Aug 06, 2015

5 Tips for Photographing Children with Special Needs, by Caitlin Domanico, of Photography by Caitlin Domanico


As a photographer who also has a Masters in Education with special education certification, I have a lot of clients who come to me specifically because their child has special needs. As a teacher, I am very comfortable adapting to and supporting kids with all abilities, and that has translated into my photography pretty seamlessly.

Sometimes, it can feel pretty daunting to plan a photography session for a child with special needs. What if I don’t know what to do? What if I don’t know how to act? How will I communicate? How do I know what the child can do?

All of those questions and thoughts are completely valid, and I can assure you they are normal! If you really think about it, those questions are the same ones that pop up when working with new clients in general – we all get butterflies in our bellies from time-to-time, because we want to do our best, to work our magic with the camera, and ultimately, to have very happy and pleased clients!

Pre-Session Consultations are a crucial part of the photo session process. If you are not yet incorporating pre-session consultations, I beg you to consider them. Just a quick chat on the phone will most often suffice. It will allow your client to get to know you a bit, which will really help them feel relaxed at the session, and this is a great time to learn more about your clients, including any special needs or insecurities they may have.






1. Ask questions. Ask mom or dad if anybody has any special needs. If they say yes, ask them to tell you more. Ask if there are any ways you can better prepare yourself or the session location to make their child comfortable, including their likes/dislikes and levels of functioning. Just like typically developing children, many children with special needs love singing and songs, but sometimes, singing songs will over-stimulate a child with special needs, and will result in them having a tantrum/melt-down, so it is best to learn in advance if there are triggers or special things that make them happy. If a child loves bubbles more than anything in the world, then you had better believe you want to have bubbles at the session! Many children on the Autism Spectrum are uncomfortable with or even unable to make eye contact, so you will want to avoid asking them to look at you, and instead, ask questions (“Is there a cow on my head?”), put a sticker on your camera, and engage with them that way, rather than “look at me”!






2. Location. Consider the location choice carefully with mom and dad. If you have a child with physical disabilities, your location needs to be accessible. If your child elopes (runs away), an enclosed spot will be a safe place to have a session. Some children become overstimulated easily, and in that case, you will want to choose a session location that has little extraneous stimuli, or stimuli that you can control for the most part.





3. Take breaks. Recognize when a child needs a break. Plan for little breaks throughout the session. Encourage mom and dad to pack water and non-meltable snacks. Bring books/bubbles/and other aesthetically pleasing items to play with – avoid cell phones and tablets, as these are harder to transition from and may be detrimental to completing the session.






4. Educate yourself. Take some time to familiarize yourself with developmental milestones in the areas of cognition, socialization, language, and physical development. Once you have an understanding of them, you will be able to begin to understand where the child is currently functioning and respond appropriately. This is not to say you will be able to diagnose a child or know everything about them within the first five minutes of meeting, but being educated will help you throughout your session, and will help you avoid placing unreachable expectations on a child, which can lead to frustration or shutting down. You want to ensure all children are safe and comfortable during the session, so knowing the ways most children develop is very important.






5. Relax and have fun. Most children will model your behavior and attitude. If you are calm, laid-back, and positive, chances are, the children will be, too! Do not be afraid to fail. If you follow your regular approach to composition, and capturing the beauty of a family, you will be able to make strong images in which the child with special needs is natural, happy, and comfortable. If you are typically a portrait photographer who relies on very precise posing you may want to consider using a more relaxed/lifestyle approach, so that you do not box yourself in to one type of pose/set-up. Remember, beauty unfolds when families are allowed to act naturally – so let them snuggle, let them have a tickle fight, and capture those loving moments!






share this post:

TweetShare on FacebookEmail

About the Contributor: Caitlin Domanico is a lifestyle photographer who specializes in working with newborns & young children. She has been voted #1 in Philadelphia and Montgomery County multiple times. Caitlin has exhibited in several private and juried galleries.


comment on this post

Leave comment

No comments have been added yet

liked this post? img you might also like...
  • New in the NAPCP Store – Holiday Postcard Pack
    We’re hustlin’ for the holidays and having the BEST time with our seasonal marketing, with these holiday marketing postcard pack designs! There’s a lot of love in the NAPCP Member Community for these beautiful Artifact Uprising postcards. We feel it, and it is so special to see this community come together to share their ideas […]
  • A Colorful Family Session at Coney Island
    Inspiration I’m always inspired by the real stories of my families, and my images are an attempt to showcase their unique connection and genuine beauty. This family has chosen adventure to be a central quality of their life together, and are embracing travel with their young daughter and sharing their experiences at They wanted […]
  • What’s in Her Bag: Marisa McDonald
    Tell us a little about what’s inside your bag. I love my Jo Totes Missy Mint bag! It has custom dividers so I can create perfectly sized sections for my camera and lenses, external pockets, and even a laptop sleeve! My bag pretty much always has a camera (lately, my new Mark IV!), my Sigma […]
  • #NAPCPColors Round-Up
    We rounded up a few of our favorite #NAPCPColors Instagram submissions to kick off our week with a colorful bang! We’re so happy all of our Instagram followers and friends had such a wonderful time participating in this new project, on one of our favorite social media platforms. Julie Campbell Photography Paul Douglas Studio Sandi […]
img find a photographer
in your area

We are so delighted that you are here. The National Association of Professional Child Photographers is an association whose mission is to promote and support the artistry and integrity of professional child photographers. To accomplish this mission, NAPCP provides the most comprehensive resources for its members, bringing together a community of passionate artists committed to growth in their skills, their artistry, and their businesses. (formally pronounced "NAP-C-P") is a place where professional child photographers can come and connect, learn, teach, aspire and grow. It is also a valuable resource for parents who are looking for a professional child photographer in their area, and want to be inspired and educated about our specialized industry.

img award winning photos click here to view

img most recent issue
img vendors we love
napcp supporters

img helpful articles napcp resources
  • September Inspired Magazine: Featuring K.C. Crow!

    Click here to read our September magazine featuring K.C. Crow! Don’t forget, Inspired is now printable! Print your copy straight from MagCloud, and share your favorite pieces with friends, family and clients. Save Save Save

  • Announcing Our Second Half 2017 NAPCP International Image Competition Winners!

    Hello friends! After much excitement and anticipation, we are absolutely thrilled to announce the winners of our Second Half 2017 NAPCP International Image Competition. Uniquely focused on child photography, the NAPCP International Image Competition features a range of image categories, including Babies, Newborn, Children, Family, Maternity, Siblings, Toddlers, and Seniors. Thank you to our amazing […]

  • August Inspired Magazine: Featuring Amy Tripple!

    Click here to read our August magazine featuring Amy Tripple! Don’t forget, Inspired is now printable! Print your copy straight from MagCloud, and share your favorite pieces with friends, family and clients. Save Save

  • Free Custom Wallpaper: Shoot. Edit. Share. Repeat.

    Free Custom Wallpaper — Competition season is here and today we want to share this free custom wallpaper with you, to download! Download and use this wallpaper for your own personal use. Set it as your device wallpaper or share it via social media. Scroll down for clickable download buttons at the bottom of this […]