Making family photos with special needs kids can offer some unique challenges, but is also such a beautiful collaboration between the family and artist.
Each time I work with this family, their radiating joy spills over in multitudes. I’ve photographed them at home several times, but this time, they wanted to give my petite sessions a try for some outdoor photos and I couldn’t have been more thrilled.
The family has two biological children and two adopted with special needs, including their youngest daughter who has a tracheostomy tube and requires constant attachment to her monitoring equipment. Their one son is almost entirely blind and both children with disabilities require a wheelchair for mobility and support to sit.
None of these disabilities prohibit them from being able to enjoy outdoor family photos or celebrate the warmth in the bond they’ve created through art.
As a photographer, it’s important to frame all challenges – whether it’s the special needs of our family clients, a whipping windy day, dark clouds, or a tight home – as opportunities to create images with unique meaning and purpose for the people in them and for the world.
A few things to consider for successful outdoor family photos with special needs kids:
This is one thing you actually have control of! If your family has wheelchair users or otherwise just has a lot of equipment or supplies they need to carry with them for safety, be considerate of choosing a location that doesn’t require a lot of time or effort in navigating, transitioning etc.
Scope out the space to make sure you offer them variety but also keep the process of using different areas as seamless and stress-free as possible. This location has a big field right next to the parking lot on one side and another more shaded area by a barn, benches, etc. on the other.
Because this was just a 30-minute session, the convenience factor was even more relevant to make the most of each space!
Communication and Collaboration
Communication with your clients is always key, but especially when making family photos with special needs kids. It’s crucial to understand what physical boundaries and abilities the kids have when posing and to not be shy about asking.
I treated this session just as I would any other with games and prompts that engage the family in fun interaction, but always with accessibility for everyone in mind. You can still direct and control the direction of the session, presenting ideas and posing your clients like you normally would, but always check in with the parents and kids on how they’re feeling and be extra tuned into their needs as a whole.
Have a confident vision (no matter what)
Your gift as a photographer is to see people with fresh eyes and photograph both their inner and outer beauty. Do not let your vision get clouded by any extraneous factor– including physical restraints, communication barriers (this sweet boy was both blind and unable to speak), behavioral challenges, etc. When you truly believe in and seek beauty at a soul level, none of this matters. You can use your gifts to capture that with dignity, creativity, and importance.