Help-Portrait’s mission is to give the gift of a portrait to someone in need, free of charge. What that means exactly is up to the photographer or local group. In Madison, that means we transform a local food pantry and turn it into a giant, multi-station, photography studio one day a year and then afterward we deliver every family or individual with a packet of prints.

The event has grown substantially in the last 5 years, the first Help-Portrait Madison event had a handful of volunteers and served 12 people, this year with the help of over 50 volunteers we have expanded to two different pantry sites and have served nearly 700.

I’ve been the Lead Coordinator of the group for the last 3 years. The first year I was involved as a Lead Photographer and that event was an eye opener for me. My very first Help-Portrait session was for a single mom and her kids. At the end of the shoot, which had gone fabulously, the mom, with tears in her eyes, hugged me and told me that I had made her Christmas. She said that all she had ever wanted was a photo of her and her kids together and I would never know how big of a gift this was for her. It blew me away. She was right, I had no idea.

Up until that moment it hadn’t even occurred to me that someone could be that touched by something I do for fun every day.

It showed me how important and valuable a portrait really is to someone who has never had one. It had never occurred to me that showing someone they were worthy of a professional portrait, when they never had had the means to get one, could transform that person’s self-esteem. The experience changed my view of the faces of people in need in my community and I knew from then on that Help-Portrait was going to be a long-time passion of mine.

The people we offer this service to are primarily clients of the pantries, most are low income families and individuals with highly diverse stories, and all of them are beautiful people who deserve the luxury and the dignity of this gift. Some of them are hard working young families struggling to make ends meet and looking to get their first official family portrait, other individuals are out of work and want to get a headshot they can use when they apply for jobs. There are grandmas who haven’t seen their children in 5 years and want to send them a photo for Christmas so their grandkids will know what they look like. Some are couples who have been married for 5 or 10 or 20 years and have never had a portrait together. There are families who have lost everything in a fire, or financial disaster, and treasure the opportunity to start their collection of memories all over again. Or the person who wants a photo with their best friend (a 15 year old hound) before he passes away.  To these people this gift is valuable but it also makes them feel valued.


Photographers know how precious it is to have a record of people, to freeze memories for generations. We educate our clients about the importance of investing in quality images that last a lifetime, and we run around after our children and our pets taking thousands upon thousands of images to document their lives. It’s so easy to forget that this part of my life that I obsess over, and is even actually an annoyance to both my son and my dog, this thing that I eat, sleep, and breathe…. is a luxury. In a world of Facebook and Instagram and cell phones with cameras in every pocket being the norm, it seems impossible that there are people who do not have a portrait of themselves.

Help-Portrait is an idea that we can use our talents to give to others, just because. Consider joining a local Help-Portrait event in your area… or starting one… or just letting the idea touch you. You don’t need a big event in order to make a difference, what matters is that everyone in need deserves to feel valuable, and worthy of such a simple thing.

This post was originally published on December 16th 2013, and reposted to in January 2017