I think most of us started out taking photos because we enjoyed it. We loved the interactions between people and the raw emotion that we could capture that could be relived through our work. As we delve deeper into the business aspects of photography, we get busy with pricing and marketing. Too concerned with our ideal clientele, we lose focus on why we started in the first place and what’s really important.
Volunteering for a non-profit organization is a really great way to give back in a big way. You have the pleasure of interacting with people whom you may have never met otherwise. They open up themselves when they are hurting and vulnerable, in hopes that you will capture a moment that will bring them healing.
Many non-profit photography organizations offer free photo sessions to children who are terminally ill or have spent a lot of time in the hospital. Not only can a day of pampering a smiles brighten their day, but it’s most likely something their parents would never be able to afford alongside hospital bills.
I personally volunteer for The Tiny Footprints Project (TTFP). This organization caters specifically to babies in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit or NICU. These tiny babies may have been born premature or may have an illness or both. When a parent requests a session, TTFP makes all efforts to get a photographer to them as soon as they can, in case that the babies are so sick that they do not make it. NICU’s can be very dark, crowded and a little intimidating to get that intimacy between parents and baby. These photographers do an amazing job capturing the bond and love between the parents and baby in a less than ideal environment.
Fortunately, the majority of babies photographed by TTFP get to go home. Regardless of the outcome, the babies of TTFP hold a place in the hearts of all who volunteer with them. [Update: This organization no longer exists]
There are many other great organizations out there.
The Gold Hope Project matches up families affected by childhood cancer with photographers. Photographers go above and beyond to make the child feel beautiful and hopeful. The organization also raises awareness and raises money for pediatric cancer research. The sessions are available to any child 21 and under who is a surviver or fighter of cancer. Families of children who have lost their battle to cancer are also given sessions and encouraged to share their stories. www.goldhopeproject.com
Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep provides remembrance photography to parents who have just lost their newborn. The worst thing that can happen to a parent, is to lose their child. In that time of grief, memory becomes foggy and they forget what their precious child looked like. NILMDTS gives them the gift of photographs that parents can look at when they are ready and may add to their healing process. www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org
Help Portrait is a world wide event. Each participating city offers a photography event to families who couldn’t otherwise afford photos, usually once a year in December. The organization is simply to encourage photographers to find someone in need, take their photo, and deliver the print to them. To many, a family photograph is one of their most cherished possessions. Help Portrait tries to give everyone in need this gift.
The Big Picture Project helps to connect citizens of third world countries to share their life experiences with the world. Instead of always seeing the lives of people from third world countries through the media’s eyes, The Big Picture Project helps them to document their lives themselves and what’s important to them. The Big Picture Project goes into areas where outreach organizations already exist to teach the people basic photography concepts. They then select the photographs that most tell a story, bring them back to the United States and sell them, giving 100% of the profits to the organizations that help the people in those countries. Anyone can donate money or sponsor a camera. [Update: This organization no longer exists]
There are so many volunteer organizations out there, worldwide, national, and local. If you are interested in volunteering, find what you are passionate about and there is probably an organization that relates.
Thank you to Alexis Severson for contributing this article.