Giving Back Through Photography

photograph of poor family
You can use photography to help others and draw attention to the plight of the less fortunate

There are many opportunities for photographers to get involved helping others. It’s a great way to gain experience, add to your portfolio, and give back at the same time.

You’ll find there are a lot of ways to lend your artistic expertise to charities and aid your fellow man.  And a few of them will fund worthy projects with grants and awards.

Here are just a few ways you can help.


Started by celebrity photographer Jeremy Cowart, Help-Portrait is a community of photographers using their photography skills to help people in their local area by making professional portraits available those who wouldn’t normally couldn’t afford such services.

Help-Portraits can be a tool to help job hunters, the homeless, or drawing attention to the plight of the needy. It’s your chance to do something you love for the benefit of others less fortunate.

Collective Lens

Collective Lens is a 501(c)3 organization that promotes social change through visual awareness. They let the photographer pick the cause and anyone can upload photos.

At Collective Lens you’ll find photo essays on poverty, disease, famine and other weighty issues.

Photo Philanthropy

Photo Philanthropy takes a slightly different tact by lining up photographers with worthy causes and non-profit entities working for social change.

This organizations sponsors the PhotoPhilanthropy Activist Award every year that provides a platform for photo essays, and also awards cash prizes to non-profits and photographers throughout the year.

Blue Earth

Promotes conservation photography to deliver striking images of endangered animals and environments.

Blue Earth accepts proposals and funds the projects most in line with their mission statement. With the deadline for submission coming up in January, 2012, this would a good time think about a proposal if you have an idea.

Giving Back as a Photographer

dog at shelter
I just don't like the dog behind bars look - Nhandler

If you’re a professional photographer, there are some charity projects that are definitely worth your time. If you’re working your way into the business, charity shoots can be a great way to build up your portfolio and get your name out there.

Consider Local Animal Shelters

This is one that’s almost always available. Having really attractive portraits for animals in the shelter will definitely increase adoptions. So many shelters are limited to a staff member with a point and shoot camera and many of them are sad looking animals under a harsh flash that look like animal felons behind bars. A few will have an actual background they use, but even that is rare.

Shelter photos are also a great way to gain experience working with animals, one of the most frustrating exercises in photography. After about 20 animals right in a row, you’ll be a master at knowing the precise microsecond to hit the shutter button. In animal photography practice will make perfect, or lead to psychosis, one of those. You’ll definitely know after a day if you’re cut out for animal pictures!

Pro Tips: Get the animals out of their cages and somewhere outside that looks more like a home atmosphere with real grass and scatter some toys around in the background. Use the best lighting setup that’s easily portable in the field. A leash in the picture is okay, and you can get inexpensive ones that are 20 or 30 feet long. Definitely better to have a leash in the photo than one of the animals getting away, unless you’re in a completely fenced area.

The idea is to get people to visualize the pet in their house, as opposed to a visual of some quivering animal in a kennel. The more fun the pet is having in the photos, the more likely they are to be adopted quickly.

Animal Rescue Facilities

If you’re thinking of something animal related, also consider animal rescue facilities, which seem to be chronically short of money. Some commercial quality promotional pictures can be a big boost to their fund raising activities.

Pro Tips: Be really careful about working around large animal rescues. It’s rare for one to be bothered by the flash, but some are scared of the camera. Many of these animals have been abused or neglected and may react unpredictably. Use a long lens and always make sure you have an exit. I try to keep a barrier between myself and the rescue animals at all times, especially if they’ve recently come to the shelter.

Picture Book Fund Raisers

Local zoos are catching on to this one. Buyers of season passes or those who make a donation to the zoo get a free photo book. Some zoos are even arranging special times for the photographers to get better shots than could normally be obtained from the normal traffic areas.

Pro Tips: Prepare to be amazed that you’ll be up against the top photographers in the area on charity projects like this. Don’t be discouraged if you get turned down the first year, or even the second and third. Even if you’ve been a pro working in the area for years, the competition is fierce. The one time I got accepted, I was surprised to be mixed in with some of the best known names in local photography, including one with National Geographic in his background. Everyone wants to be on the zoo credits, so don’t feel bad if you have to work your way up to this one.

City Walks

These are sometimes organized by city government to help promote the area to businesses thinking of relocating. In the old days cities and counties might have had a budget to pay photographers, but today not so much.

Making friends in city government is always helpful for those seeking to start a new business or expand their existing one. If they already know who you are because of your community involvement and efforts to promote the city, you may find your reception to be far warmer than someone off the street.

Pro Tips: They probably already have dozens of skyline photos, unless you can think of a really unique angle, skip those. Look for identifiable landmarks and places less traveled. The idea is to make the city look attractive to anyone considering opening a business. Think about your shots from the standpoint of a business person.

Being the volunteer photographer at charity events is a great way to get your name out there, especially if you can get in on the sponsor credits in exchange for service. Don’t get discouraged if you get turned down, you’ll likely find there are many photographers in the area with the same idea.