My husband occasionally likes to refer to me as the “photo Nazi”, I’ll admit, it may not be one of my favorite pet names that he has for me (or politically correct for that matter), but obviously I can’t deny that I am pretty persistent when it comes to scheduling photos for my family. Every year, at a minimum, I get the kids photos taken around their birthdays. Then there are the occasional family photos, or random “special” photos that I may throw in from time to time as well. The truth is, I have always loved good photos. I like to share them with family, go back and look at them when the mood strikes, and give my house walls some décor that actually makes me smile. I think it is important to capture the big milestones over the years with more than just a couple of snaps from your cell phone. The time goes by quickly so making an annual goal for photo sessions help me keep on track. Having three young kids can make getting a family photo difficult. Having a child on the autism spectrum that, for whatever reason refuses to look at the camera, can make the difficult feel almost impossible at times. I’m not sure what the whole issue of smiling for the camera can be for some kids on the spectrum, probably something along the same lines of eye contact issues in general. And although I may not know the exact cause, I do know that this is not an issue exclusive to us. Luckily for me I have been to LOTS of photos shoots, so I have picked up some tricks along the way to help get good photos with your autistic child that doesn’t just volunteer to “say cheese”:
- Splurge for a Quality Photographer
This really is one of those times that you get what you pay for. If all I wanted was a couple of photos of us looking at the camera in nice outfits with a standard Instagram filter, I would take them myself (and don’t get me wrong I do that plenty). But at least once a year I want real professional photos done from people that really understand their trade. I want someone that understands lighting and backgrounds and can even work their magic to swap a head or two when the kids are just not cooperating. I’m picky about pictures. So, a bit of research through their past galleries helps me decide if they are a good fit for what I am looking for. We have been fortunate to find a photographer that we love and have been going to for over 7 years now. Once you find someone that works well with your family and knows what works for you, it just makes the whole process that much easier.
- Skip the Mini Sessions
A lot of photographers today offer “mini sessions” where you can get photos done at a lower cost. Although I am generally never one to turn down a good deal, the truth is the set up that normally comes with a mini session is just not doable for my crew, not yet anyways. Mini sessions offered tend to be about 20–30-minute sessions wherein they have people booked pretty close together so things need to keep moving. Even though our “good photo window” is generally short, it can take some time to get Damion into that sweet spot where he is settled, looking, and smiling. We tend to need more time, so we always book a stand-alone hour session just to be safe. Also, many of the mini sessions are set up to be taken at the same standard location, and my go to photographer knows that often time we have to walk around with my son and follow his lead a bit to get some really good pictures (this was especially true in his younger years).
- Prep the Photographer
It may be worthwhile to have a conversation ahead of time with the photographer, at least to give them a heads up to tell them they may want to wear some good walking shoes. Having everyone on the same page will be helpful in getting the most out of your session. Who knows, if they have experience working with kids, they may have some helpful strategies up their sleeves to help with cooperation as well.
- Make a Fool of Yourself
I’m not sure how much my photographer loves me standing directly behind her, shouting whatever current phrase go along with his favorite show or book, but she has taken our photos long enough to know that I know what to say to get him to look and smile. For a full family photo session, where I actually wish to be in the photo as well, I sometimes give her tips on what to say, or even bring along a family member like one of my parents to help with getting them to look and focus. It may seem silly to be jumping around shouting Shrek quotes behind the camera, but it is a sacrifice I am willing to make for a good photo. Reward based tactics may work occasionally too. Just make sure if it is something food related, and given immediately, that it is not something that will be an issue in the photos (something like smarties candies is always a good choice).
- Candids Can be Great Too
Sometimes even with all the prep taken, my kiddo will not cooperate with photos. Thankfully we live in a digital age, so to have the photographer just keep snapping never hurts. When they absolutely just refuse to look, we give up on the standard “look and smile’ and just do things to try and make them laugh or have fun. We have even had sessions where we read books to them. It may not be the pristine family photo I imagined, but sometimes those candid shots turn out to be my favorites.
Well, there you have it. My personal guide to getting good photos with an autistic child. I know, with everything else special needs moms have on our plate; professional photos may not be on the radar for many at all. But like I said, I love photos, so it is important to me. My sweet boy has a smile that can light up a room. So occasionally I would really just like to capture that smiling face, maybe even with the rest of us smiling around him too. It all goes by so fast; I just want to make sure I have some good photos along the way that I can look back on.
Can’t forget to give credit to our go-to, Krystal Covington Photography (she took at all the photos you see above). She is so great to work with and never disappoints! For themed or specialty photos you can also check out Danielle Hill Photography who we have used and is wonderful as well.