10 Ways to Change Lives Through Photography (And Where You Can Start Today)


Every photographer has his or her own reason — or reasons — for why they engage in this particular art form. For some, it may be a hobby that provides a distraction from the stresses of life; for others, perhaps photography just represents a piece to the puzzle of a diverse visual arts skill set. And because there are so many motivating factors behind why people do photography, there are sure to be nearly as many different ways of how people use photography — whether it’s to maintain a visual record of your family tree or to document a nation’s civil war or to share images of the day’s most mundane occurrences with friends online.

No matter how potentially disparate each one of us may be from another in terms of our background in and particular use of photography, I think one thing we can all agree on is that photography constitutes an opportunity to do something good for someone else, to bring needed attention to a worthy cause, to possibly change a life.

Here are a few ideas to help spark your photo-related philanthropy.

Non-profit Organizations

  • HeartsApart.org – Created in 2010 as a way to keep U.S. military personnel connected with their families, HeartsApart.org provides service men and women who are facing upcoming deployment with photos of their spouses and children. The unique thing about these photographs is that they are printed on waterproof cards that can be folded to fit snugly in a uniform pocket. You can apply at HeartsApart.org to volunteer your services as a photographer, make up artist, hairstylist, or wardrobe stylist.

  • PhotoPhilanthropy – The mission of this organization is simply to link photographers with established non-profits from every part of the world, creating opportunities for photographers to document the work done by the affiliated charitable groups, thus raising awareness of the corresponding issues. You can learn more about how to donate or become a volunteer at the PhotoPhilanthropy website.

  • The Giving Lens – The Giving Lens coordinates photographers to participate in humanitarian efforts in developing nations. Volunteers are organized into teams, each led by a professional photographer with travel experience. While the prime objective of these trips is to help others — from clean drinking water initiatives to women’s and girl’s rights work — everyone involved shares a passion for photography. The Giving Lens organizes several trips per year; find out dates and more information here.

  • The Maple Leaf Mission – This Canada-based organization provides families free sessions with a professional photographer. Three types of session are available:
  • The “One More Moment” session is designed for families who have a loved one (of any age) with a terminal illness and wish to capture a few final moments together.
  • The “Your Moment” session is for families who have one or more members who are living with illnesses, injuries, or other conditions that significantly limit their physical, mental, or social capabilities, but who are determined to live life to its fullest. Amputees, transplant patients, and those with cerebral palsy are just a few examples of who qualifies for this session.
  • The “Military Moment” session caters to both homecoming and pre-deployment events of military members and their families.

    Those interested in putting in some time as a photographer or volunteering in another capacity for the Maple Leaf Mission can apply online.

Paul by Andrew Czap, on Flickr

  • Help Portrait – According to Help Portrait publicist Lori Mahon, “The idea behind Help Portrait is simple: 1. Find someone in need, 2. Take their portrait, 3. Print their portrait and 4. Deliver their portrait. Help Portrait takes place worldwide the second weekend of every December.” To get involved in this global project, head over to Help-Portrait.com and sign up.

Independent Efforts

  • Offer your services to someone you know. This could be a young family who may not be able to afford a photo session with their newborn, or your elderly neighbors who are eager to show off the grandchildren they haven’t seen in years. I am sure there are opportunities all around you.
  • Pass on your knowledge to aspiring photographers. You can hold free classes in places like libraries and other municipal establishments. Or you can hold them in your garage. If people are eager to learn, it won’t matter; they will appreciate your time and effort.
  • Donate some gear. Especially if you know you’re one “spare” lens cap away from being considered a hoarder. Photography gear is expensive; if you see real passion and potential in someone — especially a young person — who could use some better equipment but can’t possibly afford it, do what you can to help make that a reality for them.
  • Donate prints. Is there a school in your area that needs prizes for a raffle drawing? Is your local library having a book sale and looking for something other than just books to sale? Do you know of any locally-owned/small businesses around you that might want to spruce up their decor? If the answer to any of these is “yes” then all you’ve got to do is decide who will be the lucky recipient(s) of your masterpiece(s).
  • Host a free exhibit highlighting a cause you are passionate about. Regardless of what the topic is, there are sure to be others who share your passion and will be interested in not only viewing your photography about the issue, but also in using your exhibit as an opportunity to learn more, which will hopefully lead to doing more.

Your skill level doesn’t exempt you from the responsibility of doing something good; no one is too much of an amateur or too much of a professional. There’s no excuse for not finding some way to use your art to make a positive impact on the lives of others. There are an endless number of ways you can help; the charitable organizations and ideas presented here barely scratch the surface of the possibilities that exist. No matter how great or small a deed, those on the receiving end will be forever grateful and you will be indelibly touched by the transformative experience of self-sacrifice. I’d call that the ultimate win-win situation.

About Author

Jason Little is a photographer, author and stock shooter. You can see Jason’s photography on his Website or his Instagram feed.

I just completed a self-assignment photographing older women (70-97 years). A casual comment to my hair stylist about the PP and she jumped on board, recruited her favorite older clients and they got a hair style, make-up application and a portrait session in the shop. It was incredible for all of us.
I’ve just posted half of the subjects on my blog if anyone is interested.

BTW I was surprised at how little there is on the web about photographing older people. I used a 54″ Paul C. Buff PLM umbrella with the sock and a reflector to fill shadows. It worked great.

I am a photographer affiliated with http://www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org. Not all photographers want to serve in such a situation, but I find that it helps me keep life in perspective, being thankful for life itself every day and for our children and grandchildren. When you leave the hospital after such a session, you have NO problems, only blessings.

Thank you so much for sharing my not for profit The Maple Leaf Mission. It sure means a lot and we received 14 photographer applications from the post…. So thank you.


I have been thinking of ways to give something back through photography, this post is a great start I am about to read further into the subject, thanks for the post

Am just starting up a community based organisation to train the youth in my community photography and videography. When i browse through this page it was very interesting and rose my aspirations on my project.

Thank you guys for putting this up.

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