Giving Back With Photography | Alison Mickelson


It’s the season of giving! As photographers, we pour our heart and soul into creating a work of art for our clients, family, and friends on a daily basis. We give our time, our energy, our talents. As the holidays roll around this year, I’d like to encourage everyone to consider donating some of their time and talent to families or organizations who could benefit from your services but could never otherwise afford them. Need a few ideas? This is my story…

I am a stay-at-home mom to four children ages 8, 6, 4, and 2, a wife to a pediatric anesthesiologist, a former NICU nurse, and most recently, a photographer.

I didn’t set out to become a photographer. In fact, I studied biology in college, then went to nursing school, worked as a nurse for a few years, and then decided for the sake of my family to stay home full time with my children. It was at this point, needing a creative outlet, that I picked up my old Pentax film SLR camera and reignited a passion I had left behind years earlier. I began photographing my own kids every day, expanded to include family members and friends, and then several years later, took the plunge into starting a photography business.

Since I have been blessed with so much in life, I wanted to find a way to give back to the people and organizations in my community with photography. I decided on a non-profit business plan, donating profits generated from sessions to a few select local organizations: The Nature Conservancy, Susan G Komen for the Cure, Second Harvest Heartland, and The March of Dimes. This works well for me because I get to “volunteer” in a capacity that I love, and a few of my favorite organizations reap the financial benefit.

After about a year in business, I decided I wanted to add service to my business plan, so I began my “Share the Good” program to donate custom photography sessions to families enduring a hardship and as a way to thank people for work they have done for their community. I tell all of my clients about this program and ask them to nominate someone they know (or even themselves, if applicable) for this service. Then, once a month, I go through the nominations and pick a family or individual to highlight. They get a free photo session in a location of their choosing, digital images, and a spotlight on my blog telling their story. I have gotten to know a lot of interesting and amazing people this way. They inspire me and remind me that I can do more. I can do better.

I have also been inspired by some of the women on this forum who provide their time and talent as photographers to Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, which donates bereavement photography to families grieving the loss of a baby. I had experience working with infant loss as a nurse, so this seemed a good, albeit sad, fit for my abilities. I can’t say I enjoy these sessions, but I feel that it’s important work, and I do enjoy talking with my former nursing colleagues at the hospital and connecting with families during a difficult time in their lives.

This past fall, I began working with the Nature Conservancy to provide photographs of some of their local parks and preserves to use in publications, newsletters, and fundraising slide-shows. I love volunteering in this capacity. I travel to local natural areas, wander around for a few hours, enjoy the scenery, photograph the plants and animals, play around with different techniques, and get to be creative. I shoot whatever I feel like shooting, but I make sure to include shots of what the Conservancy is actually looking for. Then, when I return home, I edit the ones I like best and send them off the the Conservancy to use as they see fit. I keep the copyright on these images, but I have signed a release with the Conservancy allowing them to use the images for editorial or advertising purposes.

There are so many ways we can help others with what we do. You don’t have to be a professional photographer, you don’t have to own your own business, you don’t have to own all the best, high-end equipment, and you don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be you, follow your dreams, and give from your heart.

Thank you so much for the amazing inspiration, Alison and for all that you’ve done and continue to do to give back to your community and make a difference with your time and talent.

Photography inspiration by Alison Mickelson.


  • Jamie Rubeis says:

    What a great post. I have been avidly looking into ways I can give back. I knew the moment I started my photography business that I wanted to share my gift with people who could use it. I havent been in business that long, but I am still trying to connect with some organizations to offer my servives. You have some great ideas here and are doing a wonderful thing!!!

  • Deitra says:

    It's great to see this! I am implementing something similar into my business plan for the start of the year! I am still working on the schematics but I love seeing someone else doing it. I think everyone should find a way to give back no matter what their profession is. You never know if you may be one of those people in need.

  • Crystal says:

    Fantastic post! I love giving back!

  • Shanyn says:

    I applaud what you are doing, what a wonderful gift you are giving back! I'm striving to do the same with my newly renewed photographic work. Bright blessings!

  • lesley says:

    Thanks so much for all you do, AND for sharing it with us. I have been thinking a lot about this lately, and you are definitely an inspiration.

  • Monica says:

    I love your ideas! I am also a nurse (LPN) and I have been toying with the idea of helping out with NILMDTS in some of our local hospitals, since those kinds of services seem to be lacking in my area. I also like the idea of donating sessions to families in need. Besides asking clients for references, how did you advertise this service? Your images are beautiful…thanks for sharing!


  • DawneC says:

    Thank you for the inspiration. So many awesome opportunities for giving back within our communities.

  • Corie R says:

    Alison, I have been a fan and following your work for a long time, since we were together in Maggie Holmes' class, I think? You are an inspiration, and I love your work and what you do!

  • Amy L says:

    Alison, you have such a huge heart. I am so inspired reading your story! Thanks so much for all you do to give back to our community. You make me want to be a better person. Thank you for that! <3

  • Katrina Stewart says:

    What a fantastic blog post. I'm inspired! So lovely to hear about all that you do.

  • sally muir says:

    Thank you for this post! I have been doing photography work in exchange for donations to 2 of my favorite charities, SmileTrain and Doctors Without Borders. It gives me joy to know that I am not only giving a family treasured heirlooms, but changing the lives of those in need. A cleft pallet surgery through Smiletrain costs only 250 dollars and radically impacts the physical and social life of a child. DWB goes into areas of the world we could not gain access to and seeks to provide aid for the most remote and desperate. It is a wonderful thing to be able to do,but I hope to learn better how to do it in the most effective way possible.

  • Jes Gwozdz says:

    Alison, you are such an inspiration! I love that you were featured here and were able to inspire so many others with your work!

  • Sabrina says:

    Way to go, Alison! You are truly inspiring!!!

  • Jill says:

    THIS. Is exactly what I want to do someday. I don't have any desire to ever make a profit from photography, but if I can give back with it? That would make my heart so happy. You are an inspiration. Thank you soooo much for sharing your story!

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