Marnie Lahtinen
Amos and Carly Kolbo with their sponsor children, Rollie and Stephanie, on the island of Bohol in the Philippines. (Submitted)

Carly Kolbo with her sponsor girl, Ayisha, in the slum of Jemo in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (Submitted)

Do what you love, love what you do. It's an adage that never goes out of style. Since basically forever, people have found ways to successfully transition a labor of love into a happy, productive career. Bismarck-based photographer Carly Kolbo is no exception. Photography began as a fun, casual hobby in high school. Today this altruistic entrepreneur is using her artistry to serve others worlds away.

Kolbo and her husband, Amos, are the duo behind Carly Loves Amos, the photography shop gaining recognition for an ultra-personalized -- and incredibly hip -- approach to documenting moments between people. The pair, both from Bismarck, are heavily vested in weddings and spend the majority of May to October traveling around North Dakota, the Midwest and the world to shoot for their brides and grooms.

While many of her destination weddings are in exotic luxury locales, Kolbo is no stranger to travel in developing countries. She's witnessed poverty's debilitating effects -- especially on children -- while traveling for mission work. These firsthand experiences shaped her outlook on life.

"(Amos and I) started to feel a pull toward addressing the issues of poverty and wanted to be intentional about living outside our own bubble," says Kolbo. "We realize that there is a lot going on and people are suffering."

Eager to feel connected to lives in need, the couple became involved with child sponsorship through different not-for-profit organizations more than three years ago. Their monthly support provides healthcare, food, education and other basic necessities for their sponsored children. As importantly, the sponsorship provides a meaningful relationship with the youths. "It's not just about money ... it's about love and it's about these kids knowing someone loves them," Kolbo says.

For this photographer, it's also about spreading the word.

"I think that Amos and I viewed ... our careers as a way for us to serve people, knowing that whatever you choose as your vocation can be an outlet to help other people too," explains Kolbo. "We started noticing that nonprofits who rely on fundraising look like more viable organizations if they have good photos to promote their cause."

In May 2014, the Kolbos traveled to the Philippines to meet two children they sponsor at the orphanage where the kids' live. Before their visit, Carly offered to take photos that the orphanage could use in their promotional materials -- at no charge. "We took photos for their website, their newsletters and for cards they send out to sponsors each year," explains Kolbo.

While orphanages use the images to garner financial support, Kolbo focuses on raising awareness through social media. "Our photography has taught us to think outside ourselves," says Kolbo. "We (can) use Instagram and Facebook as a vehicle to get the information out, and we are able to do it with a simple photo and just one or two sentences."

The couple also sponsors a young girl in Ethiopia and traveled there to meet her in February 2015. Friends who had done mission work in the country were able to connect Carly with five different not-for-profit organizations, all of which were happy to accept her photography services for promotional needs. The Kolbos traveled to the overpopulated slum of Jemo in the city of Addis Ababa; they took photos at a government school where hundreds of impoverished children suffer from malnourishment. According to the school principal, only 100 of the 3,942 students are fed lunch each day. The trip made a strong -- and lasting -- impression on Carly.

"The visit to the school was difficult," she says. Kolbo recalls how the school's teachers told her of children fainting from hunger during the school day. The students are not orphans, but they do need sponsors because their parents can't afford the uniforms that are required to attend school.

"The feelings come in waves, especially about Addis," she says, visibly emotional. "There is so much stimulation there and everywhere you look you think, 'I could start a nonprofit to address that, or that' .... My fear is that I will get too comfortable here in Bismarck."

So far, Kolbo is not showing any signs of complacency. She and Amos traveled to Jamaica in January 2014 to shoot a wedding. Before leaving, Kolbo did a Google search for orphanages in Jamaica and made a connection with Robin's Nest. The orphanage happily accepted her offer for promotional images. A trip to Guatemala earlier this summer to build a house through The God's Child Project gave Carly the opportunity to take promotional photographs for God's Child in Guatemala.

"Hopefully (our work) is useful for the nonprofits we have photographed for," says Kolbo. "Once you see something like (Addis Ababa), you don't think, 'Oh that's a sad story' ... you think, 'I need to do something about this.'"

To learn more about the Kolbos' philanthropy and what you can do to help, visit

Marnie Lahtinen is the mother of five children and a Mandan-based freelance writer. In addition to her family, she loves travel, hiking, skiing, food, knitting, red wine and music.