Tips by a special needs photographer: how to take your own!

I suppose that it was only a matter of time that my photography business combined with my experience as the mom of a boy with autism lead me down my path as a special needs photographer. In all these years, I’ve learned a thing or two. First, I shared with you my tips for professional pictures. Now, I’m back to share some pointers on taking your own photos of your family for both special occassions and just the day-to-day. You don’t have to spend the money on a professional photographer to get great pictures, you can take your own! Here are some of my best tips.

Jump right in

Don’t be intimidated. Just start clicking. Gone are the days of worrying about wasting film, so you can take and erase anything. Do you have a real camera laying around? Put down your phone and PICK UP THAT CAMERA! It won’t bite!! Don’t be afraid to try it out.

Get Candid

You don’t need a planned photoshoot. The expectation may be too high. You can plan a little bit, but otherwise, just go with the flow. If you are preparing for special occasion photos: Start on a Friday by preparing an outfit for the kids, Saturday afternoon slip the outfits on and take a few snapshots and that’s it. Don’t push for more. Think of it as wash your hands-dry your hands-ALL DONE.  Sunday try again for a few individual shots. Perhaps a sibling or neighbor can take a quick group shot the following Sunday. Within 2 weekends you can accomplish a beautiful gallery of photos! Most computers and ipads come with blemish remover programs and apps for the quick fixes! Adding embellishments like photos of holiday ornaments with the family name on it, and a child hanging a stocking tell a story!! Try not to just concentrate on just photos of people, look around at all the meaningful things in your home and life!

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Be Patient

We can’t expect the perfect shot on the first click. Everyone needs a little time to warm up. Even the photographer! We all need time in any experience with the camera. The first portion of a session is all just like the first throw-away pancake! It takes time and patience.  Modeling calm & relaxed behavior is always helpful. Your children will pick up on your anxious vibes. If they expect that they can relax and move around without demands: they will be so much happier!

 

When it comes to photographing children with disabilities or special needs, here are a few things to remember:

Give Praise

I can’t stress this enough!! “I love how patient you are right now!!” “I love how you are sitting” “Thank you for showing me your eyes!!” we all love to hear this!!  Helping someone truly believe that they are doing a task worthy of their efforts helps everyone win!

Remove the pressure

Children don’t always have to look at the camera for a photo to tell an amazing story. These descriptions will help: (a) Noah enjoying some quiet time with brother (b) Jason racing brother to the swings c) Corey looking at a map for his next adventure. Just these descriptions without even taking a picture can tell you a story don’t they? The descriptions don’t suggest looking into a camera lens at all but sound like a lovely picture and story. Again, this is the story of REAL people! Try and think of it this way!

Know and respect your child’s limit

When a kiddo is done, he’s DONE!! Try again another time. If your child or teen views this as an invasion of personal space they will give up. This being said, use your resources!! If you have a scheduled respite or ABA session, it could be helpful to make this a goal for that session!! These people are here to help you. Having respite care available just for support can be a wonderful thing! They work hard on community outings, parent support and reminding us to use our tools and reinforcers! Sometimes we forget that modeling the activity is helpful! Sometimes having someone behind the camera with bubbles or making faces helps to get a smile that isn’t forced.

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Don’t underestimate the power of the reward!

Everyone gets a reward!! We aren’t talking a trip to Sea World but “If you take 10 snaps with the camera then you can have a bubble bath with your swimming goggles!!” I have a little giggle when I think about this but my last 3 photo sessions was reinforced with a trip to Grandma’s house! Whatever it takes sometimes 😉

Get your child in on it

Never underestimate a good selfie!! It really allows children to understand what is going on. Let him press the button, see himself on the screen, and feel a little more a part of the process.

Get yourself in on it!

Don’t forget you. You’re the one who makes everything happen. We all know you’re tired, you hate your wrinkled shirt, you have suddenly started getting pre-teen acne again and your son just wiped his pudding on you! Still… If they have to try, so do we! Just try for a few pictures of yourself or your partner: you are the household headquarters! 

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I hope you try and don’t get discouraged if you don’t get what you’re looking for on the first click! It’s a journey, after all! Hopefully, snapping your own photos will be not only a beautiful adventure but one that you will be proud to tell the story of. Whether you decide to use a photographer or make efforts to capture your own memories creatively, I hope some of these tricks leave you with some inspiration. All my respects to all of these hard working parents out there that go to bat for their kids and family! If our paths do cross, let us have the best memories of our journey together!!


Katie Baca of FirstThen projects is an Autism & Special Needs Photographer in the greater Los Angeles area. You can check out her work at  www.firstthenprojects.com.

 

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Dani Gillman
Dani Gillman

Dani Gillman is Cofounder and Head of Marketing at Birdhouse– a Detroit-based startup empowering parents raising children with special needs to learn more about their children through a behavior journaling app for iPhone, Android and the web. She’s also mom to an 11 year old daughter (who happens to have Autism) and a 2 year old son (who doesn't appreciate the value of naps).

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