Project Cuddle is a national nonprofit organization that provides safe and legal alternatives to pregnant teens and women who are considering abandoning their newborns. California wedding photographer Miguel Pola became involved with the organization in 2002 quite by chance.
Recalls Pola, “A photographer friend of mine, who was scheduled to cover the event, asked me to cover Project Cuddle’s annual Dinner by the Bay fundraiser gala for him. I was so moved by what I learned about their work that the following year I asked him if I could take over the event altogether. I felt it was the least I could do to support this worthy cause.”
Eventually, Pola was photographing multiple fundraiser galas for the Costa Mesa-based organization and creating calendars featuring children the organization has saved. The calendars have become a popular promotional tool for the project, increasing awareness and subsidizing operational costs.
“Today, 13 years later, I do most, if not all, of the photography for Project Cuddle,” says Pola, “from studio photography to event photography. At the annual Dinner by the Bay fundraiser galas and Spooktacular events held around Halloween, I’ve had the pleasure of working with celebrities, including the project’s national spokesperson, John Stamos, Bob Saget, the Beach Boys and Real Housewife Lisa Vanderpump.”
Pola spends several hundred hours a year working for the project, usually between meetings and phone calls, editing and shooting. “Whenever possible, I schedule my bookings around Project Cuddle events. Most of the time things just usually work out,” he says.
The project’s high-profile celebrities help create national exposure for the fundraising events. As a result, many of Pola’s event images have been featured on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The View and The Jeff Probst Show; in Us Weekly, Shutterbug and Riviera magazines; Perez Hilton’s blog; and at the Project Cuddle website. He uses social media to further the Project Cuddle message. On Facebook, he’s Miguel Pola Photographers; on Instagram, @miguelpolaphotographers.
Says Pola, “I never realized I would be getting such national exposure through this project. Professionally, this project has opened doors for our company I never dreamed of, from photographing celebrity birthday parties to being personal photographers for other celebrities. Working with some of these people, they realize we’re not there to sell their images to tabloids or other media. We have built a rapport with them, which has built their trust of me.”
Additional advantages have arisen as more and more of his wedding photography clients have become aware of his role with Project Cuddle. One of the brides Pola photographed a few years ago decided it was time to look into adoption after trying to have a child for some time. She reached out to him because of his involvement with Project Cuddle. After a long phone conversation with him, she decided to become involved with its adoption process. Some time later she adopted a baby girl. Others have become project supporters by participating in its fundraising efforts.
“This project has also had an impact on me personally,” says Pola. “My two daughters have seen what it takes to give back to something you truly believe in. They understand there are people out there who don’t have the resources others do. My older daughter, who plays on a high-profile travel softball team, has recently chosen to support Project Cuddle by creating different types of drives to help the organization.”
On-site Setup at Project Cuddle Fundraisers
With Pola capturing formal celebrity shots at the Dinner by the Bay galas and other fundraising events, he usually brings two shooters for candid photos and one staffer for print and computer management. He shoots with his Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon L lenses, two Elinchrom 1250s with softboxes and a HiTi P510K printer.
“I work tethered to my Apple MacBook Pro and import images into Adobe Lightroom,” says Pola. “Backdrops are usually supplied by Project Cuddle. I take photos of the celebrities, board members and children saved by Project Cuddle, while one or two photographers walk around taking candids of the guests.”
For photo retailers and photographers who might want to support a worthy cause, Pola suggests: “Attach yourself to an organization you can relate to. If you pick an organization you connect with, you’ll be more passionate about the work you do for them and it will translate into great relationships.”