Use Your Camera to Give

Use Your Camera to Give


I wanted to take some time to share with you a mission that is on my heart: using my photography to help others. With the holiday season approaching, it seems like a good time to put out some encouragement for photographers around the world to do the same.

Here and now, I would like to issue a challenge: During the November and December months, offer your time and talents with outstretched arms to those who may need it. There are no parameters for this challenge. The only requirements are these:

You + your time + your camera = G.I.V.E.

You don’t have to come up with a list of ideas on your own. Of course, only you know what is at your disposal with time, money, and talents – but even there, don’t be held back. Think outside the box.

I myself have finished several projects that were larger than myself, simply because I saw a need and thought I could do something to help (especially with a little bit of help from my friends). The results from my favorite project can be seen here.

Don’t feel like you are alone in this mission. Several innovative crusaders have paved the way for photographers of all skills and ages to offer their creativity for good. Instead of brainstorming a new challenge on your own, you can also get in on the mission of other photographers making a difference.

Help Portrait

Perhaps one of the most well known artistic nonprofit events of its day, “Help Portrait” unites photographers with low-income families to give holiday portrait sessions. I myself have been a part of this event and it certainly was a dynamic personal time.

Medical PhotoOps:

What I love about the following four organizations is that each bring in photographers to provide something priceless to families coping with intense medical challenges. If every photographer took a step outside their comfort zone to help someone in heartbreak, we may be able to help bring hope and healing to people who really need that. While such missions are not for everyone, this work is truly life altering for artists to be a part of.

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

NILMDS Is there for parents and families to help aid them in their healing, bring hope to their future, and honor to their child. It is through remembrance that a family can truly begin to heal. They introduce remembrance photography to parents suffering the loss of a baby with the free gift of professional portraiture.

Images For A Cure

This fall, countless photographers and creators are coming together for one purpose: a cure. Through October and November 2011 – a collection of photographers are donating their time and session fees to The Breast Cancer Research Foundation®.

The Tiny Light Foundation:

The Tiny Light Foundation is a non-profit organization that provides professional photography for children and families that have been faced with a life altering diagnoses. They provide families with lasting memories through the amazing art of photography.

Pictures of Hope

Pictures of Hope Foundation provides complimentary, documentary-style, photography services to families with a child in the Neonatal Intensive are Unit.

Operation: Love Reunited

OpLove photographers provide free homecoming & deployment portrait sessions to US military families. Joining the organization takes up to a month, but photographers are contacted directly by military families who want keepsakes of their loved ones. is a site that lists volunteer opportunities for photographers to give back – and the list of opportunities is growing.

Want to give other ideas? Or need inspiration for yourself? Post them here. We can all make a difference together.

My mission: This month I am going to donate senior portraits for a youth shelter in Denver, CO. I am so excited to give these sessions because I want these young people to see how beautiful and valuable they are – even when most of the people around them don’t recognize that.

Remember: Don’t put yourself in a box. Start here:

You + your time + your camera = G.I.V.E.

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Christina N Dickson is a visionary artist and philanthropist in Portland Oregon. Her work includes wedding photography and leadership with

Some Older Comments

  • Kimmie Sharon June 14, 2013 04:39 pm

    I live in a very depressed area where even myself struggles to pay my bills however at 51 years old I still remember school photos like it was yesterday. I couldn't wait every year for picture day and yearbook day, oh they were two of my favorite days in school till I reached high school and was in band.

    I was very fortunate that my parents were able to purchase my photos and let me tell you some where so ugly I don't know why I was so excited. I was also fortunate enough to get a yearbook each year as well, and even the years I went through those ugly years, which was most of my school years, I lived for the day we spent the day signing yearbooks. I made it a point to make sure all my kids got their photos and a yearbook for each one even if they did not want it.

    I have seen the disappointment in the eyes and faces of so many kids that was there to get their photo taken as it is required by the school, I suppose so the yearbook is not empty or only contained photos of those that could afford to purchase photos.

    While I can not purchase the kids a yearbook I certainly can take photos of them for free. I do not just take a formal photo I give them an entire shoot, the standard photo one would get from a school photographer as well as letting them be their self. They can bring a change of clothing, we can do indoor studio shoots and outdoor shoots (if the weather allows) and the smiles are priceless on the kids and the parents.

    I place the entire shoot on a CD with a release form that allows the parents to go to Walmart or any place that prints from a CD or DVD. They are free to choose any photos in any size or all of them if they desire to be printed. They are all High Resolution and could print poster size if they so choose.

    Remember those days when you got the photo pack and there were a few poses and your parents always chose the photo you hated but couldn't do anything about it? Well I give the child his or her pick of one pose they like the best and print it out on a 4 x 6 with a frame just for them.

    All of this may sound corny to many but to others, maybe the older generations here know what I am talking about. Those memories last a lifetime and as the years pass, every now and then you run across the old photos and have a good laugh because many times you thought you looked really good and you looked like a dork (like me), other times you thought you looked horrible and you find so much beauty in the photo looking back at you.

    The photos may not be in a yearbook but they will be with these kids forever and with all the negative things so many kids have to deal with this can be a positive thing. I do this all year long not just during the schools 2 day photo days. I am only one person and there are a lot of kids of all ages. All of them touch my heart but the Seniors have a special place as I couldn't imagine not having a Senior picture as a symbol of such a great accomplishment as graduation.

  • Helen White November 28, 2011 04:35 am

    I use my camera mostly to take photos of homeless cats and kittens for Cat Care Port Elizabeth, a voluntary organisation that sterilises feral cats and tames and homes the kittens. Just bought a new Canon SX220 to same my main camera from paws and claws.

  • Don Wright November 25, 2011 01:58 pm

    Great post. I am currently living in Aceh, Indonesia and most days I am out photography people. I regularly print the photos I take and give them back to the people I photograph. The look on their faces when they get their picture back is priceless. Doing a small thing like this can make a lot of people happier here. I want to take this further by developing and framing bigger photos to give back. Heres a link to my blog if anyone would like to look at it.

  • Lorna November 21, 2011 04:29 pm

    I take pictures for a local animal rescue organization. As I also volunteer for them the pictures can be
    taken in a hurry and are usually not posed, but they give a great record of what has been happening through
    the year and a good animal pic can go a long way in getting them adopted.
    Have also used them in a calendar for fund raising and at the local newspaper to promote the organization.

  • Amanda howell November 20, 2011 08:17 am

    How about event photography? Pick your favorite charity or non-profit an offer to shoot their next event/fundraiser/holiday party. Just did this for a friend's environmental action group and had a blast.

  • Alicia S November 19, 2011 06:26 pm

    Thanks to both Jess and tl wood for the replies :)

  • Paul November 18, 2011 10:54 pm

    Good for you, totally agree. I've done free work helping to promote charities and found it very worthwhile.

  • TL Wood November 18, 2011 01:47 pm

    @ alicia s
    I think if you contact the Australian Cancer Council or your local hospital or local nursing homes you may be able to offer your services. Also your local Camera Club may know of any opportunities like this. Or they may take up the challenge and start something.
    You could also try the Make a Wish, Leukemia Foundation etc.

    I am sure someone has heard of something.


  • Jess November 18, 2011 12:28 pm

    To Alicia S...

    I also am in Adelaide (Northern) I am currently organising a page on my website to raise funds for the Childhood Cancer Foundation. If you would like to have a chat, would love more input.

  • Lisa November 18, 2011 09:09 am

    I am doing photography for shelter animals. There is a huge need for this to help get these great pets adopted. Often the volunteers and staff don't have the time to spend really making a great picture of the animal, and a great picture could mean the difference between life and death for them. I am also helping out at a "Santa's Workshop" at a nursing home and taking pictures of animals or kids or adults with Santa.

  • David November 18, 2011 08:31 am

    Does My annual Medical Mission to Honduras count?

  • Mike White November 18, 2011 06:52 am

    Outstanding! I have been photographing Rotary functions for some time now but this has given me a few ideas to branch out to. I wish all a very Happy Thanksgiving! This comes at the perfect time for all photographers to G.I.V.E. Thanks.

  • Giusi Barbiani November 18, 2011 04:48 am

    Hello, I have been following your blog for a year now and this is the first time I do feel like I have something to add :-) I collaborate with a couple of Swedish animal welfare organizations and through one of them I have adopted a Portuguese street dog, my beloved Magellano. Now I am asking Swedish people who went through the same experience the possibility to spend some time with them and their dogs in order to take portraits of their pets happily settled in their new life. My hope is to capture some of the joy all these animals bring to their new homes. The final goal is to create a photo book, the proceeds of which will go to the organization and those dogs still waiting for adoption.

    Best of luck to all those who are willing to give something back!

  • Marco November 18, 2011 04:32 am

    While many of these listed groups might discourage amateurs you could probably create your own opportunity. Just off the top of my head I come up with local nursing homes and holiday parties. Some attention and a 5x7 print could do wonders for their happiness without too much cost and maybe offer to email a jpg to family members if they have an email address for them. Probably lots of other ideas if you just think about it.

  • Travis Scanlan November 18, 2011 04:22 am

    Great piece! Every year I take my best hot rod snd kustom car shots and I create calendars that sell to raise money for various charities. It's hugely rewarding.

  • Vicki November 18, 2011 04:16 am

    Thank you for this post :)

    I recently donated an image to a cancer awareness campaign and even my other half got involved.
    It is so nice to see someone not trying to become infinitely rich (money wise) from their photography, but instead infinitely rich in what they can give back using their skills.

    In a world where we all expect and take too much - this was a little spirit lift for me.

    See my image:

  • Chris November 18, 2011 03:48 am

    I take pictures for a regional K9 Search and Rescue team. I follow them at training and events and shoot free stock photography. For me it's a great way to give back to them because to do what I do would normally cost them several thousand a month. This gives them enormous amounts of stock photography for advertising and PR.

  • Jeet November 16, 2011 06:42 pm

    I'm in Dubai, U.A.E., and while not a professional photgrapher (as required by soe of the above websites), I would like to do my bit and give something back to society. There are many groups here which work with Special Needs children. I am not aware if there are others which match other groups of families. I would like to know how to go about this.

  • Dianne November 16, 2011 02:55 pm

    Great article. I am saving it for future reference. I currently care for my 94 year-old mother and my husband with advanced metastatic cancer but I have often wished I could use my interest in photography for good. Your article list numerous projects one might pursue. I am hoping that there might be an opportunity in my future to engage in one of them.

    Please follow the link to Ms. Dickson's book on Blurb and you will witness an amazing and impressive work.

  • Brittany November 16, 2011 01:24 pm

    Thank you so much for posting this article. I have been looking for a way to use my photography gift to bring joy into others' lives as a gift. I look forward to giving back!

  • Lucy November 16, 2011 07:31 am

    I have been scouring the web for volunteer opportunities like these! Thanks so much for writing this article. I signed up for a few of them and I am excited for the opportunity to use my skills for a good cause.

    I have a similar project that I am working on now, I offer free photo sessions if the "client" volunteers to help other people or donate to a charity of their choice. It's the "pay it forward" idea. Where you do something good for someone in hopes they will do good for somebody else. I'm not sure if any other photographers are interested in this idea. If so contact me, maybe we can collaborate and start something great!


  • kate si November 16, 2011 07:26 am

    These things really are only for well-established professionals I'd say. It's really You + Your time + Your money. This is something constantly disappointing to me. I can't volunteer for so much because while I have a time and a camera I don't have the money for all the other little additional things that go on. I really wanted to do the OpLove one and you have to be able to print and provide an album which is really impossible for me right now. Same with a lot of other volunteer orgs that have nothing to do with photography, if you don't have money to give either directly in cash or by eating the cost of something, you'd be surprised at how much they don't want your time and skills either.

  • Chris November 16, 2011 06:29 am

    What a wonderful list and awesome idea! Thank you for mentioning Operation Love Reunited. We were the grateful recipients of this program when my husband returned from Afghanistan - it's awesome what those photos mean to military families. Thanks for the list, going to see how I can help this year!

  • ccting November 15, 2011 05:29 pm


  • Whitewolf November 15, 2011 03:51 pm

    Some great ideas here! I'm planning to help with a Help-Portrait event here in PA and excited at the opportunity to give back this holiday season!

  • Johnp November 15, 2011 01:51 pm

    I think we can also use our other skills as well to help others. I have just finished a 2 month project for a 90 year old lady whose memory is quickly failing. I've made up a 56 page A3 photo book for her that I hope will replace some of that lost memory. I've collected from her family all their relevant photos some of which are old and in bad shape, restored them in photoshop, included a family tree, names and connections of people in photos and added a text of her life story to make up the book, currently at the printers. Reactions from the family of a preview have been very positive.

  • Kara November 15, 2011 11:46 am

    These are some wonderful ideas! Last holiday season (from the beginning of Nov. thru the middle of Feb.) my baby was in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) because she was born 3 months early. Luckily, my sister-in-law had her camera with her when she came to check on me and the baby at the hospital, so my husband was able to take a picture of our baby on the day she was born. There aren't enough words to express how much that picture meant to me; when I couldn't be with my baby, I at least had a picture of her. This year, I would like to donate my time helping other mothers who can't be with their babies all the time have a picture to hold on to in the meantime.

    Here's our first picture of our baby girl, weighing in at 1 pound, 9 ounces and 12 inches long:

    P.S. Those of you interested in NICU pictures, often the babies are kept in dim rooms, and using flash is highly discouraged, so be prepared with wide aperatures, and high ISO. This was my experience anyway, but I would assume most NICUs are very similar.

  • Alicia S November 15, 2011 11:08 am

    I would love to do something like this, but most of these sites are based in the USA. Are there many Australian groups around?
    I live in Adelaide, and I would be happy to collaborate with anyone interested in doing something like this!

  • Chris Baldwin November 15, 2011 10:35 am

    Photogs for Charity if you are in London Ontaio area

  • Jonathan Steen November 15, 2011 09:49 am

    "Photos for toys" is something that I'm doing. Hopefully I'll get a lot of toys to donate.

  • Kent West November 15, 2011 09:29 am

    Yes, yes, and yes. Love it!

  • karen November 15, 2011 09:26 am

    This is such a great idea. I just shot photos for a charity event for Autism kids.

  • Swapnesh November 15, 2011 09:15 am

    Thanks for sharing, very inspiring and a great way to use our passion to Give back.

  • Joel November 15, 2011 06:43 am

    This is a great idea and in my opinion, far more fulfilling than just a "regular" photography job. One of my wife's friends from Texas does birth photography for some single mom's for pay or low pay and sometimes for free. She is absolutely in love with her work despite the crazy hours.

    In August my wife and I also shot a couple's wedding for free. They don't have a lot of money and are working against human trafficking.

  • Dewan Demmer November 15, 2011 01:43 am

    I have signed up with the Help Portrait, however I have been so busy lately burning the candle at both ends I have not been able to commit the time I really should.
    It is a nice opportunity for us as photographers to not only give but meet the people around us and see them in a far more personal and caring way.

    A simple photo can mean the world to some people, and it only takes a click for us.

  • Kimberli November 15, 2011 01:17 am

    Christina, I had never thought of this. Images For A Cure sounds like a great idea. Thanks for sharing such a clear and inspiring way to contribute! :)

  • Vera November 15, 2011 12:59 am

    Very inspiring. Thank you so much. I shared the link on my blog too.

  • Jane Haysome November 15, 2011 12:59 am

    Does anyone know of any similar charities based in London / UK? Two year ago I did a family photo session for my friend who had recently been given a two years prognosis after her breast cancer returned. She died 20 months later, but the photos have been a great reminder to her husband and three children of the fun times they shared and how wonderful she was. Ever since, I have been wondering how I could offer my service (FOC) to others in a similar position.

  • Bubba November 15, 2011 12:55 am

    excellent post! but the link for Help Portrait is wrong. It should be