Let’s make photographing children with special needs easier and more fun. Getting a gorgeous photo of your child with autism doesn’t have to be so difficult. Are you longing to have a beautiful family photo but you feel that your child is always in motion? Does your child run away from the camera? These tips can help!
Challenges when photographing children with special needs (specific tips to help with each challenge keeping you from taking beautiful photos of your child below)
- Children with autism sometimes have trouble sitting still or staying in one place.
- Your child may have trouble looking at the camera or have a short attention span.
- Your child may cry when he or she sees the camera or refuse to be photographed.
- You may have trouble taking photos at the right moment, so that you have a gorgeous photo of your child.
- Your child may be sensitive to sensory stimulation.
Photographing children with special needs doesn’t have to be so hard
When new families start their program at my autism center in Paris, they often have a long list of skills that they would like their child to learn. We work on them – often several at a time – and check them off one by one as time goes on and the child learns.
As our relationship progresses, and I get to know the family more intimately, I often learn that they have very few photos of their children with autism. This is completely understandable! Children with autism often have a hard time making eye contact, are sensitive to sensory stimulation (think avoiding bright lights and aversion to certain sounds) and difficulty staying still and concentrating. All of these factors combined, create a situation where parents often lament the fact that their fireplace mantles are covered in photos of their other children but they don’t have one single photo of their child with special needs that isn’t blurry!
As a special gift to families, I try to take several photos of each child in my program during our time together and gift them for various occassions : birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Easter, the end of the school year, the beginning of a new school year, or sometimes, just any old Tuesday!
These photos always make families smile and often they are also amazed that I got their child to stay still and look at the camera. When families ask me how I was able to take a beautiful photo of their child, I give them the following tips.
6 tips for photographing children with special needs
1. The photo will be beautiful no matter what because the subject is beautiful. Each and every child is unique and gorgeous in their own, individual way. Children with special needs behave and move differently and capturing this in a photograph is a beautiful miracle.
2. Create a cosy sensory experience – interesting textures, not-too-bright lights and soft and calming music.
3. Engage your child in an activity that he or she loves.
4. Wait until your child is lit up inside by what he or she is engaging in. In that moment, capture the child’s attention (by calling his or her name if that makes your child respond) or using a special sound such as a favorite musical toy.
5. Only take 1 or 2 photos at a time. Your child’s attention span and patience is most likely limited. That’s ok, you can still take beautiful photographs of your child! Wait for that magic moment from tip #3, get your child’s attention using tip #4, then snap your 1 or 2 photos. Then wait. Wait for your child to become engaged in their activity again, then go back to tip #3!
6. Reinforce your child’s love of picture taking! After you’ve taken a beautiful photo, share it with your child! Make a big deal about it. Tell him or her it’s great. Print it out together. Put it on the fridge. Tell others how great it was to be able to take a photo of your child, in front of your child. Even if it seems like your child has limited communication and may not understand most of what you say, he or she is probably listening to you and understanding more than you think. Particularly in the case of children with autism, we often forget that just because a child with autism may not be speaking to us a lot of the time, doesn’t mean that he or she does not understand what we are saying. Be positive and reinforce, reinforce, reinforce!
Learn more about photographing children with special needs
I absolutely love this book Photographing Children with Special Needs by Karen Dorame. Her book has given me lots of great ideas to be able to take photos of the children at my autism center. This is one of the best gifts I can give to the families with whom I work.
This book is perfect for families who would like to learn more and get better photos of their kids or for professional photographers who would like to learn to photograph special needs kids. I know so many families of children with autism who would absolutely love to have more photos of their children with autism.
This is an amazing book about photographing children with special needs. It is touching to hear about Karen Dorame’s journey and her work, photographing special needs families.
Her book is divided into several categories and chapters. You learn basic photography techniques, getting to know a child, and his or her specific needs, how to prepare for a photography session, special photographic considerations (such as sensory sensitivity), understanding different children’s conditions and symptoms, how to take photos in school or care center environments and even how to use basic sign language with children during your photo session.
You may need
Having the right materials will definitely help you take better pictures. These are the materials that I recommend personally.
Use a good quality camera. I use this Canon 70d to photograph the kids at my center.
Use a tripod. This is the tripod I use.
Using a tripod will allow you to take pictures of your moving child more easily.
These experts are photographing children with special needs every day
Photo projects celebrating the beauty of special needs kids
What are your tips for photographing children with special needs?
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