the gift of a photo


Alexa – Shepard mix puppy, looking for a home

Volunteerism; it knocks on the edge of my mind, the where, the when, the how. Some feed the homeless, some offer legal services pro bono, some clean up the coast.

I reach for my camera, think of my love of animals, think of how so many don’t have homes. I can help, I tell myself. Make them look cute and cuddly. Capture their essence in a photo. Make them stand out in a crowd.

I start my Google search for rescue organizations, reach out, offer my services. A few bite and say how desperately they need photos.

When I meet the dogs, I extend a hand for a nuzzle. I stoop down to their level, offer a soothing voice, tell them how cute they are. Their handlers tell them to sit, to stay, and I say, “No. Just let them be. I want their personality to come out.” I move when they move. I call the name they barely know. I whistle. I wait. I get dirty.

And I love every minute. The photos I create present them to the world, lure in the curious. My style evolves over time. I see how bright and happy and sparkling works best online, how tongues and smiles translate to adoption inquiries despite my love of the moody and the thoughtful images. But it’s not about me; it’s about the dogs and finding them homes.

Each time I photograph the homeless pets, I feel a combination of joy and sadness. Joy from time spent with them. Joy from trying to help. Sadness that I can’t offer them homes, that I can’t do more.

As photographers there are countless ways we can donate our services—capturing the brief life of a terminally ill child for the family or finding the charity of our choice that needs the gift of our photos.

Outside of photographing shelter animals, I’m always looking for opportunities to put my skills to use. It takes imagination, and I suspect that as a community we can build a list of ideas.

So here’s the question: how and where can you be a charitable photographer?

Picture and words courtesy of Honorary Sister /Guest Blogger Debbie Zeitman.


  1. says

    Love that dog! Animals are one of my favorite subjects. I’m an amateur so I feel like I volunteer my services all the time. I take pictures for my church However, as I read your post, I think I know another perfect opportunity to volunteer. There’s a rescue organization in the next town. They are trying to raise money to update their facility. I’m going to do down there this weekend! Thanks for the inspiration.

  2. says

    what a wonderful idea. i remember looking for our kitty. staying up late to pour over photos on websites, wondering what their true personalites were, wondering if i’d see it when i saw the chosen one.

    this photo is amazing. you’ve got mad skills. photographing animals is a difficult thing, they are open but people often don’t see it. you do, and that’s a gift. i love that you volunteer in this way. i am positive that you bring homes together for these animals.

    thanks for getting me thinking.

  3. says

    Currently I’m offering my photo skillz to a local non-profit that has a program giving away free prom dresses (and free education, insight and fun stuff) to high school girls who can’t afford the dresses on their own.
    I also take pictures for a charity that I’m part of that gives free school supplies, shoes and backpacks to kids every year.

    I am also a social worker and I can tell you that there are hundreds of ways that photography/artists can help organizations that are trying to help (human, animal, and plant).

    A lot of times charities will have activities going on in the community and they just need pictures so they can show the community (and potential donors) what good work they are doing. Just contact a local charity that you are interested in, and let them know that you have services you would like to offer them.

    Other photo services charities might need:
    -photos of items for a fund raising auction
    -doing a special story on a client to highlight a service in the community (with pics)
    -photos at charity events (service or fund raising)
    -Donated art prints or donated service that you provide to help with fundraising (ex: raffle for free photo session)
    -photography for a brochure promoting their cause
    (sorry this is so long, but I apparently have a lot to say)

    There are so many ways to help. I’m sure I’ll think of more. =)

  4. says

    A few years ago, I took photos at a nursing home Christmas luncheon of every resident and thier family and gave them all prints from this day. Some of these photos were the last family photo for a person, some of them are still hang in residents rooms, and are often the only recent photos taken. Wonderful post to inspire us all to give our love of photography away!

  5. Linda Wanless says

    My husband and I helped start a local group that goes to into the mountains of Jamaica to work at an orphanage for disabled children. It is called Jamican Mission Program and is referred to as a Vacation with a purpose. Some of the people work on building projects that need done and some of us work with the children, feeding and singing and just loving on them. They have captured our hearts. They are very open to having us photograph the children because they know we bring those photos home and share the stories so more workers will come. This is a few of mine that are on my facebook. It is not my best work but is the most rewarding photography I have ever done

  6. says

    I love the idea of mixing photography with charity. I recently signed up for Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty to become a workshop giver. I plan to give workshops to local adolescent girls on true beauty and then do a complimentary photo shoot afterward for them to discover how beautiful they are. There’s so many ways to give! Great post for inspiring us all to give in the ways that we can, and ways that are unique to us.

  7. says

    I don’t charge my church ever to shoot photography for them. I figure I was not meant to be a paid portrait photographer, as I tend to give away a lot of portraits to people who can not afford them. I believe people should have great pictures of themselves at least once in their lives that do not come from Glamour Shots or KMart.

  8. says

    I volunteer for You should too! It’s a group that arranges photos for soldiers and their familes. Photos to send the soldier while they are away, and shots of the reunion.

    I also sent out a letter to a couple local high schools letting them know, that if they had any seniors whom they felt were not going to be able to afford photos, to have the guidance counselor call me and I would do it for free, prints included. I didn’t want anyone to walk away from high school without a portrait.

    Unfortunately, I haven’t got to do either yet!! (well, I do seniors, but no free ones). I haven’t been doing either super long. Hopefully soon!

  9. says

    Several friends have benefited from the organization Shelli spoke of in her comments. They cherish the photos the volunteer photographers took of their stillborn babies. I should see if our small hometown hospital needs a service like this.

  10. melissa says

    wow….I was so moved by this post that I actually emailed the author directly first. I do the same for a shelter here in Kansas City, Wayside Waifs. I shoot portraits in a variety of styles to best show off the dog or cat. We started with focusing on "long-timers" to give them more exposure. These are usually dogs or cats that have been there over 2 months. I am so blessed that this is an outstanding organization with truly amazing staff and volunteers. It is I think the largest shelter in the city. I am also amazed at their success in adopting out animals, and you must go through an extensive interview before actually being able to adopt your pet. We are now beginning to focus on their foster program because they are always in need of foster families for dogs that need some TLC before being adoptable or have had some type of surgery, or have had puppies. I am soon to do a "show" if you can call it that, at a local large Starbucks that has a large gallery wall. We will showcase success stories as well as currently adoptable pets. We are hoping to involve other local starbucks as well.

    I also just found ShutterSisters thanks to a contact at Flickr. This looks to be a wonderful collection of photographer women. I am looking forward to meeting you, and getting involved with this community. Thank you so much for putting yourself(s) out there. -melissa

    This has been such a wonderful experience for me and my family.

  11. says

    I’ve felt so compelled lately by the call to service, and the idea of donating photographs is such a beautiful idea. As a writer/reporter who has also worked for nonprofits, I know that images telling compelling stories can make a real difference for organizations and positive community change.

    Lately, for my (small) part, I’ve been moved to write about trying to stop hunger:
    And to find ways to promote affordable housing:

    This post and the comments are more great inspiration! Thank you!

  12. says

    Wonderful photo, wonderful words. I give photos to my church also. They use them during the worship service on the big overhead projector.

  13. says

    I truly believe donating talent is the best thing any artist can do. I hope that as my skills grow I will be able to give myself back, particularly to organizations close to my heart like nilmdts. There’s the challenge of knowing when your "hobby" is good enough to be worth donating, and that confidence is sometimes hard to come by. I look forward to hearing what causes others donate time to, and how they made that first leap. Thanks for this post.

  14. says

    I am a very new photographer but our family actually did this before Christmas. We took family portraits for 5 families who could not otherwise afford such a family heirloom. A few of the families were settled refuges others were just unable to pay for a treasure such as this.

    The whole endeavor – my husband hand-built the frames – stretched us, almost too thin for that time of year but it was a wonderful gift to give these people.

    I wrote about it here:
    and here:

    We will be looking to do something similar at some point in the future but it was a lot of work!

  15. Sharon says

    I happily take pictures for my kids’ classrooms and yearbooks. I recently volunteered to help on a recent field trip and brought my camera to capture some memories of an arts day shared between two schools. I photographed happily and promised the art teacher that I would share the photos of the day. Feeling inspired, I put the photos together with a music track relevant to the day’s lesson. The art teacher shared it with our local arts council which asked me to keep taking pictures of the kids and their artwork and create a piece for future grant submissions. I was overjoyed! My first photo project! And good for the school and kids as well.

    I recommend carrying that camera and shooting freely!

  16. says

    I volunteer my photography for a couple of different local organizations. It lets me do what I enjoy for causes I am passionate about. Both folks I just shot emails to the directors with a link to my work and they took me up on my offer.

  17. says

    What a great post to highlight the charitable work photographers amateurs and professionals alike can do.

    I’ve just been volunteering my time and work for as many church functions as I can to help them document events and such. I believe God has given me talents and the least I can do is use them for His work in return.

    I also volunteered to teach a photography course last year and recently started a photo club for the church and community.

    This post and everyone’s comments has inspired me to look for opportunities to give more to other organizations. Thanks so much!

  18. Holly says

    Every year a good friend and her husband host a Ground Hog Day party at their restuarant. I am the volunteer photographer since all proceeds are donated to the community. This year, The Food Pantry, The Red Cross, the local chapter of the ACS, the local Hospice and the local Salvation Army were the recipients.

  19. says

    The shelter where I work is currently photographer-less. :) We grab any volunteer we can and have them snap photos.

    The photographer who used to volunteer for us was very talented. Then she decided that we couldn’t use any of the photos she took, anywhere, without putting her name on them in some way. That included the tiny little ads we would post in local papers, trying to find homes for the shelter animals. It was an expensive proposition, and very upsetting. No one had ever claimed the photos as their own, and we constantly sent people her way for business. Because the time involved to stamp all of her photos on our website with her name would have been prohibitive (we only have three staff members, and over 100 animals to care for) we just took them down. It’s a shame, because they were very good photos. She was hurt over it, as well.

    So as someone who works at a shelter, I want to thank everyone who reads the comments here for all you do in your communities. Your time, selfless charity, and services are so very needed, and so very appreciated. Bless.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *