I wrote a post a while back about my first experience shooting a Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep session, you can read it here. I was overwhelmed by the response I received through comments, email and facebook. You asked some great questions, some of which I had no answers for and so I set out to find them. I’m very excited to be able to give you those answers as well as let you know that they are coming directly from NILMDTS Headquarters.
Thank you Leah for inviting Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep to create a guest post for your blog! It is so nice to see the hearts of those who follow this blog and their desire to be able to help. The NILMDTS Foundation has grown exponentially since the beginning in 2005, and we still maintain a simple, heartfelt mission to offer the free gift of professional portraiture to families suffering an early infant loss. Our heart is that no family will go un-served. In spite of the incredible growth we have experienced, there are still many instances when a volunteer photographer cannot be found and we are not able to provide images for a family.
I am thankful that Leah’s posts are so closely followed, and humbled that she chose to talk specifically about her work with NILMDTS and the need for more photographers. I am glad to have this opportunity to also answer some of the questions that have been asked.
First, we have volunteers located around the world. In some countries there may be only 1 or 2 volunteers, but all are passionate about our mission. For a list of volunteers in other countries, use our “Find a Photographer” search on our main website, and search by country. Our membership outside of North America is growing, but is still a grass roots effort. Awareness in other countries brings volunteers and before you know it, there will be a solid, thriving network established!
Next, we are often asked about our approval process and how we evaluate volunteer applicants. Since our mission states that we offer professional portraiture, we must have an application and approval process to ensure that each family receives a high quality gift. While we do not require our volunteers to be running full time studios, we do require that they have professional level equipment (both camera and lighting) and adequate skills in using both. One member of our Membership Application Committee (MAC) has this to add:
“We ask that you really KNOW and understand how to use your camera. You must understand the settings and when to use each one. A serious photographer will also have an official website to showcase a portfolio of their best work reflecting a variety of poses, situations and lighting. We specifically are looking for portrait work showing auxiliary lighting skills, as this most clearly reflects the skills you will need to take high quality images in a small, poorly lit hospital room. Professional equipment would include a DSLR camera with lenses that can be changed, off camera flash attachment (speedlite), and a diffuser for indoor and outdoor shooting along with strobes and softboxes for studio lighting. Owning and knowing how to use this equipment is invaluable for the difficult conditions you may encounter at a hospital. Understanding techniques to bounce and reflect light are also essential.”
I know these may sound like intimidating standards, but please know that we must do our best to ensure that each of our volunteers can provide quality images to families. Each session is unique and we have only one opportunity to capture precious memories and tell this child’s story. There are no opportunities for a re-shoot.
It takes favorable scores from two reviewers to approve an applicant and three reviewers to decline an applicant. If an applicant is declined, our reviewers provide feedback about which skills they need to hone and invite them to reapply at a later date. Please do not be discouraged if you are a relatively new photographer and are not approved the first time around. We need you, so, as you continue to grow as a photographer, please reapply!
As a web site is a big indicator of the seriousness of a photographer, we do require that applicants have a website before our review team will begin. If you do not have a website, you may automatically receive a decline notice, BUT we are willing to review a sampling of images, in place of a professional website. If you are declined due to not having a website, but contact us and ask to submit sample images, our review team will send you instructions about how to submit a specific set of images for review and they will reopen your application.
Once approved and fully activated you will receive a training manual. We also encourage you to attend a formal training seminar if one if offered in your area. Even if you are not able to attend a formal training seminar, as long as you have studied your training manual, you should consider yourself qualified to take a session. Shadowing is another way to gain experience and confidence. As long as new volunteers are willing to be proactive, we want them to have an opportunity to shadow an experienced NILMDTS photographer. Being proactive means that you contact your Area Coordinator and request to shadow, and then leave flexibility in your schedule so that you can be available when a shadowing opportunity arises. I am thankful that Leah was willing to go so late at night when her opportunity to shadow presented itself.
In addition to photographers, we also have additional volunteer positions. We need Digital Retouch Artists who are willing to help with image editing. We also offer an Assistant to Photographer and Parent Coordinator position. Digital Retouch Artists, Assistant to Photographer, and Parent Coordinators do not photograph, but support our mission in other ways. Assistants must have a sponsoring photographer and accompany only that photographer to help with equipment, lighting, and posing. Parent Coordinators are liaisons to the community and hospital to help raise awareness and support the local area network of volunteers. Parent Coordinators can also take calls from hospitals and help find photographers to fill the need if there is no Area Coordinator nearby or available
Finally, other common questions center on the demand for services, and how often you will be called. Each area is different and the session load may vary. What we need you to know is that you are a volunteer and we want you to take care of your personal family life first. Each volunteer has different availability and that is fine. We just ask that you take the sessions you can take and be in regular contact with your local Area Coordinator. Take care of yourself so that you do not burn out and do not take so many sessions that you cannot edit and deliver them to families in a timely manner to meet our standard turnaround time.
Thank you again for this opportunity to share our mission and information about NILMDTS! If you would like to apply as a volunteer visit our main website, www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org and click on the “Photographers” section (picture of baby’s feet), then look for the “Wish to Volunteer? Click Here to begin” link. After you have submitted your application, please allow up to 8 weeks for review of your application. Our MAC team members are volunteers located around the country (who are also photographers AND Area Coordinators AND Certified Trainers) and give us extra time each week to review new applicants. We thank you in advance for your patience and support!