Advent Giving

Two weeks ago, on the evening of Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, our family gathered with friends and friends of friends to talk about The Advent Conspiracy.

More specifically, we gathered to answer the question: what could we, as a small group (some of us with connections to larger groups) do for our inner city community during this advent season and into the winter months beyond?

We were sharing ideas when my husband suggested, "What about taking portraits for people who can't otherwise afford a nice photo of their family?" It was a popular idea, everyone thought it was great.

The group started talking about what we would need to do that. A photographer with a good camera for one thing.

"You have a nice camera, don't you Renee?"

 "Um, yes. And I love taking photos but I have no experience taking group portraits, and I'm most comfortable with natural light photography."

My response was non-committal at best. Maybe another photographer could be found. The plans moved on to holiday meals and decoration parties for neighborhood children.

I didn't hear much of the conversation, instead I heard that still, small voice, "you can do this, you should do this".

Talk circled back to the portrait idea and I took the plunge. "I'll do it. I'm not exactly sure what I'm doing but I'll do it."

Damien volunteered to take care of the framing, someone else agreed to line up the 5 families to photograph, others would scout a place indoors to take the photos. Fast forward to today.

It's been a busy early December, not quite what I had expected. Involving ourselves in this local conspiracy to worship fully, spend less, give more and love all has consumed a lot of our family's physical and creative energies and changed the usual course of events.

Damien, not content to simply buy frames decided to use his newly purchased woodworking tools (bought for a house project) to hand-craft the frames. Let me tell you, they're gorgeous.

His evenings and weekend day, usually reserved for house fixing-up, have been spent sawing, sanding, clamping and gluing.

And me, well, I've been stressing a little because I have no experience with this type of photography. I've been test shooting the location, researching the best lens and camera settings for portraits. And because I kept freaking out about the unpredictability of a well lit afternoon we went to Home Depot and bought a couple halogen work lamps to fashion some DIY studio lights.

We have always desired to be intentional in our giving and not simply throw cash at people or ideas. Don't get me wrong, cash is good. It buys mittens, coats, blankets and heating oil for families in need. But we want to have relationship with people not just dispense things. We want to give of our talents, gifts and time.

tree gift ornament

What I have to give

Why all the effort for this project? Because we want these portraits to be the best we have to give.

I want to take awesome photos of these families, to give them a piece of art that shows how beautiful they are. A photo that captures and reflects back to them the spark of the Divine that is found within us all.

It's probably a little too much to ask for since this is the first time I've done something like this.

However, I am determined to give my very best shot (not intended but did you get that pun?).

My camera, my creativity and my passion to capture beauty, moments and light are gifts that have been given to me. These tools and talents are not mine to keep, store and hide away. They are what I have to invest and share with my community.

They are for the benefit of everyone and I'm so excited to be sharing them this season. But, I'm still very nervous about actually taking the photos, which happens this Saturday.

So if you are reading this long post I have a request. If you are the praying sort I would appreciate any and all prayers. I don't feel talented enough to do this on my own and I'm counting on Divine inspiration and guidance. And a clear sunny afternoon with warm light filtering through the high windows would be a big bonus. One last thought from my favorite carol this season:

What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; yet what I can I give him: give my heart.

Renee Tougas participates in affiliate marketing, including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. Whenever you buy something on Amazon from a link you clicked here, I get a (very) small percentage of that sale. See disclosure for further explanation.

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  • Jamie

    Jamie on Dec. 12, 2008, 7:21 p.m.

    Oh, Renee! What a fantastic gift. I am so excited for you to do this. I used to portrait studio manager so I know a bit about family portraits. It's definitely a different world from shooting flowers and children playing but I know you can do it. Here a few of my personal tips:

    1) Give everyone in the picture a job to do. Whether it be holding something or someone or looking a certain direction people want something to focus on other than the lens in their face. 2) Give lots of praise. Count on them being nervous and know that the more confident and comfortable you are the more relaxed they'll become. Simply saying,"wow that ones gonna be fantastic" after you snap a picture will instantly put grins on their faces and let them know they're doing a good job. 3) Build shapes. Pose bodies with triangles and diamonds in mind - not squares. When all else fails keep everyone close to showcase their relationship with eachother. 4) Don't overthink it. Simply getting everyone in the same shot looking like they like eachother IS good enough and it'll mean so much to them. 5) Have fun! You get to hang out with some great families and be apart of something so intimate that'll last more than a lifetime. It'll be a blast.


  • Shawna

    Shawna on Dec. 12, 2008, 10:59 p.m.

    Oh how wonderful! I would love to get to do that, but i, too, would be quite anxious about being an amateur. I will keep you close in mind and send you good vibes. I've read some really good sites lately, but it's probably too late for you to study up much more. One thing I've heard that stuck in my head is to have each family member tell one another something funny and something they love about each person. I imagine that would fit well in the holiday spirit as well. :O) Good luck!


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