Helpful tips for Photographing Children with Special Needs

We are pleased to have Jill Hotujec on the blog today with a guest post about photographing children with special needs!  Thank you Jill!

Follow her on Facebook: Jill Hotujec Photography


Hi everyone!

I am a professional photographer and pediatric Occupational Therapist and love what I do. When my son was born I discovered I also had a passion for photography and thus started Jill Hotujec Photography in 2010.  I have found that my professional background has helped me immensely in my photography work.  Photographers want to capture the moments that parents cherish and they often find it is difficult with children with special needs or Autism. There are a number of things that can be helpful to the photographer and the family and I will try to explain a few that work for me.  It is a wonderful feeling as a photographer to know when you present your photos to your client that you have reached your goal to capture their child with Autism or special needs just as they see them.

Jill Hotujec Photography

#1  ~  Choosing the Location

Find out where this child will be most comfortable. Often it will be at their home in their backyard – more of a lifestyle session.  I often try to choose locations outdoors with space for the children to move, but also away from playground equipment and distractions.  I love it when it is a nature park with trails and open space!

#2  ~  Talking to the Family

You want to make sure you talk with the family about what their son or daughter with special needs likes and what their favorite toys and topics of interest are. It is also possible at this time to talk about bringing some of these items along if needed for comfort, or if the parents want some of their special things in the pictures with them (toys, dolls, stuffed animals, etc.)  Be sure to ask about difficulties they may be aware of – for example if the child dislikes being touched, if eye contact is difficult,  if they will run away, what their aggression level is,  and what triggers may occur.  This information will be very helpful.

Jill Hotujec Photography

#3  ~  Sensory Breaks During The Session

There are more children presenting with sensory processing difficulties with a variety of diagnosis or no diagnosis at all and just some sensory processing needs.  Some children require extra movement of their body and more input to their body.  I will not go into more detail at this time about the sensory processing but instead how it is important to know about it during a photo session.  If the child with sensory processing difficulties is asked to sit and he may not be able to at that moment then a sensory break may be needed.  This can be short and make your session so much easier for you, the family and the child.  Most parents know what their child may need for this sensory break.  I usually can tell when the child is unable to sit any longer and needs to move.  The sensory break can be as simple as running down to a tree and coming back to me. (This can also be used while capturing photos).  It can be jumping up and down and counting to 10 for me.  I have many other ideas so e-mail me if you would like more.  Many of these sensory break moments can also be opportunities to capture photos.

#4   ~  Things to Remember During The Session

I always avoid asking for eye contact.  I try to use laughter and getting them to tell stories to capture some of their natural facial expressions.  If I think the child can handle it I may tell them I have an animal on my camera and to look for that animal to pop up from my camera. You just want to be sure not to scare the child you has anxiety issues.

Jill Hotujec Photography

At the beginning of the session it is important to let them see that the session will be calm.   I keep my camera down and just talk with the child and family about all the things they like to do.  You may ask if they are excited about starting Kindergarten, if they love to swim, and see what other activities they might talk about.  I do this all before picking up my camera so they can be calm and ready for the session.

Children understand more than you imagine and if you are getting flustered as a photographer, they will feel the frustration.  It is very important to keep a calm gentle voice and a calm body during the session.  Children with Autism and special needs do not typically like unexpected noises or events so making goofy noises to get their attention would be something to avoid.   It is also important to not move quickly towards them – even for a photo.  Be sure to let them know what you are going to do next.   Predictability during the session is an important element to remember with children with special needs and Autism.

If the parents wish to use rein forcers (i.e. park time, food, toys, etc.) for good behavior, then allow them to, as they know what works best. Provide positive encouragement and keep praising the children for all the great listening they are doing. The more positive words you can use, the calmer the parents and children will be and you will be happy with your end results!

#5  ~  Have Fun and Capture Memories For The Family

It is important for everyone to have fun!!  If you are laughing and having fun, chances are your clients will too.  The child may have a meltdown or cry, so just be sure to stay calm and wait for the right moments.  These photos are priceless to the parents and they will appreciate the extra time and patience that you spend to get them.  Remember that they deal with this every day and it can be exhausting.

I try to end my sessions with photos of Mom and Dad – an extra treat!! You will be amazed when you ask them to look at each other and take a moment – they don’t get much time for this and it very special and always appreciated.

Jill Hotujec Photography


I hope the tips help you capture children with Autism or Special needs.   The families deserve to have amazing photos of their incredibly special children. I have an extra special place in my heart for those struggling with disabilities and I want to be able to help all of you capture those special moments.

Jill Hotujec Photography Jill Hotujec Photography Jill Hotujec Photography

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