Darien photographers take free family photos during pandemic

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

While families around town are strongly encouraged to stay at home these days, two Darien photographers have joined forces to bring a free service right to them — and benefit a local charity at the same time.

Mary Wade of Leap Year Images and Katharine Calderwood of Calderwood Digital have created TheFrontStepsProjectDarien, where they travel around town, taking free family photographs — from a safe distance — right outside private residences.

In exchange, they ask families to make a donation to a local charity in any amount they choose. The charities they have selected are: The Darien Foundation to support Corbin Cares meals to the food insecure within Darien, the Corbin Cares GoFundMe Campaign to support meals to the food insecure in neighboring communities, or the FoodBank of Lower Fairfield County, a hunger-relief organization that provides food to about 90 nonprofit agencies and programs that serve low-income people.

To see a video about TheFrontStepsProjectDarien, click here.

How it works

Those who are interested in getting their photo taken, may fill out a form by visiting calderwooddigital.com or leapyearimages.com and make an appointment.

Before coming, either Wade or Calderwood will send a text. They work individually and only one of them shows up to each photo shoot.

“You step outside with your family while I am standing in your yard or driveway, at least 25 feet away, usually more,” Calderwood said. “I will take a couple of quick shots and leave. There will be zero physical interaction during these sessions and no object needs to be touched.”

The next day, clients will receive the digital file of their portrait.

Families may also donate to the charities without getting their photograph taken, if they choose.

Additional services

Wade and Calderwood are also taking free photographs of healthcare professionals and first responders. For those individuals, no extra donation is necessary.

In addition, they are taking photographs of local businesses who are open for phone or online orders with curbside pickup.

The goal of the Front Steps Project is to “try to lighten the mood and people’s days, get together virtually, and also give back to a charity,” Wade said.

The idea

“I became excited about participating in what has now become a nationwide project when I read a story about the photographer, Cara Soulia, who started it in her hometown of Needham, Massachusetts, and thought, ‘That’s brilliant!’ Calderwood said.

Photographers from around the country have since started their own FrontStepsProject in the towns they live in.

“It is a terrific way to raise awareness and donations for local charitable organizations, while also capturing some small moments of everyday joy for our town’s families,” Calderwood said. “It is fascinating to document this unique moment in time, even while the overwhelming tragedy of this illness consumes most of our collective psyche.”

For Wade, the pandemic brought back memories of 9-11, when she was living in downtown New York City in close proximity to the World Trade Center.

“My apartment faced the World Trade Center, just three blocks away, in Battery Park City. When lower Manhattan reopened to residents and businesses nearly 30 days after the terrorist attack, we returned to a war zone,” Wade recalled. “Armed national guardsmen and police officers stood on countless street corners directing foot traffic. I had to show my driver’s license to military personnel to reenter my neighborhood when returning home from work. Many businesses never reopened.”

After seeing the “devastation and great loss,” when the coronavirus pandemic arose, “the memories of 9-11 came flooding back. I felt helpless almost 19 years ago, but I wasn’t going to let that happen this time.”

She added that she and Calderwood have been told over and over again that their two-minute shoots are the “highlight of the day” for some families.

“We have been told that our quick conversations while shooting ‘lifted the spirits’ of the people of Darien from half a city block away,” Wade added.


“It’s pretty amazing,” said David Genovese of Baywater Properties, who recently launched Corbin Cares with Penny Glassmeyer of PG Properties, with funding from the Darien Foundation.

“What a nice thing to do in this really awful time,” Genovese added. “All of these families are together. It’s a great time to take a photo.”

Corbin Cares delivered 600 meals in its first full week of operation.

Kate Lombardo, executive director of the Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County, said The Front Steps Darien “is providing a wonderful gift.”

“I feel that it’s amazing that someone would just think of us and do that,” Lombardo said.

“This is historical,” she added. “They will have this picture to pass down years from now. It’s nostalgia, it creates great memories going forward.”

“Together we can get through this,” Lombardo added.

Calderwood said she’s “grateful” to be able to offer the photos to families, “while also strictly adhering to all social distancing advisories.”

“I am so excited that so many families in our town are equally as enthusiastic about this project, and so many have already signed up,” she said.