Feature photo by Meg Loeks, taken for childhood cancer awareness
Photography is a powerful art. Through it, we tell stories, keep records, express ourselves and share our souls with the world. Photography can help us capture the indescribable, everyday moments we’re grateful for. It can help us preserve those fleeting memories we want to hold in our hearts. It can be a tool for therapy when times are tough and it can be a way to express our joy in moments of gratitude. It is a natural extension of our hearts to volunteer or give back to our communities through photography.
To donate photography is to give of ourselves in the most meaningful way we can. It means using our talents and our artistic vision to gift photos — something we hold dear — to someone who needs them. Whether it’s a donation of art to raise money for a cause, volunteering your time to capture an event or donating a photo session to a family in need, giving through photography is a meaningful and worthwhile experience.
Here’s how photographers with first-hand experience suggest you can use your talent and heart by giving back through photography.
1. Help families suffering infertility or infant loss.
“It all started about three years ago,” says newborn photographer Paige McLeod. “I had just taken on the roll of newborn photographer for our company, Glean + Co, and was doing a few free giveaway sessions to get our name out there about studio newborn photography. One of my winners was a woman who’d had five miscarriages before finally having her rainbow son, Phoenix. The love and care this woman showed for her new baby stuck with me — Phoenix was (and is) fiercely loved. Suddenly everywhere I looked I saw friends and family struggling to have the families they wanted, and many of them were suffering in silence because they didn’t want anyone to know they had lost a baby. I knew I had to do something to give back to these families and help bring awareness to miscarriage and infertility.
“I began working with Little Joys Remembrance Foundation to help raise money for their quest to bring a CuddleCot into every hospital in the state of Idaho. For families that have suffered infant loss or stillbirth these cooling units allow them to spend just a little more time with their babies before they have to say goodbye. From this relationship, the Boise Rainbow Project was born. We strive to bring hope and joy to families who have suffered infant loss, still birth, miscarriage or infertility through free maternity and newborn sessions. We now have a digital background shop on Etsy as well as a 2020 rainbow baby calendar that we use to raise money for rainbow sessions as well as directly donate to the Little Joys Remembrance Foundation.”
Paige says, “In addition to working with such deserving families, the Boise Rainbow Project has lit a fire under my creativity and allowed me to combine my passions of newborn photography and Photoshop. My work has grown leaps and bounds in the past year because of this project, and I’ve met so many amazing creative talents within my community who want to help. I feel that I have been able to finally find my creative niche within the photography world.”
"I knew I had to do something to give back to these families and help bring awareness to miscarriage and infertility." — Paige McLeod
Paige McLeod is co-owner of Glean + Co, a photography studio in Boise, Idaho. She also volunteers with the digital retouching team for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. Glean + Co has done Pajama Program fundraisers to donate new pajamas and books to kids in need and Paige’s business partner, Jamie Hubbs, is the co-founder of Flourish Collective, which runs medical missions to Haiti every year. You can find Paige’s work on Instagram @gleanandco and @boiserainbowproject.
2. Give a voice to children with cancer.
“Giving back through photography has always been important to me,” says newborn photographer Brittany Blake. “Around the time I discovered The Gold Hope Project through social media, I had two friends with children diagnosed with leukemia, and I also connected with a childhood friend whose son had battled a rare blood disease requiring a bone marrow transplant. I knew instantly that volunteering for The Gold Hope Project was something I needed to do, not for me, but to share the stories of these children, raise awareness, and give back to these families in a way that would last a lifetime.
“I donate my time photographing families of children who are fighting, or have fought, cancer,” Brittany says. “The Gold Hope Project is a non-profit organization dedicated not only to photographing these families and children, but also funding important pediatric cancer research. The sessions that we provide are free to the families, and are truly priceless treasures. These children are given a voice through their imagery — a voice to share their story, and their fight.”
"These children are given a voice through their imagery — a voice to share their story, and their fight." — Brittany Blake
Brittany Blake is a photographer and mentor located in San Clemente, California. You can see her gorgeous work here, or find her breakout, Newborn Stories: Documenting New Life in the Hospital, Studio and at Home, in the Click Photo School. She’s also on Facebook and Instagram and the Click Pro Daily Project. Brittany is on the board of directors of the The Gold Hope Project.
3. Give photos to the selfless mothers who are taking care of sick children full time.
“I have an amazing friend. A few years ago, she spent a short amount of time in the hospital with her sick baby boy. She experienced firsthand how hard it is for the moms who spend every waking moment at the hospital with their sick babies — barely taking time to eat, shower or get a moment alone — and decided to do something,” says photographer Natalie Greenroyd. “She created an amazing organization called Moms On MissionS (MOMS). MOMS is an organization that provides financial aid and gifts to mothers in Oklahoma who dedicate their lives to the care of their children with special needs.
“What is so neat about this organization is that they not only help these moms with the big things, but the little ones as well. They really try hard to provide these amazing women with things that would help lift their spirits — things they would never think to do for themselves,” says Natalie. “I was asked by my friend to donate a sessions to a mom they were working with named Meagan. Meagan’s daughter has gone through so much since the day she was born nearly two years ago. The love this mother has for her daughter is truly amazing, and I was so honored to be able to gift her with a session.
“I sometimes struggle with how to use my gifts and talents, but this has been one of the most rewarding things I have done with my photography. I love taking photos for families who are excited about putting cute outfits together for their growing families so they can create perfect Christmas cards. But it’s something else entirely to be able to give the gift of family photos to a mother who isn’t even sure how many more Christmases she has left with her daughter. I hope this is the first of many sessions that I’m able to donate to local mothers who are currently spending every ounce of energy they have trying to comfort their sweet babies and help them get well.”
"I sometimes struggle with how to use my gifts and talents, but this has been one of the most rewarding things I have done with my photography." — Natalie Greenroyd
Natalie Greenroyd is a photographer and mentor located near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. You can view her personal and professional portfolios here, and find her Click Photo School breakout, Shot With Moxie: Capturing Childhood Courageously, here. Natalie is also on Facebook and Instagram, and the Click Pro Daily Project.
4. Raise money by donating artwork to be auctioned.
“I recently had the opportunity to donate artwork to a silent auction for a charity called Kids Chance of Georgia,” says pro photographer Tiffany Kelly. “Kids Chance is an organization that creates scholarships for children of parents who have suffered from workplace injuries. Before I became a photographer, my background was in industrial/organizational psychology, so I know firsthand how much a workplace injury can impact a family’s life. It’s amazing to be able to help support these children.
“I selected three of my macro images to print as beautiful 16 x 24-inch gallery wrapped canvases that I ordered from Color Inc. for the auction,” says Tiffany. “I thrilled to hear that all three art pieces sold and had multiple bids. I love that I was able to give back to the community using my macro photography, and it’s an honor to know these images are gracing the walls of their new homes.”
Tiffany says, “I frequently hear from other fine art photographers that they are unsure about what they can do with their landscape, nature, macro, and abstract images. Donating artwork is an amazing way to not only raise money for a good cause but also get your name out there as an established fine art photographer. If you show your art in gallery shows and it doesn’t sell, consider donating the art pieces to a charity auction event.”
Tiffany also volunteered to photograph a breast cancer walk. She said it was an incredible opportunity that left her feeling fulfilled and thankful. She recently donated a session to a silent auction for Hearts Against Hunger.
"I love that I was able to give back to the community using my macro photography, and it's an honor to know these images are gracing the walls of their new homes." — Tiffany Kelly
How volunteering can make you a better photographer.
“A few years ago, I volunteered to photograph a breast cancer walk for It’s The Journey, Inc. It was an amazing experience that left me feeling thankful and fulfilled. Not only was it life-changing from the personal viewpoint of being moved by witnessing these emotional moments, but I also grew and learned so much as a photographer that day. Having to constantly watch for moments, predict action, change settings on the fly, shoot in the rain… honestly that was the first day I felt like a real photographer.” — Tiffany Kelly
5. Help preserve precious memories for families who have little time left together.
“When a four-year-old little girl was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, I was deeply saddened and searched for a way to support Kimber and her family,” says photographer Angela Douglas. “This tragedy caused me to think about my own children and inspired me to take a deep look at photography and how I might use my talents to offer families a lasting record of what could be the last days of a child’s life. I wanted to share Kimber’s story through photography for her, her family, and her community.
“After photographing Kimber over a six-month period of her life and treatment, I realized that I enjoy giving back and wish I could do more. Photographing children going through life’s struggles is amazingly rewarding. I will always make an effort to help preserve the life and struggle of families that may have little time left together.”
Angela reminds us that there are so many types of organizations out there that allow photographers to give back to society. “The Gold Hope Project donates free portrait sessions to families battling pediatric cancer. Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep donates remembrance portrait sessions to families grieving the death of a newborn. But I also find families and local organizations that need photo sessions for various reasons, and I’m happy to donate. The gift of giving is so rewarding and is something that allows me to share my talent in a life-changing way,” she says.
"The gift of giving is so rewarding and something that allows me to share my talent in a life-changing way." — Angela Douglas
6. Volunteer to help provide children with enriching experiences they wouldn’t otherwise have.
“I was recently approached to donate my time by photographing the performers for The Children’s Ball in my hometown of Yuma, Arizona,” says photographer Vanessa Brack. “The Children’s Ball is an event that gives children in Yuma a chance to dress up and see fantastic local entertainment, and gives local young performers the opportunity to perform for their hometown. Yuma is a smaller community that sits about three hours from the nearest big city. Because of that, entertainment for kids can be limited. The Children’s Ball is a fun event that kids can look forward to all year. All funds raised at the ball are given to local charities.”
When Vanessa was young, she had foster cousins. “Because of this, adoption is near to my heart,” she says. “I recommended to the Children’s Ball board that Arizona Children’s Association (our local foster/adoption organization) be a donation recipient. As a family photographer, I offered to donate a family session to a recent adoptive family and the Children’s Ball coordinators gifted ball tickets to the adoptive family. The photos were used by the Children’s Ball to promote the event and foster care/adoption with the Arizona Children’s Association.”
Vanessa goes on to say, “This is one of those situations where everyone wins. The Children’s Ball provides fun and entertainment to our local youth and performers, the proceeds from the event helped one of our local outstanding nonprofit organizations, the adoptive family received a free photo session and tickets to the ball, and I was able to promote my family photography business in the best way possible — by giving back. The art of photography has saved me and so it feels natural to pay it forward in any little way I can.”
"The art of photography has saved me and so it feels natural to pay it forward in any little way I can." — Vanessa Brack
7. Give lifestyle photography to capture children with autism.
“I donate photo sessions through Spectrum Inspired to families affected by autism,” says pro photographer Erica Williams. “Spectrum Inspired is a community that connects and supports families touched by autism spectrum disorders by sharing their stories and giving them the gift of lifestyle photography. This is something close to my heart, as my youngest daughter is on the spectrum and I know firsthand how lifestyle photography is key to capturing these children in their own environments. They need to feel comfortable and willing to trust you in order to open up and let you capture their personalities.”
Erica has also discovered other ways to give during her 10 years in photography. “If a client comes to me and says that a family member has cancer, I automatically donate those sessions. My grandfather has stage four lung cancer and we have had many family members pass because of this horrid disease. It’s just something little but I know these families cherish these memories,” she says.
Erica has also worked with Beauty Revived to share the stories of deserving women through photography. She photographed two deserving high school seniors with amazing stories of how they gave back to their community. You can read Heidi’s story here and meet Brooklyn here. “There are so many way to be involved and give back through photography. Find something you believe in and change the world for the better,” Erica says.
"Find something you believe in and change the world for the better." — Erica Williams
12 Great organizations that need volunteer photographers
Are you inspired to give back through your photography? Here are some organizations that work with photographers to document important moments or raise money for worthy causes. We also recommend searching your local community for opportunities. Start by finding a cause important to you and go from there.
How do you volunteer or give back through photography?
We love to hear stories of our readers doing good. How are you giving back through photography? What are your favorite nonprofit organizations to work with? And how does volunteering help you as a business in your community? Please leave us your thoughts in the comments!
Update: This post was originally published on November 20, 2018 and was most recently updated on November 8, 2019.