’s employees volunteer side by side with the employees from other major corporations. Often, Lowe’s is the only one who hired a professional photographer to capture their efforts.

Photography of employee volunteers helping a flood victim move possessions from a flooded house in Florida.

As a photojournalist, I’m naturally biased when I argue that all companies should photograph their community efforts. If anything, they are great for the corporate historical files. Many times, the photos are helpful in annual reports or on the corporate website or blog. Always, strong photos help connect the companies with their single largest stakeholders: their employees.

In an August 6, 2010 article, The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that many corporations have changed their corporate giving practices in response to economic difficulties. Some 54 percent of corporations were encouraging their employees to volunteer more, The Chronicle reported. Unfortunately, the article didn’t show how this percentage had increased from better times.

What caught my attention in the article was a paragraph connecting corporate communications about employee volunteer efforts with increased worker satisfaction levels. In that case, according to the article, Microsoft found that just publicizing its volunteering program to employees in Microsoft’s Egypt operations sparked workers’ satisfaction with the company’s commitment to society there. Microsoft told The Chronicle that workers’ satisfaction jumped from 61 percent to 91 percent (as determined by an internal survey).

A year earlier, in a November 15, 2009 article,  The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported interesting findings from a poll by LBG Associates and LBG Research Institute. Polling more than 8,000 workers and 213 managers of volunteers from 36 companies, researchers found that nearly 71 percent of employees surveyed said their employer’s volunteer program made them feel “more positive” about working there.

Personally, I argue that companies must go beyond just encouraging volunteerism and helping employees find volunteer opportunities in their communities. They should — no, they must — share those volunteers’ stories. Don’t just say X number of employees turned out to help flood victims move their possessions to higher ground.

Instead, share the words of the military vet as he pulled an American flag from the mud.

Charlotte based corporate photographer specializing in photographing employee volunteers in action and other corporate social responsibility efforts/CSR efforts.


Talk about the smiles an employee brought to flood victims’ faces as he belts out an impromptu song while strumming a child’s pink plastic guitar with bright blue butterflies.

Photo of an employee volunteer bringing levity during the flood cleanup in Florida.

Share one employee volunteer’s quiet utterance that “there but for the grace of God goes I.”

Photo of an employee volunteer's hand holding a photo salvaged during flood cleanup in Live Oaks, Florida.

As humans, we instinctively want to give and help others. Applaud employees when they do. If you are in corporate corporate communications, take steps to share their stories in order to inspire others to help as well. The key, I believe, is communicating these stories across your corporation.

CSR photo of Lowe's employees removing personal possessions from a flood-damaged home in Live Oaks Florida.

And when you do, strongly consider photographing their efforts. The photos you get back just might become a valuable tool in your communications tool kit.

CSR photography of Lowe's employees loading bottled water to be donated to flood victims after Tropical Storm Debby hit Florida in 2012.

Lowe's employees survey flood damage while being boated in to help homeowners carry out possessions after a hurricane.

Photo of first responders working with Lowe's volunteers helping after flooding from hurricane debby in florida.

Creatives: Get involved with Flashes of Hope


Flashes of Hope multimedia video from Joshua Stilwell on Vimeo.

Several times each year, photographers and stylists volunteer their time and talents bringing bright moments to families and children battling with cancer. The cause: Flashes of Hope, a non-profit organization dedicated to creating powerful, uplifting portraits of children fighting cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. View the Flashes of Hope site.

I got involved with the Charlotte NC chapter several years ago, and it continues to be one of the most-rewarding ways I can give back. It’s so different from the corporate photography I’m usually doing. The Queen City is fortunate to have a large number of Charlotte photographers who volunteer their time for the cause. We’re aided by volunteer teams of stylists (hair stylists, makeup artists, etc.) and Charlotte organizer Kelly Patterson. I believe Flashes of Hope operates in about 40 cities right now, and it’s hoping to expand. So colleagues, please consider getting involved.

During our March 2012 Flashes of Hope photo shoot at Charlotte’s Presbyterian Hospital, multimedia photographer Josh Stilwell videoed the shoots and created the multimedia show that’s at the top of this blog. The goal is to help creatives and prospective donors understand the workings and benefits of Flashes of Hope so they’ll get involved and will help the program grow.

Enjoy Josh’s hard work and I hope you like some of the portraits I had the pleasure of being able to create during our most-recent photo shoot.