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Jul 2016

Using Your Gift: How to Give Back With Your Photography

9 min read

As photographers, we often speak about the “value” of photography. We say things like, “Your family will want to look back at these images later,” or “You can replace ‘stuff’ but you can’t replace memories.” And let’s be honest: many times, we say it certainly because we believe it, but also because we REALLY want to sell that large canvas or that second album.

However, for some families and individuals, our photographs truly are the only things they have left. Whether it’s a house fire, or the passing of a loved one, or a cross-country move, or a debilitating illness that changes a person’s life forever, it can be heartbreaking to imagine that something has stripped a family of what matters most.  

The value, then, is not just in our work, but also in our time. Many organizations around the world have blossomed because photographers are identifying ways they can give back to the community simply by using their talents; these organizations thrive because of the generous individuals in our profession and their desire to help those in need.

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

Photographers who volunteer for Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep (NILMDTS) donate their time to families who are experiencing the death of an infant. They are often called upon to provide remembrance photography to babies who were stillborn or who have died in the early days after birth.

It makes sense, then, that the number one question photographers have when considering NILMDTS is, “Can I handle this emotionally?”  Overwhelmingly, their photographers feel that while the work they do can be emotional, it is also incredibly rewarding. Many comment that they are so honored to be able to use their talents to provide families with precious photos. They describe their sessions as being calm and peaceful and point out that while they approach the shoot like they would any other family session, NILMDTS sessions are indeed beautifully unique.

Magic Hour

In times of grief (and in celebration), looking at photographs allows families to relive happy memories. This is why the folks at Magic Hour believe it is so important to donate photo sessions and prints to individuals both battling cancer and those who have beat cancer within the past two years. Their nationwide network of photographers is always open to new volunteers, and those who currently participate describe their sessions with Magic Hour clients as leaving a lasting impact on all involved.

Directors Caitlin and Jeff personally understand the toll this illness takes on families: they lost their Uncle Randy and his wife Joanie to cancer, and recently found out about the diagnosis of another uncle. For photographers who want to ease the physical and emotional pain cancer often brings, Magic Hour is an incredible opportunity to help those whose lives are touched by it, while at the same time continuing their love for preserving memories through prints.


The Gold Hope Project

The idea of a project that would put beautiful faces to the monstrous facts about pediatric cancer started when five-year-old Ava’s mom had a conversation with her photographer friend Morgan. Ava was diagnosed with a rare, inoperable, and terminal brain tumor and Morgan had gifted the family with beautiful portrait sessions to be able to capture her memory.

Together, they confirmed two basic truths in the trying world of cancer – pictures took on a whole new meaning, and not enough people knew about childhood cancer or how to help. The Gold Hope Project was created so that every family fighting alongside their child would be able to have pictures of their amazingly strong fighter. The project is a way for them to not have to worry about getting funds together to have their memories preserved. Photographers volunteer to give a fighter and their family a memory of fun and beautiful pictures in a time when they need a dose of joy.

Love Not Lost

It wasn’t easy for her to come to terms with her daughter’s terminal illness, but when she was gifted with portrait sessions of her little one, it gave Ashley of Love Not Lost the intense desire to offer free portrait sessions to others facing similar circumstances. As she donated more and more of her time, she realized that something greater was taking shape. Now, her organization is looking to open its doors to other volunteer photographers in the fall; the mission is to photograph people facing a terminal diagnosis to capture and preserve their memories for those they love.

Ashley’s take on volunteering is two-sided. While she certainly understands the value of the photographs themselves, she also is keen to the emotions that develop as a photographer. She and her board members want to not only equip photographers with the tools they need to lovingly interact with people facing a terminal diagnosis and their loved ones, but also those tools needed to care for their own selves after the session. They’re currently working on building a grief training program so that every photographer feels comfortable for the sessions they’re asked to photograph.

Red Thread Sessions

Families who are adopting a child often face many hardships: the monetary expense of the process is significant and emotions are often running on overdrive. Red Thread Sessions help adoptive families find photographers who volunteer to photograph courtroom sessions when adoptions are being finalized, homecoming sessions when international adoptive families arrive at the airport and are greeted by friends and family, open adoption birth sessions, and even basic portrait sessions so families can have that first family portrait with their new children. They’ll be reopening their doors for photographer applications the first week in August.

Some other amazing organizations that may be your perfect match:

Thirst Relief: If you attend WPPI, you may have noticed events whose proceeds benefit this organization, which helps provide clean drinking water to communities in 8 different countries. Among the other volunteers that travel to educate and improve the situation around the world are the photographers and videographers who fearlessly document these projects.

Operation: Love Reunited: Founded in 2006, this organization provides photography sessions and photo gifts to military families dealing with a deployment. They also have a branch in Australia, which offers sessions to military personnel there.

Sweet Nectar Society: Photographers in California photograph children who are facing or have faced a life-altering illness, disease or injury, such as Down Syndrome, cancer, cerebral palsy, or muscular dystrophy.

Hearts Apart: Volunteers provide soon-to-be-deployed servicemen and women with pictures of their spouses and children, specially printed to fit securely in the uniform pocket. The organization believes that military personnel deserve (and need) the memory of their families to carry them through the difficult times that lie ahead.


The challenge is simple: can you find a way to use your talents to give to those who are struggling? Will you donate your time by taking photos for families in need, attend a career day at your local elementary school, or take a day to speak at a photography class at a nearby university? Regardless of what you choose, remember the benefits: the gift you give, the pride you feel, and the reward of knowing you’ve done something for someone else that only you could do.

Share with us below: 
How do you give back to your community? Do you have another organization that you work with that isn’t listed here?



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