Families with very young, energetic, or camera-shy children know that taking a nice group photo together can be somewhat what of a challenge. Unfortunately, this means that parents of children with special needs, in particular, may be even less likely to schedule a professional photo shoot for fear of things going badly. However, I have photographed many, many families with children who have different needs, including cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, Asperger’s, blindness, and autism. I approach each shoot differently, with the aim of capturing the unique smile and characteristics of each child. Here are a few of the ways I have worked with families and captured incredible pictures.
Each Person is Their Own Person
Some parents fear that their child may need certain things or act out during the shoot. As the photographer, I am not there to simply take a photo but to capture a moment. In the case of a photo shoot, I look at that child and I just see them as their own person with their own needs, and I try to help meet those needs. Any extraneous actions or behaviors are not embarrassing or a big deal, and in fact often lead to fun, candid shots.
For example, I worked with a boy who has Asperger’s, which makes it difficult for him to make eye contact or show much emotion even if he is feeling happy. I asked his mom to bring the family dog along for the shoot, and the boy’s face lit up as he relaxed and played with the pet. In addition to a beautiful, relaxed portrait of the two of them, I also got a playful shot of the boy, his brother, and their dog all running and playing on the beach.
Another time, I photographed a lovely family who had a son with Down syndrome. We chatted about how I could help make him comfortable, and I also planned ways to make sure I got natural smiles from everyone, not the silly fake smiles that many children love to give! I asked his parents and two sisters to be crazy and do whatever they would do at home to make their son laugh, resulting in several striking, very natural images.
Let Them Take the Lead
I understand that many children with special needs may not react to the same photography prompts and instructions as other children, which is why I often let them take the lead. I often work with children who have autism, which can range from mild to severe. In several cases, the children have been extremely friendly but simply find it difficult to sit still for very long. For example, one boy loved having his photo taken but would run to a new spot after about 30 seconds of posing. The mother kept apologizing, but I decided to follow him and his sister and just have some fun. We got many beautiful shots of him alone, pausing and smiling, as well as playful pictures with his sister and even some portraits of the entire family.
As you can see, photographing children with special needs may take a bit more energy and shutter clicks, but it is completely worthwhile for everyone involved.
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