families, for photographers

March 18, 2022

Tips for photographing a family with special needs children

Photographing a family with special needs children can be a challenge, but also a beautiful opportunity to create really meaningful images and serve them well.

As I walked into this home on a Saturday morning, two kids were pouring bowls of cereal and mom was checking vitals on the youngest daughters’ ventilator.

With two biological children and two adopted with severe physical disabilities, they have learned to know each other deeply, to communicate in new ways, to care for themselves and each other in different and beautiful ways.

Both R and L are wheelchair-bound and hypotonic. R is fully blind and L is attached to tubes 24/7 to help her breathe. 

The whole family has hearts of actual gold and it’s easy to love them.

They were focused on each other, loving and laughing, unapologetically embracing home and the wild state that it was in this season. It was beyond refreshing. 

Here’s a few tips I learned from this session photographing a family with special needs children

1. Suggest a session at home 

I will say it over and over because it applies to any family in any stage and size, but especially when photographing a family with special needs children.

A home session allows for the most flexibility, familiarity, and intimacy possible while eliminating so many extra stresses around timing, clothing, what to bring or pack, etc. None of it matters because it’s all at your fingertips.

If simplicity is important to a family with special needs children and they want to make it as stress-free as possible, home sessions are a great suggestion. 

2. Document and direct

Throughout this session, I approached directing and posing like I do any other lifestyle family session at home while keeping their abilities and the light of the home in mind.

I also took advantage of their natural breaks and diversions to stay engaged with noticing and capturing journalistically.

It’s in those moments that I was able to capture the oldest daughter giving her new hampster a scratch, the rowdy 2-year-old running playfully down the sidewalk, the gentle snuggles and heart checks and transitions.

None of it was directed, but so beautifully important to capture.

A family’s story truly unfolds with the in-between magic, so be open to both taking control and stepping back to listen and flow with their dynamic.

3. Stay flexible and calm

You might not be able to do a lot of the typical “poses” you would in a lifestyle session or the games that you lean on for expression, but that’s okay.

Staying calm and setting the tone will help you guide the session around the home and engage with prompts that work for the family.

The joy and love and silliness and beauty are all there, you just have to remain a confident and sure presence in whatever unfolds. 

4. Communicate clearly + respectfully

The family knows their kids intimately, along with their needs and abilities, so be respectful and clear when giving direction to ensure your clients are safe.

In this situation, neither of the children with special needs were able to speak to me or have much movement on their own, so it was crucial for me to think ahead about exactly what I needed or wanted from the parents so I could then communicate it clearly and help their transitions go more smoothly.

Of course, communication goes both ways, so it was equally important for me to enter their home open, curious, and kind (something I strive for with any family!) so the parents felt comfortable communicating their needs or requests to me as well. 

Families who have children with special needs often shy away from family sessions because they think they are too complicated or the photos won’t look good – but that’s so far from true.

It is both possible and important to photograph families with special needs with the same heart-warming, fun, natural approach.

All families and children deserve photos that honor and celebrate what makes them beautiful together.  

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The Izzie Family + a look at adaptive parenting as a quadriplegic mom of twins

4 Tips for including your dog in your family photos

Why it’s ok if your kids misbehave in your session