Autistic Photo Shoot

On Christmas Day I took the kids outside in their new fancy clothes to take some photos. My in-laws have been asking for certain shots for a while now but taking Max to the mall to get photos done is just not going to happen. Our last set of professional photos was on his 1st birthday and let me tell you, it was horrendous. The photographer was patient but it was Hard.

So hard, I hadn’t taken them back since.

I think a lot happened Autism-wise between that 1st and 2nd birthday. Fast forward to his 3rd birthday and it’s a little sad the lack of photos we have of them all together. I tried over the spring (before we got a diagnosis, this was the time I just thought he was “hard to handle”) and this is what I got.

Chaos theory - Applied.

Max sleeps in late because he has a hard time settling down at night (that’s another post!) so before he was awake I took the big kids out to do their photos, it was by far the best photographic decision I’ve made. I was able to shoot at leisure the older kids before Max got up and dressed. When he joined us the shoot went downhill quickly but I improvised as best I could.

If you look really close you’ll see my brown slippers and the hem of my jeans behind my daughter’s legs. Max was not interested in standing facing me. It was really helpful to have another adult on hand (which I didn’t have in the spring photos) to man the camera while I handled Max. I have a few more like this but with Max degrading in mood when he realized that I was behind him yet he wasn’t allowed to move to me. After the group shot I tried to get a few of him alone. What ended up working was me running backward as he chased me. I’d go as fast as I could then kneel down and quickly snap as many shots as I could.

I was able to get some really great EYE CONTACT! shots with this method. He looks so big *sniff*.

I should have probably looked up advice from professional photographers on how to shoot Autistic children but I rarely do things the easy way. I did find on my own, these things helpful:

Use natural lighting, my vision sensitive kid HATES flash and bright lights. Also, we know that the flourescent lights in stores/malls disturb him. Also try and use either mid morning or mid afternoon lighting (which is just a regular photography tip).

Pick a time of day that is *best* for your child, mornings are better for Max than afternoons.

Be the photographer or be *in* the photos. Max has a strong attachment to me and sitting on the sidelines wouldn’t have worked at all for him with someone else giving direction. Max is leery of strangers so inviting someone in that was new probably wouldn’t have been best. See if you have a familiar person in your family that could do it for you if you lack the skill or equipment to get the types of photos you want. I have a DSLR with amateur skill, for me that works. I’m okay with the product, though I do want to learn more about photography.

Know your kid. Which sounds stupid but sometimes we need to remember that. We want a picture to look a certain way and that just won’t work with our children. Max hates clothes (he’s nude about 85% of the time) so trying to get him into a nicely pressed suit wouldn’t have worked, instead I chose comfortable clothes that wouldn’t irritate his sensitivities. I chose the location outside our front door, knowing that car rides, strange places and strangers would exacerbate any uncooperativeness he’d display.I made sure I had photographed all the other kids in various poses before even introducing him to the environment. Once Max arrived “on set” I only needed a couple shots, 1 of him with all the kids and 1 of him alone.

Work fast.  Do I need to explain why?

Have low expectations. Trying to get that *perfect shot* is just going to make both you and everyone else frustrated and make what could be a fun time into a hot mess. Do I have the best photographs? not really, but they’re perfect to me because I have captured all of my kids together at a moment in time. I can look back at them fondly and smile, remembering Max and his difficulties with a positive spin instead of remembering the hair-pulling-out emotions I still remember two years later at his professional photos in the mall (he had darted from the store more than once!).

Have fun! Nothing will upset your child more than you barking orders at them to smile or getting frustrated with the lack of cooperation. Work around their sensitivities, incorporate things they like or will draw their attention, instead of yelling “Cheese!” to Max I yelled “A!” because he’s super interested in letters and that grabbed his attention. I ran and he chased, another thing that draws him out of his bubble.

Stop when the child needs to stop. There isn’t any good going to come by forcing the subject no matter how much you want that “one forward facing photo”. Learn to like profile shots.


What has your experience been photographing Autistic children?


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