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Get the Picture

How to Capture Your Child with Special Needs in a Professional Photograph

Photo by Pathways Photography

Photo by Medley Portraits

Photo by: Adrienne Nichols Photography
October 2012

No, that is not your ear ringing. Rather, it's the faint sound of holiday bells jingling in your subconscious. That's right, you are one family photo shoot away from the holiday card parade.

No doubt family photos are a custom for many, yet some parents forgo professional photos because they have a child with Special Needs and are overwhelmed thinking about how to create a picture-perfect moment without fuss.

Heather Bruce, mom of three in Fairland, understands. In fact, she had lost hope of getting a picture of her daughter Anna who has Isodicentric 15.

"We had given up. We didn't even allow the school photographer to take her picture. We couldn't go to JC Penny or Sears or other common places," she said. Of course Bruce tried, but she says the experiences were horrible.

"Even though I would tell them she has special needs and would not smile, they would still sit there and shake a tin of coins to get her to look. Generally we got pictures of her not looking at the camera and not smiling," she said. Then she met area photographer Stacey Crawford, now owner of Pathways Photography in Greenwood.

Crawford photographed Anna while walking around the child's grandparents' yard. Bruce describes the resulting pictures as breathtaking. "I know Anna has special needs, but you look at the photos and you can't tell. They are very natural," she said.

Hiring a Photographer

This positive experience can happen for other area families too. It's a matter of finding the right photographer for your child. After all, a good photographer, according to Karen Dorame, executive director of Special Kids Photography of America, has the power to create a beautiful portrait that people will want to stare at for all the right reasons.

Following are a few tips to note:

• Personality. Parents should get along well with the photographer. You want to be on the same page in regards to what you want to get out of the photo session. Plus you don't want any tension during the session, which can get hectic.

• Prep. Some photographers like Cassandra Medley, owner of Medley Portraits in Noblesville, give parents a social story that serves as a step-by-step visual of the session to help the child better know what to expect. The goal is for parents or therapists to go over the social story with their child in advance of the photo session. With children who have autism, Medley tries to meet the family a few weeks in advance of the photo shoot to see how the child interacts with her and learn about his or her reinforcers.

• Price. Sometimes you get what you pay for. It may be worth paying a little more to hire a photographer who specializes in working with kids with special needs.

• Patience. A photo session can take 15 minutes or it can last two or more hours depending on the number of breaks your child needs. Some photographers like Medley are even prepared to reschedule at no cost should the child be having a bad day.

• Passion. A photographer who is passionate about their art and work is more likely to capture a beautiful picture.

Getting the Picture

• Prepare the photographer. Adrienne Pfaffenberger of Adrienne Nicole Photography in Avon advises parents to be open and communicative with the photographer. Discuss the characteristics of your child and what you hope the camera will capture.

• Prepare your child. Whether through social stories, meeting the photographer or just talking about the photo session, help your child understand what to expect at the appointment.

• Allow time. Pfaffenberger also recommends parents allow ample time for the photo session to avoid a time-crunched photo shoot.

• Engage the child. "Get them singing, dancing, jumping, playing with bubbles or balls, or doing things they like to do. Hone in on those things and make it fun for the child so they won't think they are getting their picture taken," said Crawford. For instance, one of her clients plays her daughter's favorite Barney DVD to get the child excited and smiling.

• Bring snacks. It's important to take a break from the photo shoot to refuel with mess-free food like pretzels or goldfish.

• Keep clothing simple. Fussy clothing with material like tulle or taffeta can upset a child, and an upset child makes for an upset photo session.

• Invite therapists. Medley also recommends parents ask their child's favorite therapist to attend the photo shoot.

• Bring a favorite thing. Pfaffenberger recommends parents bring a favorite toy or item to the photo session that may help the child in the event he or she gets upset.

In short, Pfaffenberger sums it up for area photographers. "I want parents to know that it is possible to get a family photo or a single portrait of a child with special needs. There are people out there who have a passion for this type of work and are competent to do the work," she said.

It's true. So get the picture.

Tags: In This Issue, Special Needs

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