Jamie Scott clearly remembers one of the first times she considered that her daughter, Harper, might be on the autism spectrum. It was in the middle of a family photo shoot, and the then-2-year old just shut down. “It was loud and the lights were too bright. She was what I now know to be over stimulated, and we had to leave,” Scott recalls. “I felt judged and disappointed in how it all played out, and the photographers weren’t even slightly concerned. Those images are still hard to look at.”
Four years later, Scott now runs her own professional photography business, Jamie Nicole Scott, and is among a growing number of local photographers who hope to give families of children with autism or other special needs a positive photo shoot experience.
Unlike a traditional portrait setting that requires children be still and smile for the camera, photographers with experience photographing kids with Autism often opt to capture candid moments, encouraging play while respecting sensory sensitivities.
“I’ve had a lot of parents of kids with special needs who will say, ‘My kid won’t look at you and smile.’ And I tell them, ‘That’s okay,’” says Brittney Paterson, photographer and owner of Silver Pennies Photography, who also has clients with children on the spectrum. “Later in life, you’re going to cherish the pictures that capture the genuine spirit of your child.”
Of course, it’s not every day that you have a professional photographer to snap pictures of your children, but you can use some of their go-to techniques to capture the best memories of your day-to-day life:
Tip #1: Embrace play
For kids on the spectrum, you’re more likely to get a good picture if it feels like playtime rather than a photo shoot, stresses Stacey Fishel, photographer and owner of Pathways Photography (www.pathwaysphoto.com), who often photographs children with autism and will have a special “Faces of Autism” photo series this April.
“Blow bubbles, play with balls. Get them to interact, and then snap pictures in between to get the expression you’re looking for,” she suggests. Involving a child’s favorite toy can also help them feel more comfortable in front of the camera, and you’ll be capturing a part of that moment of their childhood.
Tip #2 Consider the environment
When deciding where to take photos, look for places that are engaging, like your back yard, without being distracting, like a playground. And remember, it’s more important that a child feel comfortable than the surroundings be picture perfect.
“Children on the spectrum will not relax if you decide to suddenly change something in the environment to make for better photos,” says Scott.
Tip #3 Limit distractions
When snapping pictures, make sure the TV is off and other screens are put away, and if possible, don’t involve too many other people. “Think about items that may help draw your child’s attention toward the camera, but avoid things that may upset them if they aren’t given the object immediately,” says Amanda Goodin, a developmental preschool teacher and mom to a son with special needs, who owns Amanda Goodin Photography.
Also, do not expect multiple outfit changes. Try to keep clothing simple and avoid outfits that are out of the ordinary for the child.
Tip #4 Snap pictures often
Take the pressure off creating the perfect photo session by getting in the habit of taking pictures often. The frequency will help your child become more comfortable, and it will give you the chance to try new angles, find different environments and learn everything your camera can do.
“The more you have your camera around, the more you’ll shoot and the more likely you are to capture something magical,” Paterson says.
While getting a great shot of your child may take a little more effort, choosing a professional who is happy to take the time to work with you is well worth it. And for those candid shots at home, with a little advance planning, you’ll be able to snap some priceless photos of your child that let their true essence come through.