Tips for Taking Pictures of a Child with Special Needs

Any parent who has tried to cajole a kid into saying “cheese” for the camera knows how tough it can be – especially when a pro your child doesn’t know is taking the pictures. But parents of children with special needs have an extra challenge. How do you capture your child’s unique personality and beauty in still life for a medium that often strives for that “perfect pose”?

Ferndale-based photographer Glenn Triest offers his top-10 list of tips for getting that perfect shot.

1. Try many angles. Up, down, sideways. Sometimes the subject’s mobility is limited, but the photographer’s is not.

2. Natural light is better than a flash. Raise the camera’s ISO setting and turn off the camera’s automatic flash. Natural light is far more interesting and flattering than flat lit on camera flash.

3. Include a person’s special needs equipment. Braces, wheelchairs, walkers – whatever it is, use the equipment as an element in the photo. Really think about it before hiding a disability by hiding a person’s tools. Often the items are personalized and, other than a visual element, they add insight to a portrait.

4. Keep the photo session playful. Include a favorite doll or toy – or start the session by playing a game to capture that great smile as it happens.

5. Use a parent or sibling as support. Shoot over some one’s shoulder or have the child sit in a loved one’s lap. Allow the “support” person to be in the photo partially as an element or fully. It’s always great to have someone in a photo with you.

6. Consider an unusual setting. Often, being somewhere other than where a person is every day creates a relaxed and interested expression. But for some children with special needs, familiarity is better, so keep that in mind.

7. Use mood lighting. When outdoors, shoot in the fog or rain or early morning or late day sun. Stay away from high-noon sun. When indoors, try a lamp without the shade or light from a north-facing window. Stay away from flat, overhead fluorescent light. Remember: Light is a photographer’s pallet.

8. Have fun. Smiles are contagious. The subject can tell if it as drag for the photographer. Think of the camera as an interpreter. Make the photo session a conversation between yourself and the subject.

9. Share the finished photos with your subject. Create an album for each of you. Photos are good visual teachers and great chroniclers of life.

10. What is my motivation? At times the subject just might not want to be photographed, but the moment and light and everything else is just so right. Don’t forget about the bribes. The promise of a treat or the reading of a favorite story later at night has saved many photo shoots.

This post was originally published in 2010 and has been updated for 2015.


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