Photographs hold a certain power that is stronger for some than others. As a photographer it’s easy for me to lose the sentimental connection with photos that many people feel, simply because I pore over hundreds or even thousands of images a day. This weekend, though, I remembered how special one photo could be.

Local non-profit Outside the Lens organized an event as part of a national movement called Help-Portrait. The goal is for photographers to set aside a day to take a portrait for someone in need. On Saturday morning in Linda Vista, about 100 families and individuals got their portrait taken in a chaotic scene of photographers, lights, makeup artists, volunteers and Santa Claus. (It was Santa’s original plan to just entertain the kids, not be in the pictures with them, but that didn’t last long.)

As a volunteer myself, I was tasked with lending children point-and-shoot cameras and encouraging them to take as many photos as they wanted. When my booth was quiet I took the opportunity to take in the rest of the production.

Volunteers began arriving at 7:45 a.m., though families didn’t start arriving until after 10:00 a.m.

The original location for Help-Portrait was slated to be a nearby community center, but two days before the event a scheduling conflict pushed the event to classrooms at Linda Vista Presbyterian Church.

Below: Volunteer photographer Patrick Gooden takes test photos with his volunteer assistant, high school student Alyanna Cardozo, while fellow volunteer Haley Robinson poses. Several volunteers like Cardozo and Robinson got their first experience assisting a professional photographer at the event.

Katie Christl, an instructor from the Saco hair school in the Gaslamp, works on Desiree Drake’s hair while giving pointers to surrounding students. Several Saco students and instructors filled a small classroom to provide help with hair and makeup, their hairdryers frequently blowing the circuit breaker and stalling the buzz of activity.

Wendy Rios, 9, gets worked on by Saco students. Wendy lives just down the street from the church in Linda Vista and came with her mom, Maria Ayala, and two sisters, Joselyn and Emily.

While waiting for their mother to finish hair and makeup, the Rios sisters experimented with cameras in the creative zone, my booth.

Maria Ayala waits in line for her family portrait.

Santa was not expected to be a part of any family portraits but stayed busy throughout the day. One mother, referring to her daughter who had spotted Santa from their car window, said, “She wouldn’t stop crying until I turned around.”

Leaving my creative zone booth, I snapped a photo of Ayala and her family with Santa. Seeing the opportunity, an impromptu line of families quickly formed and I was trapped taking photos of families with Santa.

Ayala and her daughters squeezed a second shoot in with photographer John Salgado.

The five volunteer photographers pose for a photo for Outside the Lens. Among them they provided 100 families and individuals with portraits by 1:30 p.m. The photographers have been turning over their digital files to Outside the Lens, which is getting them printed thanks to a donation from HP. And then the families will pick up their photos at the Bayside Community Center next Wednesday.

Perhaps the story of the day belonged to one woman, who explained to a volunteer that she had never had portraits taken of her three children, even though her oldest son is 15 years old. While the photographers disassembled their equipment, volunteer Phi Nguyen recounted to me the woman’s joy on learning she would finally have photos of her family.

Help-Portrait from Will Parson on Vimeo.

Will Parson is a local freelance photographer, visual journalist and blogger. You can contact him directly at, visit his website or follow his blog about local photographers on the Union-Tribune’s website.

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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