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3 Things I Learned Photographing a Special Needs Child

Last week, I scheduled a mini session for a family I have worked with regularly for the last 4 years from their wedding to family shoots with their foster kids. Currently, they have a sweet 2 year old boy that has been placed with them off and on since he was born. He is full of the most joy a little person can have. He loves his foster parents fiercely and it shows.

This was my 3rd time to photograph him, but the 1st time since he had a traumatic brain injury that left him unable to see. He can see some changes in light, but for the most part his vision is impaired and keeps his eyes closed most of the time.

Special needs toddler poses


His mom and I decided in advance that we were going to shoot for the "lifestyle" look. That's shop talk for let's not try to pose him.


This was not my 1st experience working with a special needs child and it definitely wasn't my 1st rodeo with a toddler! Almost everything I learned can apply to all small children if you are open to the results.

1. Stop Posing!

special needs photographer

When you are working with special needs kids, or any small people for that matter, this is where the stress begins! Playing a game, loving on the child and being flexible all help to achieve very authentic interactions and expressions.

The pictures are not going to be the traditional style where everyone is looking at the camera and smiling.

What you will get is a fun session without the stress of forcing a situation that mostly likely will end in disappointment. In this session, we attempted a few poses ( you have to try, right?) and then just moved seamlessly into playing and snuggling. He interacted with his parents just like as if I wasn't even there and was in great spirits the entire session. I learned you have to work with each child's set of challenges differently and customize a plan to work around it.

2. Don't Try for Perfection

lifestyle photography

Lifestyle shooting is by definition not perfect. It's allowing the family to connect organically and capture what happens. Not every shot or expression is perfect, but the personality that comes through is a much better representation of who the people really are.

The expectation of perfection can create frustration and ruin a good photo shoot.

A child during a photo shoot is unlikely to become the perfect still model if that is not how they normally are. In this situation, the parents knew what made him smile (so we did more of that) and what made him nervous (stuff we avoided). We tried different techniques to make him laugh and enjoy himself.

3. It's Over when it's Over

It's usually pretty obvious for everyone involved when the child is done.... and sometimes the parents too! When they are done, it's ok to be done. It's ok that they didn't make it through the full session time. It's ok that they are tired and ready for it to be over. It's much better to end organically than to push for more pictures that most likely will not be the best ones. This little one was telling us all that he was ready to move on to something else, so we wrapped things up and that was it.

Here's the photo shoot of the family, enjoy!


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Tiffany Hopwood Photography specializes in wedding photography in Southlake, Grapevine and throughout Texas as well as Destination Wedding photography anywhere in the world!


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