Human Interest

Photography company provides hope to NICU families

Capturing Hopes is a nonprofit organization in North Carolina that not only captures hope, but also preserves memories for those families facing a difficult journey with their newborn baby. Many hospitals have photography programs, but Capturing Hopes is unlike any other. The organization is made up of professional photographers that volunteer their time and talent to bless families enduring a long Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) stay and/or infant loss. The photography sessions and digital photographs are free for families. According to the website, “The entire mission of Capturing Hopes can be summed up in one word, HOPE.”

Founded out of Experience 

The 501c(3) organization was founded by Deneen Bryan after her family lost their 5-month-old daughter, Christina, due to complications following a liver transplant. During the family’s lengthy hospital stay in 1998, a local photographer blessed them with beautiful photographs of Christina.

Deneen was inspired by the photographer’s generosity and touched by the comfort the photographs have provided her family over the years. “Nothing will ever replace the photos [we] have to remember Christina daily,” she told Live Action News.

READ: Ten years after their own preemie was born, family knits hats to support NICU patients

In the years that followed, Deneen volunteered as a photographer at Brenner Children’s Hospital in Winston Salem, NC.  Deneen spent most of her volunteer hours in the NICU, where she used her talent to track each baby’s growth from week to week for the families. Capturing Hopes Photography became an official non-profit organization in 2013.

How Capturing Hopes Differs from Other Photography Programs

Unlike most hospital photography programs, Capturing Hopes does not photograph babies just once. Instead, the photographers visit preemies and NICU babies on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Using professional cameras and high-quality lighting, the photographers aim to capture photos of the little ones throughout their time in the NICU. Capturing Hopes allows families to see how much progress their babies are making and to view them through a different lens. Deneen explained, “When families see the back of our camera and gasp at how beautiful their child is, we know we have accomplished what we have set out to do.”

The charity photographs newborns as well as children enduring a difficult diagnosis at times. Deneen told Live Action News, “We have photographed babies as small as 12 ounces, 13 ounces, 15 ounces… the size does not matter, we will capture their journey from the very start. We also provide progress photos for children going through a long-term hospital stay with cancer, transplant, or other long-term illnesses.”

The photographs taken by Capturing Hopes photographers are given to families digitally, free of charge. At times, the organization also creates encouraging time-lapse videos, with its “Project 100 Days.” The goal of this project is to highlight a preemie’s growth and progress. 

Neonatal Immersion Photography

As Deneen blessed families in the NICU with her photography, she saw the need for bereavement photographers in the hospital setting. When a family loses a baby, the photographs snapped in the hospital are often all they have left of their child. These photographs provide great comfort to those mourning the loss of a child.

In 2015 Deneen piloted the “Little Lights Program” at Novant Forsyth Medical Center in Winston Salem, North Carolina. This program has been a blessing to many families in the community.

Deneen’s team of volunteers also specializes in Neonatal Immersion Photography (NIP) for photographing an infant that has passed away. NIP is underwater photography with the baby being fully immersed in saline water in a clear tub.

NIP is a newer practice, but it’s been proven to offer many benefits for grieving families. The saline water is similar to the amniotic fluid in a mother’s womb so being submerged causes the baby’s skin color to improve, her arms and legs to become flexible, her flaws seem to fade away, and the beauty of her humanity shines through. 

Professional bereavement photography, and Neonatal Immersion Photography, aid in the grieving process for families. One mother said, “I wanted to say thank you very much for the pictures of my sweet girl. They are so very precious. This was a very difficult time for my husband, myself, and family, but we are thankful we have these pictures of our baby girl, so we can cherish them forever. This is a wonderful program and I hope more places do this for grieving mothers and fathers.”

Deneen, a mother of six and grandmother of one, resides in North Carolina with her husband. She has a professional photography studio, but Capturing Hopes continues to be her passion. Denee notes, “Our goal is to give hope…by focusing in on the beauty and humanity of each child in our photos. We find hope during a time where some days it is hard to see it.” 

Capturing Hopes is fully funded by donations and fueled by volunteers. Anyone interested in partnering with Capturing Hopes through donations or volunteering, or to schedule a session for your newborn, please click here.

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