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Tips for Taking Photos of Children with Special Needs

Tips for Taking Photos of Children with Special Needs

I am Mom to two “differently wired” boys who I’ve been photographing since they were babies (they are now 8 and 5). They have always been my most challenging subjects. This post is specifically for parents of children who might have special needs or are simply a bit more challenging than their peers…

Maine in the Summer

The biggest mistake most people make on vacation is to photograph everything - to have the camera at the ready all day. I have a simple padded insert for my beloved Everlane backpack and that's where I store it until it's needed. I learned long ago that nobody wants a camera in their face for the entire vacation. And tolerance for waiting while I take a photo goes down exponentially with every minute. So I try my best to keep photography to a minimum when we're supposed to be enjoying a restful and exciting time together.

I also have have to manage my expectations.

Because I'm a so-called "professional photographer", my bar for vacation photos is pretty high. I want every image to be artistic and beautiful. In reality, that doesn't actually happen. I want the types of photos I produce for my clients, only that too is impossible, because the point of a vacation is NOT to get family photos - it's to play and discover and to walk around in the middle of the day when the sun is harsh and awful and hot.. or you decide to hike 3 miles over some crazy wooden boardwalk and huge rocks and you're too busy focusing on survival (and sweating) to even consider taking photos. Nobody wants to pause to pose for the camera!

The one time we actually did go out during the golden hour, it was our last night in Maine and we got bitten by mosquitos and almost didn't make it back to the car before the sun disappeared completely. So there's that.

There are only a few things you can really count on:

  1. You can get that perfect shot of your 2-year old walking away from you, pretty much any time you want.
  2. Nobody will ever actually look at the camera. And trying to get more than 2 people looking at the camera at the same time is like not gonna happen no matter how much you wave your arms and yell in their general direction.
  3. You will have to sprint to catch up with your family every 2 minutes.
  4. You will get lots of practice aiming the camera and pressing the shutter with one hand while giving your toddler a piggy back ride.
  5. You will forget to actually be in the photos yourself. (Unless you force your hubby to take some photos of you and your boys literally at the last possible moment before you leave and then settle on one where you don't look completely horrible)

And Maine was absolutely gorgeous. We hiked Acadia National Forest trails and stayed in a lovely little cabin. I read every day. And the kids complained only some of the time. We didn't get any perfect family photos, but I did try to capture what we did almost every day, even if that meant photographing my lovely family walking away, and leaving me behind, with my camera.

A Letter to my Son, on his Second Birthday.

Dear Elliot,

You are now officially 2 years old, although I felt like you were two for several months now. It could have been the constant tantrums, the end-of-the-world tears, or the bossy demands that made me feel that way.. or the fact that you're understanding more and more, starting to say "thank you mommy" and "please" (you know I can't deny you anything when you do), or the squeeeezes, kisses, and hugs you give me when I ask.

You are turning into a boy with every passing day. You're always thinking of others - you're learning to share, you try so hard to clean up your messes, and you actually put away toys when asked. You request your backpack every time we go to pick up your big brother from school. You eat constantly throughout the day, and if I'm lucky, you will actually consume all of your dinner once in a while (and after about an hour at the table). Your favorite seems to be pasta.. and pizza of course. And you definitely love apple sauce, which you eat about four times a day.

You get numbers. You can count to ten, which is often followed by "Jump!". You're starting to understand shapes, but you still confuse your colors. You call your favorite yellow shirt "red" (pictured below), which I dare say, is inaccurate. You adore rocks and often pick one up when we walk outside. You then throw them, even if we're indoors and the rock happens to be huge. You cried once when I made you leave a large boulder outside. Your big brother covered it with snow so you would leave it behind - he made it a little snow house.

You've completely appropriated my iPad mini. Your favorite shows are Umi Zoomi, Mikey Mouse Club House, and Animal Mechanicals. Your favorite activity seems to be to pull out all the DVDs and the remote control batteries, and spread them out on the living room floor (if we're lucky, you will also throw them all around the house). You climb on the kitchen island, with your whole body, to find little treasures you're not supposed to have. You scream "Oh! Find it!!" every time you get your hands on something good. You yell "Catch!" when you throw things at my face, usually when it's already too late.

You demand my house keys to open doors and press all elevator buttons. You never willingly hold my hand.. unless you sometimes do, and it totally melts my heart. I walk, holding on to your little fingers, so proud and so thankful that you are mine.

A Boy's Visit to the American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History in New York is the most wonderful place for a 5-year old boy obsessed with dinosaurs. Graham and I have been talking about dinosaur fossils (and watching documentaries) for several months now. That, along with space exploration, has been absolutely fascinating to re-discover now that I'm an adult. The amazing findings that have been made in the last century are just mind boggling. 

It was my idea to take Graham out of school for a day (while his little brother was enjoying daycare, of course) and make the trip to NYC to visit the museum. We've been at odds lately. He's having a tough time keeping his hands to himself at school. He gets so very excited and has trouble controlling his body. His little brother certainly gets a lot of attention around the house, which I'm sure doesn't help him feel special. This was something we could do together, just the two of us.. like the good old days.

And really, I'm up for just about anything if I can bring my camera along. ;)

Family Vacation at the Trapp Family Lodge - Stowe, Vermont

Every year, we take a family vacation. Sometimes we go somewhere exotic (and expensive) like Paris, and other times we decide to spend a week with family in Vermont (umm, free lodging!). Not to be outdone by a complete lack of exciting plans for our vacation week, my husband decided to book two nights at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont. We were to re-live our first stay there four years ago, when Graham was about Elliot’s age, and it also made our plan to visit our awesome friends near Burlington so much more manageable.

So here we are. The Trapp Family Lodge – built by the family that inspired the Sound of Music. We made sure to arrive on the first day for their complimentary tea and cookies (no way in hell was I going to miss my favorite perk of staying there) and enjoyed a nice dinner at the Lounge (where we took turns walking around with the toddler.. what else is new, right?). Looking back at my photos from our first stay here in 2011 (right after Irene hit, btw), it was clear how much was missing. I took my camera out with me only a couple of times, even though we spent the whole week enjoying activities and the surrounding area. I don’t remember most of it.. because we had a crazy teething toddler and spent most of our trip being exhausted new parents.

This time around, I wasn’t going to let being tired and uncooperative children stop me from documenting our vacation. So while I didn’t have my camera permanently glued to my face (I strongly believe in being there, in the moment, to enjoy time with the family), I did make an effort to photograph as much as possible. The scenery of the place is just so gorgeous. The boys blessed us with being crazy for only 75% of the time (there’s something about all the wide-open spaces), and we got to see some furry cows, go for an actual hike in the woods, and tour an awesome chicken coop. And of course, we loved seeing our friends, which was the whole point of the detour in the first place.

I selected my favorite images from our stay to share.. because I assumed you probably didn’t want to see the full set of 79 photos. Can you image? That would be a really LONG blog post!