Local photographer offers free photoshoot services to wildfire victims


Andy Pestana and Sarah Hawkins photographed by Kristina Claudio, the leader behind the non-profit organization Highlights and Shadows. Claudio has been offering wildfire victims free portrait photo shoots to replace photographs lost from Northern California widfires. Photo courtesy of Kristina Claudio.

Emmely Ramirez and Estefany Nuñez

From Paradise, to Vacaville, to Sacramento and the Bay Area, Kristina Claudio’s nonprofit organization, Highlights and Shadows, has been driving all over Northern California to take photos for wildfire victims. 

This year’s wildfires in California have broken records with five of the six biggest fires to ever burn in California happening in 2020, according to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

Claudio said her church, the San Francisco Zion Church, had been working to create care packages and volunteer help to wildfire victims on Facebook.

“I was scrolling through Facebook and reading the stories and a lot of what they talked about missing was lost things that you can’t really replace,” Claudio said.

Claudio said she has practiced photography since she was a teenager, which led to her creating her nonprofit business dedicated to highlighting community events and working with other nonprofit organizations. 

When the pandemic canceled the social events that they had planned to photograph, Claudio started using her interest in photography in a different way: to help give the people affected by the fires a small piece with which to move forward.

Sarah Hawkins and her husband Andy Pestana lost their home and farm in the LNU Lightning Complex fire in Vacaville. They had their portraits taken after Claudio reached out to them on Facebook.

“It’s nice to have a little piece of normal,” said Hawkins, who accepted the offer Claudio made after she saw the couple’s post on a Facebook page for LNU Lightning Complex fire victims. “The young woman who did our pictures was very nice and it was a good experience.”

Story continues below photo.

LNU Lightning Complex fire victims, Sarah Hawkins and Andy Pestana, are photographed by Kristina Claudio for her nonprofit, Highlights and Shadows. Their dog, Stella, was one of the few things they took with them when fleeing the LNU Lightning Complex wilfire. Photo courtesy of Kristina Claudio.

Hawkins recalled her and Pestana’s experience the night they had to evacuate their home.

“It was 98 degrees at 1 a.m. that night,” said Hawkins about the fire on Aug. 19. She said her neighbor’s call woke her and her husband up and told them to immediately leave behind their barn, livestock and home of 17 years.

Hawkins said that in the back of her mind, she and her husband both thought something would survive when they left with only clothes and their dog, but nothing did. 

“The fire just moved so fast that no one in our area had any idea of danger that night when we went to bed,” Hawkins said. 

Hawkins said the couple is attempting to repair their storage sheds for their livestock and have set up a GoFundMe page for donations. 

Hawkins said it was nice to have new photos of her and her husband because they didn’t take a lot of pictures of themselves before the event and the only photos she has left are the few ones she has on her cellphone of her goats and of her Border Collie, Stella.

“It’s nice to have some nice pictures of us that show we’re not always exhausted and grumpy because of the fire,” Hawkins said. “It’s fun to see us goofy and have him relax to give off an actual sincere smile but he makes me laugh a lot.”

Greg Bernard, a volunteer alongside Claudio from the San Francisco Zion Church, said that while some families they’ve talked to are eager to take photos, others requested more time to grieve. 

“A lot of people when they lose their home, they lose a lot of keepsakes like their photo albums, so this felt like a great way to give back in a kind of meaningful way,” Bernard said. Bernard said he has been attached to this project since its conception and mostly arranges the meetings with the families, which have increased since the team first began.

Bernard said it was difficult to get in contact with people because some didn’t have cell phones which led the team to also reach out to donation centers and local businesses. He said that even though the fires occurred months ago, they want to continue helping those in need as they’re still dealing with a huge crisis. 

“We’re getting the chance to help them in a small way that doesn’t humiliate them, but gives them a new start or a new beginning even though they can’t really replace what they’ve lost,” Bernard said. 

Claudio said she hopes that her nonprofit will grow into something more, where her team can not only take photos of wildfire victims and important events, but begin to provide workshops for people also interested in spreading awareness of events through photography.

“This is our way of encouraging people to take action by capturing memories and capturing images of people taking action in our community that when these people see these images they can be inspired to also take action themselves,” Claudio said.