Tips for photographing a family at home with special needs children
As I walked into their 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.
Photographing this family was a unique challenge, but probably one of my favorite sessions ever because they were just so open and uninhibited. 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.
I will say it over and over because it applies to any family in any stage and size, but especially families with special needs children.
A session at home allows for the most flexibility, familiarity, and intimacy possible while eliminating so many extra stresses around timing, clothing, what to bring or pack… none of it matters because it’s all at your fingertips.
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.
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.
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.
The joy and love and silliness and beauty are all there, you just have to think on your toes, remaining a confident and sure presence in whatever unfolds.
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.
You can absolutely make heart-warming, fun, natural, and honest family photos at home with your special-needs kids.
All families and children deserve photos that honor and celebrate what makes them beautiful together. ALL.