Reminder: Help Portrait, 12/10/11

From Help-Portrait Los Angeles

Received the following press release from Help-Portrait, which I’m reproducing verbatim. If your photo charity/portrait charity has an upcoming event and you’d like to get the word out, please contact me at — PB





Nashville, Tn –October 27, 2011— This December 10, photographers around the world will gather for the third annual Help-Portrait event. In 2009, Help-Portrait began as an idea that transformed into a movement in just three months.  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. In the last two years, more than 101,000 portraits have been given by 10,000 photographers and 12,000 volunteers. Help-Portrait is now a global movement in more than 1,000 locations in 54 countries.

This year, Help-Portrait founder Jeremy Cowart announced new elements to make Help-Portrait a more hands-on experience for those being photographed.  From the beginning of the Help-Portrait movement nearly three years ago, photographers and volunteers have embraced the Help-Portrait ethos: that is giving, not taking photos. However, this year Help-Portrait is encouraging the photographers to share the photos of those subjects who want to tell their story to a wider audience.

“As the founder of this movement, I felt it was best to not show the photos,” shares Cowart.  “I didn’t want this movement to be about photography. But I underestimated our community – they all instantly caught on to the spirit of Help-Portrait. But now I’m realizing just how much we’ve kept the world from seeing and experiencing what we get to see each year. Now I want to let everyone in our little secret by sharing the photos of those who want to tell their stories to the world.”

Another addition to this year’s event will involve a personalized element. Those photographed will have the opportunity to draw and write on their photos to tell their stories. This provides an avenue for their voice to be heard. See the examples of the photos taken at a recent Help-Portrait event with Cowart at the Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row in Los Angeles.

“We believe that the portraits will transform into works of art that reflect their subject,” states Cowart who saw this first hand last week in LA.

In  addition, the Help-Portrait team is encouraging photographers to hand the cameras  over to the subjects and do their own shooting through the lens giving  them a unique opportunity to be behind the camera. It’s never been about  the photographer or his skills or what he has to offer. It’s always  been about connecting with and giving back to the subject.  For more  information on Help-Portrait visit, .

Celebrity  photographer Jeremy Cowart formed Help-Portrait, a non-profit  organization, in 2009 as he contemplated using his skills and expertise  to give back to those who may not have the opportunity for a  professional photo.  The idea is that a photographer has the unique  ability to help someone smile, laugh and return their dignity.  It is a  movement, a shift in photography.  The rapid growth of this organization  is a perfect example of Social Media use for good as the community  shares ideas and stories through the channels of Twitter, Facebook,  YouTube and blogging. Help-Portrait has partnered in the past with  corporations including Ritz & Wolf Camera & Image, creativeLIVE,  Chick-fil-A and Flosites, which created Help-Portrait’s website and  online community.

From  Bangalore, India to Ghana, Africa, the language of Help-Portrait crosses cultural and socio-economic barriers. Even Hollywood has gotten  in the act. In 2010, A-list actors Zachary Levi and Yvette Nicole Brown  volunteered at a Help-Portrait event in Los Angeles and participated in a  live webcast. The online live stream of the main event day from the  creativeLIVE studio in Seattle featured hosts including Help-Portrait founder  Jeremy Cowart, another high-profile photographer Chase Jarvis and Help-Portrait volunteer staff member Annie Downs.

Cowart began full-time photography in 2005 and has traveled to six continents with his talent.  He’s photographed Imogen Heap, Sting, Taylor Swift, Britney Spears, Carrie Underwood and more. He’s also worked with entertainment clients ABC, E!, Fox, A&E, FX, The Style Network, CMT and others.

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Twitter @help_portrait

POSTSCRIPT: H-P has also released the following video for the 2011 event:

Charity Profile: Help-Portrait



Help-Portrait was founded in 2008 by photographer Jeremy Cowart. In just a few short years, the organization’s presence has ballooned; what started out as a small handful of participants now involves groups and individuals from all points on the map, including the United States, the UK, Brazil, and many other places. Their mission, as they describe it:

In December, photographers around the world will be grabbing their cameras, finding people in need and taking their picture. When the prints are ready, the photographs get delivered.

Yep. It really is that easy.

And by the way, we don’t want to see your photos. This is about GIVING the pictures, not taking them. These portraits are not for your portfolio, website, or for sale. Money isn’t involved here. This holiday season, you have the chance to give a family something they may have never had before—a portrait together.

As with any good mission statement, the above can be condensed to a handful of no-nonsense bullet points:
1. Find someone in need
2. Take their portrait
3. Print their portrait
4. Deliver their portrait

Predictably enough, some photographers have griped about all of this (usually they’re the same ones who spend more time on discussion forums bitching over their manufacturer of choice not updating their favorite camera yet, so they’re jumping ship to (insert name of other manufacturer), wondering whether the time, money, skills and photos could be put to better use. There’s a video at the end of this post that explains the organization and their mission pretty well, but in the meantime, let me say this: if someone’s living in poverty, or just barely making it, one of the last things they’re going to spend money on is having photos done. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not really a vital need. I’ll grant that. But the service provided here — and simultaneously, some part of its genius — is that it gives families and individuals the opportunity to get their portrait done professionally when they wouldn’t otherwise have the chance. Since family portraits are a big thing for some of us, it becomes easy to see why a simple click of the shutter can give someone not just a photo, but also a reminder that they count.

Notice that there’s nothing here that states you have to be a professional, though plenty of professional photographers do donate their time and services. You don’t even have to be a photographer to get involved. Each site typically requires not only photographers, but also people to help with lighting, makeup, general tasks and errands, and people whose job is primarily to look after the needs of those photographed during the shoot. In short: not a pro? No problem. Not even a photographer? They’ll likely find a spot for you, as well.

You can find Help-Portrait in a few places on the web. You can, for instance, follow them on Facebook (your local chapter may also have a presence there), or on Twitter. The real goldmine of information and resources, however, is the organization’s main site, From there, you can find information on the 2011 event (which takes place less than a month from now), read their Mission Statement, a robust Community section,  a blog, and — perhaps most importantly, information on getting started.

Postscript: Here’s a video posted by Help-Portrait that explains, in their own words, what they’re doing:

Charity Profile: Operation: Love ReUnited

Click to find out more about Operation: Love ReUnited

Deployments are too hard on families, and homecomings too joyous, to give much thought to documenting the occasion. Your loved ones are the first thing on your mind, and a camera… well, it’s much further down the list, if it even occurs to you at all. Tonee Lawrence found this out the hard way. Her husband deployed to the Middle East in January 2005, and when he returned some months later, she had little to show for it photographically.

Operation: Love ReUnited was started a short time later, in September, 2006, so that other service members and their families would have a means of documenting these occasions. The first shoot was by Lawrence herself, for a friend whose husband was being deployed. In the five years since, hundreds of photographers – some, like Lawrence, military spouses, others just volunteers with a passion – have captured literally thousands of images of service members and their families, both as they depart for overseas operations, and during their return home.

Participating photographers waive their fees, and agree to send a 4×6 printed album of the images to the deployed soldier, at no cost to the family. When homecomings are photographed, the photographer gives an album or a cd of the images to the returning military member, all with no financial obligation by the service member or their family.

The organization has gotten attention from military spouses (hardly surprising), but is also the only organization whose policies and guidelines have been fully reviewed and approved by the Department of Defense  (you can read the DoD’s feature on the organization here

The organization is still looking for photographers, especially to be able to mobilize large numbers on short notice when troops are deployed. Monetary donations are also sought in order to defray the organization’s members’ travel expenses, which can be considerable. You can find out more about Operation: Love ReUnited’s services, volunteer guidelines, and network of volunteer photographers by visiting their website, You may also find them on Facebook at .

Charity Profile: Shutter Mission

Some months back, when The First 10,000 was still in the planning stages, I thought to myself that it might be a good idea to see what  photo-related charities and nonprofits might be out there. I’d do the occasional article, and at some point devote a page to what I’d found. Then I found that someone had beaten me to it, and in fact devoted an entire website and organization to doing just that.

That someone is Amanda Shoemaker, who started Shutter Mission when she began to realize how many people could benefit from the services offered by portrait charities, but might not be aware of their existence. Feeling that a mere directory would be “boring,” she decided to showcase the charities alongside the work of the photographers who volunteered with them, partly in the hope that other photographers might also be inspired to give back.

Gradually, Shutter Mission took shape. Over time, it’s grown into its mission, “[t]o highlight portrait charities and support photographers who give their time, talent, and heart.” It has likewise evolved according to a plan laid out before the charity even launched; Shoemaker envisioned, and grew, a central hub for photographers to learn about different options in photography charities, a directory of those charities for the benefit of interested photographers and individuals who could benefit from them, and a photo blog that has showcased organizations and photographers alike. She was kind enough to sit down recently and answer a few questions.

Chicken-and-egg question: I see that you and your husband work in the interactive industry. Since both of you spend so much time around graphics, was photography a natural outgrowth of that, or was it the other way around?

My husband, Eric Shoemaker, is an art director here in San Francisco. I’m a contract web developer and work from our home office in Alameda. We’ve both been into photography for years. I fell in love with it in my youth… my dad was a science teacher at my high school, and the photography club director. He was the one who taught me all the ins and outs of the darkroom. Ever since, I have always been involved in photography… with local clubs, starting a portrait business in Atlanta, and volunteering. As for my husband, I gave Eric his first SLR for his birthday back in 2005, and he hasn’t put it down since. Eric’s favorite subject is his ’67 Beetle, and he has an amazing knack for capturing textures and urban scenes. Often on weekends, we go on “photo strolls” together, around Alameda or in the City. Since we are fairly new to the Bay area (we moved here in 2009), capturing our new town is one of our very favorite things to do.

Of all the things you could have done with your photography, you chose to start ShutterMission. What was the spark for that?

Out of all the portrait sessions I had back when I had my business in Atlanta, my very favorites were the Operation: Love ReUnited sessions. I loved that I could really and truly help someone with my art. It was so touching to witness a military homecoming at the airport, to see a child hug her father who had been gone for so many long months, to see a couple kiss for the first time in too long. And to be able to be there to capture that was the best feeling ever. I fell in love with the idea of portrait charities, and the idea with Shutter Mission was to simply get the word out about all these great organizations. For one, so that families knew they existed and could utilize their services, and two, so that photographers looking to volunteer had a place to find the right organization that fit their skills and interests. I looked around the web, and could not find a site where all of these types of charities were collected, so the idea started with a directory of sorts, and grew from there.

I notice that it was six months between when you initially announced the project on Capturing Light and when it finally went live. Tell me about what was going on behind the scenes during that time.

Well, we had just moved 2,500 away from all our family and friends to a strange new city. You probably don’t want to know what was going on “behind the scenes” here! It was a big adjustment for both of us, and quite honestly, the spare time that I assumed I would have to work on side projects like Shutter Mission wasn’t as abundant as I had hoped. Between work contracts, I squeezed in some time to build it. And because I’m a constant tweaker, it took even longer. But hey, better late than never!

What was the moment when you said, “You know, I’ve really got something here?”

Ha! That hasn’t really happened yet. I’d love to carve out some more time to devote to the blog, and hopefully grow the community. Ideally, I’d like to reach as many photographers as possible, so that the charities can get the max amount of exposure for their causes and be fully “stocked” with available volunteers.

What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment thus far?

A mention on the Chicago Tribune’s site was pretty nice… and was a great way to spread the word about charity photography.

And what’s the next milestone you hope to reach?

My next goal with Shutter Mission is to partner with a few photography-specific vendors and host some giveaways for photographers. I’d like to do this as a way to show appreciation for the volunteer work that is being done for the charities, but I also want to attract new photographers to the site who may have not heard of portrait charities before. It will be a great way to educate photographers about the different charities out there and encourage them to get involved.

If someone’s thinking of volunteering with a portrait charity, but either isn’t sure of themselves, or of their skill level, what advice would you give them?

Great question! A lot of charities do require that you are indeed a professional in order to join as a volunteer, and the reason for that is that the people who are being helped via these organizations deserve the absolute best image quality they can get. NILMDTS [Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep] comes to mind… with an infant bereavement session, there are no do-overs. You have to get it right, be professional, sensitive and caring. However, there are volunteer opportunities available for photographers at every skill level. For example, Dog Meets World is open to any photographer who wants to “travel, take pictures, and give joy.” And Help-Portrait utilizes not just photographers, but they also need Adobe Lightroom experts, greeters, lighting technicians, print techs, makeup artists, and more. My advice is, if you want to use your talent to help someone… regardless of skill level… go for it! There is likely a charity that needs you!

Anything you’d like to add that we haven’t already covered?

“You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.” — Winston Churchill

Paul here again: If there’s a lesson to be drawn, it’s this: no matter what your niche or level of skill, there’s likely an organization that fits your interests and passions, and they could probably use your help. If you’re looking for a good overview of your options, or just want to learn more, is a great starting point.

As befits someone with over ten years’ experience building websites, Amanda’s all over the web. Of course, there’s You can also find her on Twitter (@shuttermission), view her portfolio on the  Lane | Russell website, and visit her blog at

Featured Nonprofit: HeARTs Speak

Image courtesy of Lisa Prince Fishler/HeARTs Speak

Photographer Lisa Prince Fishler started HeARTs Speak for one simple reason: every day, from one end of the country, countless adoptable animals are needlessly euthanized. More often than not, they haven’t landed in shelters because there’s something wrong with them; changes in their owners’ lives — be it a drop in income, a change in living arrangements, or the arrival of a child — or simple abandonment account for the lion’s share of shelter animals.

Just as simple economics sometimes works against pet owners, it’s not a shelter’s best friend, either. The average shelter runs on a shoestring, and providing funds to a photographer or painter means cutting back somewhere else. Artists, similarly, may find themselves in the unenviable position of wanting to help but being unable if volunteer work means cutting back on paid assignments. HeARTs Speak takes a two-pronged approach to these problems through donations of photographic equipment to shelters that are inaccessible to photographers, and via cash stipends to the photographers themselves.  With simple photographs and paintings, HeARTs Speak and its contributing artists put a face on the problem, raising not only awareness, but also adoption rates in the process.

The good news is that increasing the number of adoptions by a mere three percent means the end of shelter animals being needlessly put to death. HeARTs Speak seeks “[t]o unite the individual efforts of animal artists & animal rescues into collective action for social change.” Their mission is “to provide the framework, tools & resources to support animal artists working to help animals in need; to disseminate messages that inspire a better understanding of the emotions of animals & ultimately an understanding of, and compassion towards them; to connect Rescues/Shelters with artists with the intention of breaking down the myth that animals from Rescues and Shelters are inferior in some way. Professional Photographs greatly improve adoptability and ultimately, will increase the number of animals adopted and reduce the numbers that are euthanized.”

Says Fishler, “I love what happens when people come together.” To that end, her outreach has included not just photographers and painters, but also other organizations. “HeARTs Speak is actually very excited to be joining forces with The Unexpected Pit Bull Calendar. They’ve been around since 2004, and donate 100% of their net proceeds to pit bull dog related advocacy and rescue groups.  We had almost 40 submissions for the calendar, of which we chose 13 to grace its pages.  It’s something new for us, and for TUPB, but what has resulted is pure magic.”

Animal rescue can seem like a daunting task, but Fishler seems to hew to the old adage that it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog: “We only need to increase the number of animals adopted each year by 3% in order to reduce the numbers euthanized to zero.  The more people we have working together, the sooner we can make that happen.” If you’d like to join in the effort, whether as a donor or as a photographer (the organization is always looking for artists and photographers, of all skill levels), visit their website,