Making residents happy with family portraits as Christmas gifts

Iligan City's The Umbrella photographers with their strobist’s kits during their February 2012 charity shoot in a Gawad Kalinga village in Barangay Tambacan.
Iligan City’s The Umbrella photographers with their strobist’s kits during their February 2012 charity shoot in a Gawad Kalinga village in Barangay Tambacan.

ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / 25 Dec) – Photohobbyists out there, maybe you’d like to make use of your expensive gear and your skills to make other people happy during this Yuletide Season.

Here’s what we did here in Iligan, with the combined photography clubs that we now simply call The Umbrella – take portraits of poor families right in their own homes. Not just snapshots, but taking the extra effort to get beautiful pictures, bringing the same gear most of us would bring when taking pictures of … um, ahhh … girls in various settings, be it fashion, swimsuit, voyeur, and whathaveyou.

The photo shoot is extra special for residents because it is their first time ever to have a family portrait.

When you bring them the finished product – the blow up prints already framed – and see children embracing the framed pictures, or the toothless smile of the oldies as they stare at the portrait for a long time – I can guarantee you will have a big smile yourself and be glad you participated in this kind of project.

It’s Christmas season, right? Time to share whatever you have, especially to the less fortunate ones; to give to people who do not have the capacity to give something back to you.

The shoot we did last Monday, Dec. 22, was actually our third. The first one was in 2010. Our December 2011 shoot was postponed because of Typhoon Sendong; we pushed through with it during Valentine season in 2012. We failed to do the shoot during the Christmas season of 2012 and 2013.

Our group had other similar endeavors – we volunteered to help document the damage wrought by Sendong in January 2012, and partnered with Gawad Kalinga to document a village for Sendong survivors also in 2012 and in 2013.

In December 2008, we also volunteered to do a photo workshop for autistic children, an experience that taught us a lot.

Wedding photographer Gian Carlo said he was challenged when the call for volunteers showed up in the The Umbrella’s Facebook page, which dared photographers to help the poor, and not just shoot pretty girls. “It’s Christmas. It’s nice to help in our own little ways,” he said.

“Not all people can afford to have their family portraits taken,” said Al Fritz Ermac, who volunteered in our first ever charity shoot way back in 2010. “This is the kind of picture we’d like hanging on our wall for eternity,” said the former hobbyist who later made a career of shooting sporting events, the Milo athletic events among them.

“The feeling is different when you see those families who are so happy during our charity shoot,” said Jelo Pacaña, who volunteered in the 2010 and February 2012 charity shoots. He has since moved to New York shooting weddings.

Nurse Mac Macapil, who teaches radiologic technology at the Iligan Medical Center College, said he wanted to “make other people happy even with just a simple token.”

Taking beautiful pictures is easy for amateur photographers. They do it all the time. But for those who could not afford to have their pictures taken, moreso in a studio setting, it’s such a big thing.

Eileen Manulat, president of the Gawad Kalinga Rainbow Village in Tambacan, said the families were so happy, even displaying the pictures in the alley after our group of photographers left. “It was perfect Christmas gift for them, especially so because it was given on Christmas eve,” she said.

Maybe your camera club would want to do this, too. It’s not too late. And it’s actually easy.

First, check out with your camera club if there are willing volunteers to do family portraits in the field, bringing their portable lighting equipment with them. (We call that strobist’s kit, consisting of small flashguns, light stands and umbrellas or diffusers; not the heavy lighting equipment you see in studios.)

Getting volunteers is actually easy, because hobbyists regularly go out to shoot. Getting donors within the group who are willing to sponsor the cost of making blowup prints and the frames is harder, but a few will stand up. You can also ask FB friends, especially now during this season of giving.

Happy residents of the Gawad Kalinga Rainbow Village compare their family portraits.
Happy residents of the Gawad Kalinga Rainbow Village compare their family portraits.

A set of blowup print (either 8×10 or A4 size) and frame is not really expensive. If you’re lucky, as we are, you can get them in the P250 to P300 range. A group member, Robert Booc, runs the local Kodak lab and does framing jobs, too. So we were able to get a huge discount. Once you confirm the amount you will get from the sponsors, you now have an idea how many prints and frames you can do.

Don’t attempt to give pictures to all the poor families in your city. Like, there’s a really big GK Village here in our area, those intended for Sendong survivors. But with a few hundred families there, we know we can’t do it.

Check out contacts with organized communities. In our case, hobbyist Keith Salise happened to be with Gawad Kalinga, which has many organized communities for the poor all over the country.

It’s best to work with an organized community, because things happen fast. Keith talked to Eileen, then Eileen told the community members, then Keith told us it’s a go. It actually took us only a few days to make this happen.

I’m sure your camera club can do this, too. We do have fun in our photowalks, right? Shooting for the poor is just as much fun, but with a much more deeper impact, both to ourselves and to our subjects.

Take this word from Mac: “The genuine smile of the people during the shoot was contagious, even more when we distributed the framed photographs. Their thank yous and their smiles were energizing. It gave me a feeling of happiness as well.”