Caryn’s capturing life in the USA

16 Oct 22 | Profiles

Passionate about conveying connections, love, joy, intimacy, movement and beauty in her work, South African-born photographer Caryn Scanlan (45) also pours her heart into helping and uplifting others. Allison Cooper reports.

While being the owner and lead photographer of Caryn Scanlan Photography is in itself a full-time job, Caryn still reaches out to make a difference in others’ lives. In May/June 2022, she went to the Ukraine/Poland border with Operation Mobilisation for 10 days, to work with refugees coming out of the Ukraine, as a Samaritan’s Purse Disaster Assistance Response Member.

“I only found out two days before I left that I was going, and squeezed it into an already full calendar. Serving the Ukrainian refugees was challenging, but rewarding. It was amazing to serve with my daughter and to have the opportunity to physically do something to help people was a joy and a privilege,” says Caryn.

The refugees spent four to seven days in their hot cars waiting to go through the border. “It was heartbreaking to hear how homesick they were, missing their loved ones, especially their husbands, fathers, sons and brothers who hadn’t been allowed to leave. The women chose, after two-and-a-half months, to go back to them in spite of the raging war.” 

Born in Johannesburg, Caryn moved to Durban when she was four and grew up in Westville. “I only now appreciate the closeness and warmth of the South African community I was blessed to have as ‘my village’,” she says. Caryn has lived in various parts of the world, including in Madagascar, for two months (1995); London, from 1996 to 1997 and again in 1999; the USA, from 2000 to 2017, when she moved to Kenya; and back to the USA in 2019, where she now lives on the South Shore.

While she was interested in photography from a young age, she says she thought it was a glamorous, pie-in-the-sky option that only famous people overseas could enjoy as a career. “When I moved to London, the loneliness and homesickness were fierce and I bought my first film camera. I wanted to share my experiences with friends and family back home.” A few years later, after getting married and having her first baby, Caryn’s desire for photography intensified and she bought her first digital camera to share her US family with her family back home.

While her passion for photography bloomed from heartache, she says it’s a beautiful way to connect people and nurture relationships.

“It preserves emotion and moments for those who experience them, and conveys them to those who aren’t able to be there.”

Caryn started her business in 2009 and now travels all over the US and the world to photograph families. She met her husband David online in 1997. After visiting backwards and forwards between SA, London and Boston, they wanted to get married. “So, we picked a country!”

While leaving SA, her family and friends, getting married and having two children – all in the space of two years – was difficult, Caryn says she realised she had to find joy in every day and thrive. Her career has flourished in the US, from photographing professional sportsmen to being exposed to people with voices heard around the world. “I really treasure that.”

In 2017, Caryn closed her business at its peak when the family moved to Mombasa to minister as missionaries. They returned to the US at the end of 2018, due to unforeseen circumstances, and prepared to leave again.

in July 2020 to do the same work, but with North African refugees in the south of France. When Covid-19 hit, the plan was scrapped. Since then, she has been rebuilding her business.

“The pandemic and economic downturn have been challenging, but have given me an opportunity to be outdoors and create memories and experiences for families during challenging times.”

Caryn’s photographic specialities are maternity shoots, births, newborns and family sessions. She has also been mentoring other photographers since 2012.

“One of the most incredibly rewarding things is to pour into someone else and see them flourish.”

As for the future, Caryn and David plan to start a non-profit ministry to provide jobs, teach skills and help those who have been displaced with their transition.

Special offer!

Caryn Scanlan Photography is offering Saffa Mag readers a $200 credit towards a family session! To take up the offer, visit and send Caryn a message via her contact page. Quote ‘Saffa Mag’ when booking.

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