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As a mom to a little boy with Autism, I know all too well how tough it can be to get a great family photo. Once I developed the techniques necessary to succeed at photographing families with special needs, I set out to focus my business on special needs photography. I know so many other families out there who are hoping to get some great photos of their families, so here are some pearls of wisdom I’d like to share with you all about how I prepare my clients and ensure I wind up with satisfied customers!

Of course, just because your child has autism or asperger’s or down syndrome or prader willi, does not mean that you need a special photographer. You just need one that will keep these helpful concepts in mind during your time together. 



1. Flexibility with time is a must.

I always give a family time to prepare and adjust themselves accordingly. I usually try to break the ice with a game of red light/green light or chase!


2. Pick a comfortable location.  

I go where you go! Because some of my clients have sensory issues or schedules to stick to. It’s best to pick a place that makes them happy. Playgrounds or parks are always great places.


3. Find a photographer that “gets it”. 

All families have different dynamics. Parents know their kids best! Some kids may be sensitive to light, heat, camera flashes, etc. If the photo shoot is scheduled around snack time, have a picnic! A good photographer will be able to go with a family’s flow and will know enough retouching skill to edit out the cookie crumbs. They should also be a master at using the editing tools needed to wipe the sweat from a hard working mum’s brow after she finally manages coordinate her family!


4. The photographer should get everyone involved. 

I will let some kids peek with me through the camera and take a few snaps. Suggestions such as “ I am going to take a few shots of Johnny before he runs off” or “Let’s get a few shots of Dad with the boys” allows the family to relax and see the process!! This is a sport and the family is your team, we are all out for the win!!


5. Build Trust! 

If your child is having a hard time connecting with the photographer, try the first/then approach: “First five snaps of the camera and Then you get a snack!” or “First we are going to have 2 trips down the slide and Then it is time to take pictures with Dad.” Set up reasonable expectatins and follow through to build a child’s trust and help him get comfortable. It’s best to pick reasonable goals and reinforcers that children feel rewarded for.


6. Be sure to communicate what kind of photos you want.

This way, she will know how to approach your shoot. Do you want candid shots, or a more formal look? Photos can tell a family’s story! Expectations are met when properly communicated up front.


7. Don’t be afraid to try. 

So many families don’t even try to take professional photos out of fear they may not get anything good enough. A good photographer with patience and understanding can take and produce beautiful photos- even in a chaotic environment. The worst pictures are the ones you never take! Don’t miss out on the chance to capture beautiful memories of your family!


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


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