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Giving Something Back with Photography: 10 Ways to Get Started

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Read Time: 8 min

Photography can be a powerful medium through which to communicate, educate and bridge divides. For those of us in the industry, and those who approach photography as a hobby, it is a wonderful way to make a living and share life with our friends, family and complete strangers.

Republished Tutorial

Every few weeks, we revisit some of our reader's favorite posts from throughout the history of the site. This tutorial was first published in December 2010.

If you are one of the many who wishes to use your talent to help others, but are unsure of where to begin, I've tallied a list of ten ideas to help you find a path. Some ideas are actual organizations, while other ideas allow you freedom to create something new.

If you are looking to give back with your photography, here are ten ideas to get your started.


PhotoPhilanthropy is a tremendous resource and an easy first stop on your way to volunteering your photographic skills. Their mission is simple: “PhotoPhilanthropy promotes and connects photographers with non-profit organizations around the world to tell the stories that drive action for social change."

Their website not only offers a matching service to help find non-profit companies all across the globe looking for your photography talents. The site also offers advice and volunteering and a gear swap service.

Offer Services To Someone You Know

Copyright Le foto di Paolo

PhotoPhilanthorpy is a great place to start, but you might have noticed they don't list every non-profit in the world in need of photography skills. If you are the giving kind, there are chances you already know or have worked with a number of groups in your local area which can benefit from better photos.

These need not be huge companies with dynamic advertising departments. It can be as simple as a pet shelter down the road surviving on donations. Or a senior center nearby. Pick up the phone and give the marketing director or even the main switch board (assuming they have one) a call. Explain what you have to offer and ask if there is any way to help through the use of your photography.

Help Portrait

The idea behind Help Portrait, started in 2009, is simple: 1. Find someone in need 2. Take their portrait 3. Print their portrait 4. Deliver. This project typically revolves around a particular date. In 2010 is it December 4th.

The project started out with a primary focus towards the homeless and others below the poverty level. It quickly spread in the last year to over 600 groups around the world who coordinate events throughout the year.

This annual event is a great, simple, constructed way to give back with little effort. It also allows for more involvement if you wish to host an event in your city or studio. What's more, you don't need to be a photographer to help! For every one photographer in attendance, Help Portrait needs another 4-8 people to help coordinate, print pictures and greet guests.

Donate Prints

Copyright OldOnliner

While Help Portrait aims to make portrait prints available to individuals, there are other ways to donate your time and talent with prints. And it doesn't have to be taking portraits. There are many organizations looking for prizes for raffles or drawings. Parent-Teacher Associations (PTA) are a prime example. Often they will hold a raffle to help raise funds to take kids on a field trip to a science museum or other worthwhile endeavor.

While we professionals often sell our prints for decent sums, the actual printing cost can be fairly minimal to moderate. A simple frame around an 11x14 can be had for $25 and can auction go for over $200. And, depending upon your country of residency, the final value is what can be written off on your annual taxes. It's a great way to maximize your donated dollar.

Look around for other cornerstones of your community that may need a hand. Maybe a local library is having a book sale and can use some prints as well.

Give Free Introductory Classes

Copyright Chuck Walker

If you know your stuff and feel comfortable teaching, consider giving a free "Introduction To Digital Photography" class. Many locations let you host an event for free if you are not charging. Libraries, again, are a good options as well as any other civic establishments with a meeting space.

The length and format of the class is up to you and can include the basics of taking photos, how to move them to a computer and how to print. It's the basics that many people out there don't fully understand and also don't ask about.

Presenting a class where everyone is at square one creates an open environment to help people get hooked on the joy of photography. Not only that, you also start to build a reputation in your community not only as a photographer, but also the great person you already are!

Newborn Photos

Copyright Genaro Orengo

This item takes passion. You have to like babies and the joy they bring to a family. You also have to have patience to work around a baby's new schedule. And deal with parents possibly new to the craft. This item takes passion.

There already is a market out there for newborn and maternity photography. Type either of those concepts into Google and you'll find a passel around your city. I'm not suggesting to go out and steal work from great photographers, I'm suggesting something close to what Help Portrait is about.

Find those who would not otherwise have the funds to hire a photographer to capture this precious moment in a new family's life. Ask around and let friends know you are available for a certain amount of these assignments a year or month. It needs to be balanced with your paying work, but the time involved and to what you will be offering the family, is worth the effort.

Donate Proceeds

Copyright Greg Grossmeier

The less glamorous side of philanthropic photography is to simply donate a set amount of proceeds each year to a charity or deserving group of your choice. It's not as action packed as sailing off to a distant land to shoot a NGO's story or helping en masse at a large event like Help Portrait, but it does help.

If the desire to give back runs deep in you, but you can't find the time for free projects, earmark 10%, 20%, or any amount of your profits for donation. Feel free to point this donation out on your website or business card. While it may seem self righteous, it is in fact giving more free advertising to your cause of choice.

Have a Show Highlighting a Topic

Copyright photine

What are you passionate about? Clean water? Education? Pollution or social injustice? It doesn't matter what the topic is, if it is something you feel a deep desire to assist, chances are there are others out there who would like to hear about it and see your images. Dip into your pool of friends, family and colleagues to start gathering interest and test the waters of what will and won't work.

Once your topic and slant are ironed out, dive into it full force. Find a location, free or otherwise, and begin promoting the show. Sites like Eventbrite offer free event coordination if your event is also free. Post it on Facebook, Twitter and send a mass email to everyone you know.

The key here is to get the message out far and wide. Even if an email recipient might not like your chosen topic, they may know someone who will. That's what social networks are for.

Dream it. Plan it. Do it.


Copyright Jill /Blue Moonbeam Studio

Speaking of networking, you may find an interesting phenomena once you start down the philanthropic photography route; it can snowball. That snowballing happens as you network with other photographers as well as others in the philanthropic industry. It is just as important in your charity work as it is in any business.

Wondering where to get started? One place is LinkedIn, the professional networking website. Here is a quick link to a number of groups on the site dedicated to philanthropy. You can also search for photography groups or a particular cause that is important to you. It's a quick way to find people who are interested in the same thing as you.

The same tactic can be used on Facebook. It does take time to feel comfortable in a group on the internet, but the value is there once reputation and intent is established. Don’t think short term gains. Think instead, “Where do I want to be one year from now?" Networking can help get you there.

When You Travel, Find NGOs Who Can Use Your Talent

Copyright Christopher Rose

When it's time to take a break from your day job and head out on vacation, consider looking for local NGOs in the area of your holiday. Most NGOs are happy with any positive exposure when it is free. Big or small, try contacting the director of the group or the head of media relations (it is it a larger group). State who you are, when you will be in town and how you would like to help.

Be as specific as possible to show your sincerity in aiding the group. Maybe you are willing to shoot daily operations at the NGO for them to use in advertising. Tell them you will deliver photos, free for them to use, within X amount of days after the shoot. If you have worked with NGOs before, state that and show your work. Give them every reason to believe in your ability to produce quality images which will help their cause.

Opportunity abounds for ways to give something back through the use of your skills as a photographer. If you have additional ideas, please feel free to add them in the comments section below. I'd love to hear them.

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