Building Houses, Building Hope, Building Philadelphia

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Ellie's Story

Ellie's Story

Ellie has been volunteering as a photographer with Habitat Philadelphia for the past several years.  She regularly visits construction sites, tracking progress and capturing great shots of Habitat volunteers and partner families hard at work.  Ellie's images are some of our most iconic.

How long have you been volunteering with Habitat Philadelphia?  How did you first get involved?

I have been photographing for Habitat since February of 2008.  Sol Levy, a long time friend (for 40 years) and Habitat photographer, first recruited me—he had me hooked on Habitat from day one.  

What are some of the reasons you enjoy lending your time to this organization?

My spirit soars every time I enter a Habitat site. It's the people, it's the energy that emanates from everyone, it's the values and it's the heart that draws me back.  When I see and feel the commitment of everyone—staff, volunteers and partner families—I feel exhilarated, and very much "at home".   I look forward to familiar faces and sounds each time I come to a site. 

Do you have a favorite subject to capture when you're working with Habitat?

It's the pure joy of the new home owner. When he or she puts the keys in the door for the first time, I am overwhelmed with emotion.  I've photographed several dedications over the years, and always shed tears behind the lens.  I am continually overwhelmed by Partner Families' stories and experiences, and by the extraordinary challenges they overcome to finally receive those keys to their new home.  How could one not be brought to tears?  Particularly when a new home owner says, "Thank you from the bottom of my heart—I've never owned anything like this before."

What are some of the challenges in photographing construction work?  Any advice for new volunteer photographers?

The challenge for me is to try to get interesting, dynamic images of people working, without having them posed in a position.  I want them to be seen engaged at work, but I also want their personality to shine through.  Lighting can be a hassle—preferably not using a flash (which can create unwanted shadows) but still needing additional light because of dark interiors. 

The only advice I would give to a new photographer is to come out, meet the folks and start taking shots—you'll be drawn in.  Try it, you'll love it!

Want to volunteer as a photographer on Habitat's project sites?  Contact our volunteer program at or 215.765.6000 x10.