So you want to have a successful family picture with a minimum of stress and the best possible outcome? Here are my five best tips for making your dream come true.
1. Adaptive Clothing - During a photoshoot we want to look our absolute best…but sometimes that is a major hurdle for someone with Autism or who has sensory issues. Luckily, companies have started to take notice and even mainstream retailers like Target and Kohls are creating clothing lines with soft linings that are tag-free. Some of my favorites are BILLY Footwear (super cute shoes with a zipper all the way around the shoe for easy access) and Tommy Hilfiger (you can search by adaptive needs).
Clothing for photo shoots doesn’t always have to be fancy either. Talk to your photographer about different styles of shoots…it may be that a casual look is just what you need to avoid a meltdown.
*Bonus Tip: most adaptive brands don’t offer jeans because they are notoriously scratchy…but they are such a staple of photo shoots that it can be a huge battle for parents to convince their child to wear them. I have a changing room at the studio so that my clients can come in their super soft leggings, slip a pair of jeans on over them for the shoot, and then take them off immediately afterwards!
2. Fidget or a Lovey - At the studio I have a box of small fidgets that the kids can use to calm their nerves during a shoot, but I also encourage my clients to include a favorite toy in the session. As a photographer and a parent I love to embrace where my clients are in their lives…so that the portrait is a true reflection of life. If that means that Thomas the Tank Engine makes an appearance in some of the photos all the better.
3. Social Narrative - For those of you who have not used them before, a social narrative is a step-by-step story that walks you and your child through what to expect at a photo shoot. They are used extensively for children and adults with ASD (but are super great for pretty much anyone).
I have created a “Going to the Photographer” social narrative download for my younger clients. Having a step-by-step narrative with pictures explaining what will happen during the photo shoot is a great way to prepare for the shoot. I also created a Power Card Template that can be customized to your child. Power Cards are individual to a child’s interest…this particular one was made for a client who is really into Pokemon.
4. Just the right amount of bribing: I think the biggest mistake you can make before the photo shoot is to pre-bribe your child. If you promise ice cream or a toy if they behave, then the only recourse during the shoot is to take it away (or promise them something bigger…like a trip to Disneyland).
Of course taking away the treat has the opposite effect…it makes everyone sad and angry. My solution: bring treats to the studio, or a plan for something fun to do afterwards. During the shoot we can start with small rewards, like a fruit snack, and work up to the larger treat as necessary, “I know you are getting tired, but if you can sit for 5 more minutes we will go get ice cream!”
5. Adjusted expectations - Social Media has prepared us for the beautiful smiling family sitting together and looking at the camera. As a photographer I am often looking at those images and seeing the strained smiles and imagining the unpleasant behind-the-scenes work that had to happen to make that perfect, carefree image.
To me, the goal of a portrait is to create a lasting image that brings you joy every time you look at it. Every one of my favorite images is slightly messy or almost-perfect but where there is genuine happiness and fun happening. These are the iconic images that will bring back the joy of the moment in the years to come.
If you choose a photographer who has experience with children with extra needs you are already half way to a great shoot. Because I work with people that need a little extra understanding on those tough days, I offer my clients the ability to visit the studio ahead of time to get comfortable. I also offer two no-questions-asked reschedules free of charge. By relieving the stress of worrying about cancellations due to behavior, I have found that I almost never need to reschedule because we are starting in a place of calm and understanding.
Ask your photographer to help you make a plan for success that centers around your child’s specific needs and don’t hesitate to ask questions. A family photo shoot should be memorable for all the right reasons!