Photographing Children with Special Needs; 12 Things Parents Want You To Know

photographing children with special needs

Photographing children with special needs, while rewarding, can be very intimidating;

mostly due to a lack of understanding and the fear of not knowing how to ask the right questions. I have had the privilege and great joy of photographing many of these very special little human beings. I am honored to be able to share some great tips with you so that you might feel empowered to go out and tell their story through your photography.


12 Things Parents of Children With Special Needs Want You To Know About Photographing Their Child

  1. Speak with the child in a way that is appropriate to their age level regardless of what they may or may not be able to communicate they understand.
  2. Take photos that show off their features rather than their ‘equipment’.
  3. Take the time to pose the child so that they look natural in the photo. Make sure they don’t look uncomfortable.
  4. Ask: what is the child’s capabilities? Rather than: what is their diagnosis?
  5. Remember not all children with special needs are the same. Ask what you can do to make them more comfortable and what you should avoid.
  6. Be aware of their limitations and work quickly; their bodies may not be able to handle the same thing as other children.
  7. Be patient and take the time needed to truly capture a good photo of who that are.
  8. Remember they are not just a label or a diagnosis, they are people with personalities. Ask the parents to tell you who their child is and work to capture that.
  9. Always reschedule if you are even slightly sick. Children with special needs often have a compromised immune system. An illness that has minimal effects on us can send them to the hospital with severe complications.
  10. When planning the session, put your own agenda for poses on hold. They may not tolerate a lot of messing with and re-positioning.
  11. Realize it may have taken the parents a long time to even call you for a session. Be sensitive to the fact they’ve had to overcome many hurdles just to have the session.
  12. Your energy is so important during the session. You must remain confident and CALM no matter how you might feel. The child will feed off of chaotic/nervous energy.


12 Tips from Me

  1. Approach the session differently than a typical children’s session; You may only get ONE great shot that captures who they are and is different that the photos parents usually get of their child. Usually this means just sitting and waiting for that moment and then capturing it.
  2. Prepare parents prior to session, letting them know your method and that it is unique to each child. Assure them that you do not expect the child to perform.
  3. Don’t be afraid to touch and talk to the child. It will put parents at easy to know you are comfortable with their child.
  4. Build a relationship with the family. Take the time to get to know the child and learn their likes and dislikes then bring them a little gift to the session.
  5. Let the parents share information about their child’s diagnosis rather than asking them outright.
  6. Be tuned into words they use, notice whether the parents say ‘special needs’ or ‘disabled’ and use the same term.
  7. When photographing siblings with the child, it may be necessary to create a composite rather than prolonging the session to get them all in one shot.
  8. Crank up that shutter speed. Many children with disabilities have little control over their bodies, especially hands. Work with faster shutter speeds to avoid their hands becoming just a blur.
  9. Have the tools on hand to make the session comfortable for the child. Such as a heater, bean bag and music.
  10. Do all of your planning/prep ahead of time… you will need every moment you can get during the session to photograph the child before they tire.
  11. Be willing to go the distance. It may take more than one session to capture the perfect shot, let parents know that you are willing to work with their child. 
  12. Because the client is walking into the session probably already fearing failure, it is important to keep reassuring them that you will do everything you can to get a great photo.


Jenny Gibson_Photographing Children with Special Needs_siblings


Remember, remain calm, go with the flow and allow the child to determine when they’ve had enough. Photographing children with special needs is one of the most rewarding aspects of children’s photography. You have an opportunity to capture the beauty in these children and honor who they are. You get to capture them how their parents see them; not just as an object of amusement or curiosity but a human being with a spirit, personality and story. I encourage you to open your heart and dive into this world, you will be blessed beyond imagine.




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Jenny Gibson

Jenny Gibson


Married and living in Roseburg, Oregon with 4 kids of her own, she is one of the most real, honest and down to earth people you will ever meet. It’s been said that Jenny has an uncanny ability to elicit great expressions out of any kid. She believes there isn’t a child out there that she couldn’t get a great photograph of. Her secret?? Patience. Determination. And an understanding and love of children.

Jenny’s confidence and passion spills out from her ‘Can Do’ spirit. She doesn’t believe being a successful photographer is a matter of what gifts you were born with, but how hard you’ve worked and how many failures you’ve overcome. Being completely self-taught has presented her with many challenges, but also an understanding for the needs and doubts among aspiring photographers. She never claims to be the absolute expert, but is willing to do whatever it takes to figure it out, and to help those around her succeed.

Jenny has earned recognition as an award winning photographer by the National Association of Professional Child Photographers, Shoot and Share Magazine and various other blogs and websites. When she’s not being a mama or photographing clients, you can find her filling her time with a variety of creative avenues like: refinishing furniture, redesigning/remodeling her home or cutting a friend’s hair.
Jenny Gibson