Thank you for joining us. I am Cliff Lawson, President of the Board of Directors for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. I have been a professional photographer for 10 years, specializing in portraits and sports photography.

NILMDTS is one of the largest volunteer photography organization, and the pioneers of modern remembrance photography. I am excited to be here and share our mission and answer any questions you may have regarding our organization.


edit: We started the AMA over in /r/photography, but have decided to expand it to everyone here in /r/IAmA

Background - Maddux was born on February 4, 2005, with a condition that was incompatible with life. After six days, his parents, Mike and Cheryl Haggard had to make the excruciating decision to take him off life support. Before they did, they called photographer Sandy Puc’ to take black and white portraits of them cradling their son. Puc’ photographed the couple with Maddux at the hospital before he was removed from life support and after — when he was free from the tubes and the wires that had sustained him.

Those tender photographs documenting Maddux’s eternal connection with his parents helped honor the legacy of Maddux and brought legitimacy to his life. This inspired Cheryl and Sandy to begin a nonprofit organization in April 2005. They named it Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep (NILMDTS) after the children’s bedtime prayer. NILMDTS currently has over 1400 active volunteer photographers serving families in all 50 US states, Canada and throughout the world.

Example Photographs

If you are looking to help, we have two ways you can get involved.

  1. Join us as a photographer or digital retouch artist by visiting our website at Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. We are actively seeking new photographers to serve more families.

  2. Join us in our annual fundraiser by signing up for Charity Model Search. It's free to participate, and would be a great way to help us and work on your own portraits.

EDIT 3:30pm EST: Thanks for joining me! While I have to sign off, keep posting questions and I'll have the staff answer them throughout the day. If you are interested, please check out the ways to help above. Best wishes. - Cliff

Comments: 54 • Responses: 18  • Date: 

CrispyD19 karma

As the father of a stillborn son, I thank you for doing this. Your work helped me through a time when I couldn't see much of anything through the tears. The picture helped by giving me a beautiful detail to cling to. It also gave me something "normal" to deal with in the middle of all the other emotions.

There is way more for me to say, but I'll leave it at; "Never stop. Your work makes a difference."

NowILayMeDowntoSleep6 karma

Thank you for sharing your story of your son. We are thankful and honored to have been able to serve you and your family.

KGBspy14 karma

Watching my 4 y/o daughter eat her lunch, no way can I go to your site -ever. I had the misfortune of having to be a firefighter that had to try to revive an 8 week old infant, that's all I ever want to see. Thanks for helping those families.

NowILayMeDowntoSleep7 karma

Thank you for sharing your story. It is always heartwrenching to hear others' stories of loss, including those that have only been affected by another's experience, such as yourself. We know that it is so important to the families to have a connection to their children.

scumbagcoyote12 karma

This is a great service you provide. But how much of a demand is there for this? I'd like to think the demand is small.

NowILayMeDowntoSleep12 karma

The demand is greater than we have the resources to respond. In some metropolitan areas we have nowhere NEAR enough photographers to cover the requests. Here in the Denver area, it is not rare to have multiple requests in one day. my personal experience is that I have been out on a session while getting an email to determine if I could get to another hospital that day. While two in one day is not normal, neither is it rare.

gmwh9 karma

Over 50,000 babies die in the US every year when you combine early infant loss and stillbirths. There is a great need for this service. So many parents regret not knowing about it sooner.

scumbagcoyote3 karma

I guess I'm still ignorant about this. So is it true that many/most of the photographs are of babies who are dead already?

NowILayMeDowntoSleep9 karma

It is a mix, but yes, for the most part we work with babies that have passed away.

huachaos10 karma

This has to be a heart-wrenching thing to do, yet at the same time you are providing a memory for parents. How do you handle the emotions?

NowILayMeDowntoSleep11 karma

That is a common and understandable question. Yes, the environment can be very sad and emotional (though not always). We have a job to do and we are concentrating on getting the proper posing, good lighting, getting the types of images we need. So we are a bit removed from the emotion of the moment. I find that the time spent preparing the images is far more emotional than the session itself. NOW I am observing the images, not concentrating on making them.

It is NOT as tough a people believe to make the images - it sounds difficult - it is a job to do!

raitch7 karma

Hi Cliff! My good friend had a stillbirth and we were lucky to get a NILMDTS volunteer to come do photos at the hospital. The session went well and the photographer did a good job, but it ended up taking a long time for her to get the photos to the family. My friend (the mom) became very anxious that the photos must have been deleted or corrupted and that she'd never get them. It did all work out in the end, but my question is in how the volunteers are trained to deal with the family once the photos are taken. Do the photographers get some sort of training about dealing with parents in a fragile emotional state?

I think NILMDTS is such a wonderful organization. Thank you so much for all of your hard work to help these families retain memories of their precious children.

NowILayMeDowntoSleep5 karma

Yes, we so have training. By necessity, most of it is online as we have nowhere NEAR a budget that would allow in-person training to all the affiliates. We are working on a more formal online training that new affiliates would be REQUIRED to take and we would have the ability to track their progress. We do require that images be delivered within 4 weeks, but with a nationwide system of volunteers, there is no way to enforce that.

misterdudelol6 karma

My sister lost her first son just about a year ago. He was stillborn at 9 months. Her and her husband were so happy that we wanted pictures and we wanted pictures of us holding the little guy. They were very worried it would have seemed disturbing or unusual. But it really was a great thing in a moment of seemingly hopelessness and deep sadness. Just want to say that I wish they would have had someone like you to take professional photographs. I'll pass along your info to my sister as I'm sure she'd like to know about this.

On a side note, she is pregnant with triplets (yes, triplets!) and is due for a c-section in only two weeks. They're all extremely healthy and ready to roll.

NowILayMeDowntoSleep4 karma

Thank you so much for sharing your story. We do offer retouching for free to families who we did not have the chance to serve. The retouching takes the photos and works with them to create the timeless quality that NILMDTS is known for. If this is something that your sister might be interested in, please let her know she can reach out to us at [email protected].

DigDoug_995 karma

I tried to volunteer with NILMDTS as a retoucher. I sent a link to my site with several before/after examples of my work, and a brief bio. They sent me an archive image to retouch "as a test." The baby had some sort of skin condition and it would have required several hours of work before I would be happy with the results.

I'm a busy photographer and retoucher. I was willing to volunteer my time to a great cause, but I was not willing to spend half a day on a "test" image that was going to be discarded.

I emailed and reminded them that I do this for a living and there were plenty of example images for them to view and evaluate my skills, but that I didn't have time to spend on a test that wasn't really necessary. I never heard back from anyone.

Is that a standard request that you make of volunteer retouchers? Do you have tests for your photographers as well? Am I maybe just a jerk for not doing the test?

NowILayMeDowntoSleep13 karma

This is a standard test that we give for our digital retouch volunteers, and I'm sorry you had a negative experience looking at how long it would take. We have stringent requirements for both our photographers and retouchers to ensure that the gift we are giving to families are of the highest quality. This picture will be something they will cherish for generations. Many of our families say that if there was a fire, the pictures would be the first thing they would grab. We take this responsibility VERY seriously.

The image that you received may take an hour or two, or even longer, but it is to evaluate your work from the ground up on one of our more difficult cases. Many of our babies do not require nearly as much work, but some do, and for all of our babies we have a standard that we require our retouch artists to adhere to. Once you are approved you can choose which babies you want to work on as they come in.

Again, I'm sorry you had a negative experience, and I hope you will consider working with us going forward.

heyhermano235 karma

Are all the portraits done with off camera lighting and backgrounds? I'd imagine most of the photos are done in the hospital and that's not the kind of background that parents want to remember. Is there ever any push back from the hospitals in setting up these sessions?

I remember hearing about this from photographers who were at Jonathan Canlas' WPPI presentation a few years back. I couldn't imagine what the portraits would actually look like and I'm struck by how beautiful they are. I can really see now how important they'd be for parents suffering a loss.

NowILayMeDowntoSleep10 karma

We encourage photographers to work with softboxes and speed lights. Bringing umbrellas into the hospital room is doable, but not practical, and we want the process to be a seamless as it can be for the family. Usually a nurse or family member will assist us in holding the light (always off camera).

Sometimes our babies will be in the NICU, where there is limited space and complicated angles to work with. The close and soft lighting gentle black fall-off. Post production is used to make sure limited hospital equipment is showing, and our pictures are delicately converted to black and white or sepia.

In regards to hospitals pushing back - they have become much more receptive as we have grown larger. Usually the only pushback we receive is from Volunteer compliance. You see, we are not volunteers for the hospital, and as such we are not required to go through the process of background checks or vaccinations. We come into the hospitals as a guest of the family - sometimes individual employees have a tough time understanding that.

princess-heya4 karma

Do you have any advice for someone who is a photographer and looking to start a nonprofit that offers portraits to families battling cancer? I lost my mom to cancer and this is something that has weighed on me. I know there are organizations that offer this and I have become affiliated with one, but I feel called to do more than just take the pictures.

NowILayMeDowntoSleep6 karma

I am not the guy to answer that. I do know that starting a 501 (c) 3 is not simple and easy. My advice would be to work within the existing organizations - they have done the work. We do not need MORE non-profits, we need people to work with the ones that already exist.

KahBhume4 karma

As a grown man and father, I'm not ashamed to say that just seeing this topic, knowing what you do, and why you do it has teared me up like nothing else. Thank you for your work on behalf of all grieving families who never had the chance to see their little ones grow.

NowILayMeDowntoSleep2 karma

Thank you for sharing your story. We feel honored to serve these families and contribute to the legacy of their children, and wish we could serve all families affected by infant loss.

Iceburg373 karma

What's your favorite part about what you do?

NowILayMeDowntoSleep13 karma

Well, "favorite" might not be the way I would think of it, but the most REWARDING part is when I get a Thank You note from a family. Knowing how they treasure what I have done means more to me than I can adequately describe.

DoodleBug93613 karma

I don't have a serious question, I just wanted to thank you for what you do for grieving families. You are an amazing group of people. Thank you.

My question: what's your favourite colour m&m?

NowILayMeDowntoSleep2 karma

Thank you for your encouragement and support.

I enjoy the Blue ones!

eatgeeksleeprepeat3 karma

How did you find out about the organization and get involved?

NowILayMeDowntoSleep21 karma

I was in a camera store (remember those?) and got to talking with another customer and he was an affiliate for the charity. He told me about it and my first question to him is just what EVERYONE asks, "How can you do that?" His answer is no MY answer - that you have a job to do and you are concentrating on doing it right. The emotion of the moment has no place in getting the images.

I mentioned to the lady that cuts my hair (what there is of it) that I was considering doing this and she came around in front of the chair, pointed her finger at me, and said, "You need to do this. I lost my son 20 years ago and they never let me see him.I would give anything to have what you can give those parents."

So here I am, 100+ sessions later.

boogx2 karma

The photographs are amazing. I don't think I could do what you do; you sell yourself short. More power to your fantastic organization

NowILayMeDowntoSleep3 karma

Thank you for your support. We are blessed to have an amazing group of volunteers.

youfound4042 karma

what gear do you use?

NowILayMeDowntoSleep4 karma

I am a Nikon guy. For this work I use a Nikon D7000 with either the 17-55 or 24-70 f/2.8 lens. For lighting, I use either an SB-600 or SB-800 as remotes and triggered by an SU-800. Using the pop-up or another SB-800 as the trigger would be fine. Then I attach a Lumiquest Ltp soft box to the flash. That little soft box is about 9"x 14" and gives a wonderful soft light when working as close as we do. I have the nurse (or sometimes a family member) hold the flash and direct them where to place it. This works GREAT!

You can bounce the flash off walls or ceiling and that is OK, but my method allows the control of the light to minimize the view of the hospital environment. For all you know, it could be in a studio.

We emphasize the need to have TWO cameras. Just like a wedding - you cannot come back tomorrow to re-do this.

[deleted]1 karma


NowILayMeDowntoSleep2 karma

Nikon for me, but I understand that Canon cameras can do a good job as well! Sony, Pentax, too. :-)

Whales96-4 karma

So you're just taking pictures of babies? Or is there something I'm missing?

NowILayMeDowntoSleep5 karma

If you think this is "just taking pictures of babies" there is something you are missing. These are portraits, not snapshots. I think you might read the responses from parents we have served to see the difference. ANYONE can take a picture - we pose, light, and retouch. The retouching can be simple or can entail extensive skin repairs.