Special Needs Portrait Guide

Special Needs Tips from a Special Needs Photographer

Just because you or a family member has a special need or illness does not mean you shouldn’t be planning for your family photography session.  Whether it’s your father who has recently been diagnosed with MS, or mom who has bad knees, its o.k! Does your cousin have cerebral palsy? Does your son have ADHD? It’s all o.k!  It is more common than you think! I am here to tell you that if you have been putting off family photos, now is the time to start planning!W

We live in a beautiful world.  Everywhere we look, there are pictures of perfect smiles on perfect families.  This is not accurate though! As a mom of a special needs son, there have been times that I have felt very protective of him.  My old thought process was that I did not want to ‘burden’ anyone with our special needs.  So, we just wouldn’t do certain things.  In a world full of perfect people families, why celebrate and photograph ours?   It’s hard, to be honest with a stranger about things like this.  However, I feel like you need to hear that your family deserves to be celebrated and photographed.  You are a family and every family deserves to have their story told.

  1. Let’s talk about it.  A special need or illness is not a burden to the right photographer.  For me, these sessions are the most meaningful and impactful moments in my career.  Being honest with your family challenges will create a more comfortable and relaxed session.  Talking about a special need, especially if it’s a new illness might be really difficult.  Many times, other family members might not know the reason why all of a sudden there is a need to get together and be photographed.  If this is the case,  just know that I am here for you and my goal is to create a wonderful portrait for you to have for years to come.
  2. Find An Accessible Location.  Finding a location that is comfortable and accessible to everyone is really important. This time is for you to gather and be together.  If you know that someone might have a problem walking, or they may have a sensory overload-  then maybe the lake isn’t the right location for your family.  I have photographed families in hospital rooms,  in their kitchens and living rooms.  The key to a wonderful family photoshoot is that everyone feels comfortable and relaxed.
  3. Find a Reason to Celebrate.  Having this time with your family is a reason to celebrate who you are and your love for one another.  Celebrations are sacred traditions and should be valued as such!  If you or a family member is dreading this time together,  please sit down with them- or allow your photographer to take a moment and connect.  Letting them know in private how much this session means to your family legacy is a much better way to handle the situation versus calling them out on their rude or poor behavior.  Your ideal photographer will have the patience of the saint for you, I promise!  A lot of my families go out for a special treat or have dinner together afterward.  This is more than a photo, this is a memory!


Often we feel like having to ask for something special puts a burden on the service provider.  Whether its a photographer, a server, or a stylist.  We all want to be appear to be strong and willing and able.  9 times out of 10, this is completely unrealistic.  Having a family member with a special need or illness is a great gift.  It gives us the opportunity to shift our consciousness.  To stop worrying about the small stuff, and start taking time to really start living.  As many of you know, having a child with special needs or a family member with a life threatening illness is when we all come together and rally as a family.  Being honest with this family dynamic makes the best photos.  It is never fun to show up to a photography shoot after months of preparing only to see the agony of a family member who cannot keep up or is in pain.  My compassionate heart cannot handle this!  Being honest, having clear communication and celebrating your family and its wonderful story is the key to having a successful photography session.