It's a new year and a new decade: the perfect time to wipe the slate clean, break old habits and commit to being a more outstanding person. Why not start off by giving back to your community? As photographers, we're in a unique position to make people happy and improve the world through our craft.

What follows are several ways for photographers to uplift others and do more good. This is by no means a complete list, but a beginning – because we're looking to you, our dear readers, to help us come up with more great ideas. If you have one, please leave it in the comments below. We'll look forward to revisiting this list and adding an update in the not-too-distant future.

Make portraits to brighten someone's day

There are many organizations, global and US-based, seeking photographers to volunteer their time and talent to make portraits. A well-shot portrait – one that captures someone's essence – is bound to put smiles on faces.

Some of these organizations, like Flashes of Hope and the Gold Hope Project, work to connect families of children with cancer and other terminal illnesses with portrait photographers. These portrait sessions are meant to both make their subjects feel like rock stars and to create photographs that can be cherished. Other organizations, like Help Portrait, are a little more general in their mission: their guiding principle is to uplift anyone in need with a printed portrait.

Still others, like Operation: Love Reunited, connect photographers with families of US military members serving overseas, for professional portrait sessions before, during, and after deployment. Portraits of Love is similar, but also works with the families of first responders as well.

And that's just scratching the surface. There are many organizations and non-profits that aim to make the world a better place through photography. Below are just some of the many I came across while putting together this article, worth your consideration:

Help an animal find their forever home

It's amazing what a good photo can do and even more amazing how misleading a bad photo can be. Consider, for a moment, the shelter dog/cat/ferret/etc. Scared and alone in a foreign place. The setting hardly makes for a happy subject. Now factor in an animal-loving but perhaps photographically-challenged volunteer with a cellphone in dim light and you have the recipe for a not-so-great adoption picture.

Fortunately, you can volunteer your time and skill to help increase a pup/parrot/turtle's chance of finding a forever home. If you're unsure whether your local shelter is looking for photographer volunteers, why not ask them? Of better yet, get involved with Hearts Speak, a non-profit already working with a third of the shelters in the US (and many worldwide), to improve their adoption photography.

Donate old gear to those in need

Let's face it, we all have old gear lying around in closets and drawers that we no longer use – gear that could be teaching and inspiring new photographers, but is instead left to languish and collect dust. Which is why I propose this: if you have camera gear you haven't touched in two or more years, it's time to give it up. Sure you could grease the wheels of future camera purchases by selling your secondhand equipment, but you'd be a real hero if you chose to donate it instead.

Organizations like Photo Start are in need of gear to be distributed to less-fortunate children around the world, thus giving them a chance to enjoy photography they might not otherwise have

I'm glad I convinced you! Because organizations like Photo Start are in need of used/working camera gear to be distributed to less-fortunate children around the world, thus giving them a chance to enjoy photography when they might not have otherwise. That seems like a win-win to me. Another great organization is the One-Shot Project, who work specifically with children in Iraq, teaching vocational skills like photography and storytelling. They too will happily accept your used/working digital cameras.

Another option if you want to keep it local: any school or community center with a photography program or class. And if you're swimming specifically in film cameras (like I am) the Film Photography Project would also be pleased to throw you a life vest and take a few off your hands.

Teach others the joy of photography

Of course, giving a less-fortunate individual a camera is a great place to start, but teaching someone how to shoot with that camera is an even more impactful gesture. Depending on where you live, it can be fairly easy to find opportunities within your community to pass on your knowledge of the craft you love. For instance, here in Seattle we have Youth in Focus, a non-profit providing arts education to the area's youth. They offer opportunities to teach alongside a professional artist in a variety of disciplines, including photography and videography.

But even if no established photography classes are offered in your area or there's no need for new volunteers, why not start a class of your own? Or for a more low-key approach, consider putting together a local photo walk. This will give you the opportunity to both teach others and maybe make some new friends as well.

Make a donation to inspire the next generation of photographers

While the gift of your time and used gear both go a long way, so does cold hard cash. There are countless organizations out there worthy of your financial donation. One photography-specific non-profit I like is the Josephine Herrick Project – they deliver photography training to at-risk people in the New York City metropolitan area (my hometown). They also happily accept applications for volunteer teachers. Another non-profit worthy of your donation is 100cameras, who work with kids around the world, teaching photography as a means of processing challenging situations.

The wrap

And there you have it, a handful of ways to brighten someone's day through your love of photography. Like I said, this is just a start – we'd love to revisit this article this time next year and add your best suggestions, so leave them in the comments below. Happy new year!