Photo Philanthropy: Do Good with Your Camera

If you have a camera, you can be a force for good in your community, no matter what your experience level.

Studio 5 Producer Lesli Harker has volunteer opportunities for the beginner photographer to the established hobbyist.

Support a cause with your camera and you get two benefits in return! The first is that good feeling you get from volunteering. The second is a little more selfish: you become a better photographer! Let’s say you want to start making money with your photography, but don’t feel like you have enough experience to charge. Instead of giving away free family shoots (which you should never do if you plan to start a business), volunteer your time with a charity. There’s no pressure to get perfect pictures, and you have the freedom to take your time, try different angles, and hopefully end up with pictures for your portfolio. (But if you don’t, no biggie, because you’re working for free!)

Find a Local Charity Event

Find a small fundraiser, neighborhood carnival, or race. A great resource is, where they list all the running events in Utah. I found one in my area called “Run 4 Ry”. Rykert is a 6-year-old boy with muscular dystrophy. His family held a fundraiser at park in Provo. It was small, intimate, and not intimidating in the least for a beginner photographer. Runners ran around the park a bunch of times as their 5k. The great thing about an event like this is organizers are super excited to have a photographer there. They don’t care if you get award-winning shots. They were happy to have an extra person on hand to snap pictures of Rykert and the Provo firefighters who surprised him at the park.

Take-Away Tips: Don’t crop people’s feet! I had never shot a race before, so this was an “ah-ha” for me. If you’re going to shoot people running, you need to see their feet! Also, when you take pictures outside, keep the horizon line in the lower third or top third of the picture, never the middle. It will cut your picture in half.

Visit a Retirement Community

The next step up is to volunteer at a local retirement home. I attended the ice cream social at Golden Living Orem. A place like this is wear your photos could easily become a work of art. The men and women in this community have faces that tell stories. This goes without saying, but if you visit a retirement home, be prepared to spend time talking with the residents. They bring out the best in you.

Take-Away Tips: This kind of shoot will teach you how to work with available light. You won’t be asking these grandmas and grandpas to move closer to a window. You have to work with what you got! Same with the background. My motto is: If you can’t control it, blur it. Use a portrait lens to get the nice blurring background. This is great practice if you want to be an event photographer.

Make Friends at the Animal Shelter

Shelters need pictures of their animals to post online. Many shelters use a point and shoot camera. So even if you’re not a professional photographer, your modest talent with an SLR is needed. I had a blast taking pictures of dogs, cats, rabbits, and turtles who need adopting from the North Utah Valley Animal Shelter.

Take-Away Tips: In the first 5 minutes, you’ll realize you need a fast shutter speed. And I mean really fast. I thought I had a fast shutter speed initially, and some of my photos still had motion blur. These animals just don’t listen when you tell them to hold still!

Help a Child Find a Family

There are dogs and cats that need adopting, and then there are kids that need adopting. The Utah Adoption Exchange has a program called the Heart Gallery , where photographers are matched with a foster child. They post the best photo on their website and present it to the child at a special event later this year. I was matched with Kolby, an 11-year-old boy with the most amazing smile. Within 20 minutes, I had about 100 good pictures. This was by far my favorite volunteer experience. I will remember that boy forever.

Note: The Adoption Exchange will do a background check and check out your portfolio ahead of time. This option is not for beginners.

Take-Away Tips: Straight up portrait practice, plus interaction skills during a photo shoot. Helps to have a few jokes under your belt to make the child laugh or smile. One thing that helped me was sitting with Kolby before the shoot started and asking him some questions. The child is probably more nervous than you are. This helps put them at ease.

To see more of Lesli’s photography, visit

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