Photographer Spotlight: Karen McKinnon


It’s no secret that we love our photographers and that we love community, so we are always enthralled by photographers that give back to their communities in selfless ways.

We recently had the pleasure of meeting Karen McKinnon, owner of McKinnon Photography in Vancouver Island, Canada. She won a ticket to the Way Up North Conference based on her heartfelt response to our question, “How do you give back to your community?”

“I document [the lives] of families who have to travel to Vancouver Children’s Hospital for critical illness treatment. These images are pivotal in raising brand awareness for a local charity that provides financial support to these families.

I also provide about ten sessions per year to families who need a ‘leg up.’ Just recently, I offered a ‘pay what you can’ week to my community. In 2014, I donated 15 gift certificates to local fundraisers. I also mentor high school students throughout the year.”

We were moved by Karen’s generosity to her community, and what we learned when we sat down to talk to her filled us with pride.

You describe yourself as a “connector first, photographer second.” How has this mentality affected your business?   It’s helped me find motivation, because it allows me to put myself in the client’s position. People are vulnerable; we all have something in common, and you learn that by connecting with people. It’s a great mentality for personal development, as well. I walk away from photo shoots feeling like, “That made me feel really good.” We have a lot of power as photographers to operate from a genuine place with our clients.

What does community mean to you? This is actually a really emotional question for me. I’ve worked with kids who have terminal diseases and with people whose families have fallen apart. A community is filled with friends, business relationships, and clients and as a mom, I think it’s important to connect with all of them. I think the purpose is to support and celebrate one another. A community means safety.

Why is it important is it to invest in community? I love brainstorming with others in my community; I live in a small town, but even in big cities, the voices of small businesses need to be heard. So it’s important to be genuine and support things that matter to people in your community; clients see that and they know you’re real.

How do you balance your desire to make your art accessible to people who can’t afford it, with the need to make a living and run a profitable business? I have an office manager who keeps me in check; I’m one of those people who would give everything away all the time! But I had to learn to remember that I have children; I have to provide for them and carve out time to be with them. We stick to our financial projections to ensure that I’m keeping the balance.

What advice would you give to other photographers who want to give back, but don’t feel like they have the time to make it a consistent part of their business? It doesn’t need to be consistent; it has to work with your schedule and your business. So, I often give back and do my donations when my business is a little slower, in the winter, for example. I think getting your family on board with your charity work and getting them to understand why it’s important is crucial. You’ll want their buy in when you’re away from home a lot, or when you need their help around the house, let’s say, because you can’t be there as much. It’s important to be proactive about giving, as well. As photographers, we’re approached to give all the time,which can be overwhelming. But if you find a charity or an organization that you’re really drawn to, go approach them. That helps keep the balance, too, because you’re excited to give to a cause you feel passionate about. There’s nothing wrong with making giving back to your community win-win.

We thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Karen, and we’re thrilled to have her as a part of the ShootProof family.

The hundreds of responses we received from photographers around the world who were eager to share their personal stories of community and charity was simply exhilarating. We are excited about the prospect of working closely with our photographers in the future, to be a part of their charitable work and to support their efforts!

Comment below: How do YOU give back to your community?


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