Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Photographing a child with special needs / Giving the gift of images to a deserving family

I feel that the most important aspect of being a photographer is to capture history in images. Once in while, there comes an opportunity to capture a really special moment in a family's history. A couple weeks ago, one of our neighbors, who we have known for many years, asked if I could shoot family portraits for them. What makes this special is that they have a 11 year old son named Jeffrey who is non-verbal, uses a wheelchair much of the time, a walker some of the time, and only in the past few months has he gained enough confidence, stability, and strength to make several attempts at walking short-distances unassisted.

As it turns out, having a child with special needs like this, makes it very difficult for them to get family photos. They had tried getting photos at a local department store, but they limited the studio time and number of shots to the point where they could not get a nice photo. They also did not have the ability to edit the photos to the level that was needed.

I saw this as a great way to give back to a family that has endured so much. And here is how we made it all happen...

We started the photo session with the family sitting down. This put less pressure on Jeffrey and got everyone used to being in front of the camera. 


Being comfortable with his walker, we then moved to that for a while. (Photographer's note: You will see that there were distractions in the background. Knowing that I could control much of the shoot, but not everything, I focused more on Jeffrey and figured that I would remove those in post production.)

I love this shot of Jeffrey as he approached mom and dad. You can see the happiness in his face. This is one of the edited photos for the family. 

Then it was time to try and get some photos of Jeffrey walking on his own. Most of the time, I am very picky about my shooting location and backgrounds, but in this case, it was more important to find a flat surface for Jeffrey since he can not easily navigate any bumps or slopes.

As you can see, my wife Annette was on hand to help out. She was there to spot him, working as hard as possible to keep him safe and stay out of my shot.  


Annette knew that I could remove her from the image using Adobe Photoshop, so she stayed fairly close to Jeffrey as I fired off photos.

And it was a good thing she was close by. Jeffrey only went down once, but it reminded us all how difficult this was for him.


With Annette completely out of the frame, I was able to capture images of Jeffrey as he walked on his own, towards his parents. This was a huge moment for them, and I was excited to be there capturing this for them!

Interestingly enough, Jeffrey had much better balance while holding the leash of his companion dog, Kodiak.

Here is a cropped final image of Jeffrey and his amazing supportive brother, Adam, walking the dog towards me.

 And then we had the whole family get together and walk towards me.

All this walking was tiring for Jeffrey, so we let him take a break and concentrated on getting some images of the other family members.

Mom, dad and Adam.

After shooting images of the three of them, dad picked up Adam and was playing around with him. Re-framing quickly, I shot this photo of the two guys with great smiles.

After a while, we had Jeffrey stand up again and stand next to mom. I shot numerous photos of him looking at me (or Annette who was getting his attention while standing behind me), but really loved this shot of him looking up at mom. 

We were finishing up the photo session when I noticed Jeffrey's wheel chair, which was on the grass 20 yards away. I ran behind the wheelchair and then asked mom and dad to walk away from the chair with Jeffrey. For this shot, I focused on the three of them and let the wheelchair go out of focus. Jeffrey just happened to turn back and look my way for a fleeting moment and I grabbed it. (Photographer's note: I always shoot in continuous mode so that I never miss a shot. For this session, knowing that it would be more challenging than most, I actually used my Canon 1DX and sometimes shot at 12 frames per second to make sure that I captured as much as possible.)

This was my favorite shot of the day. Focusing on the wheelchair this time (and drawing attention to Jeffrey's name embroidered on the seat), I shot more images of them walking away. I love the symbolism of this photo with Jeffrey and his parents leaving the wheelchair behind. I hope that someday in the future, this becomes a reality for them.

It was the end of an hour long shoot and we had captured everything we wanted. At my wife's suggestion, we had the whole family lift their hands in celebration.

I for one feel very fortunate to live the photographic dream, getting to travel the world, go to the Olympics, and experience many joyous occasions. But sometimes even I take things for granted. Things like walking, talking, playing sports and doing everything that I want to do. Not everyone has that ability. I think that it is our responsibility to give back to those less fortunate than ourselves and share our craft and passion with those who can benefit from what we have to offer. After working on this project, I can tell you that I felt like the lucky one, not because of my health and mobility, but because I was invited to be a part of this special moment.


Mike Garzillo said...

your compassion shows in this topic as well as the photos, thanks for posting it.

Unknown said...

oJeff, awesome, awesome job. Some of the best I have seen. Having photographed a few with even more severe handicaps and disabilities, I know how difficult the job is, and how much you want to do a great job for the family. That said, please keep up the great work. Families with these children often shy away from portraiture because of the special circumstances and the costs. Thank you...from one photographer to another.

Michelle said...

I have been reading your blog since the '12 Summer Olympics and this is, by far, my favorite post to-date. Thank you for letting us experience this wonderful family with you!

Anonymous said...

I am a photographer and come from a family with my mother who was in a wheelchair. I know the attention to detail as well as careful conversation that needs to occur when photographing a session like this. great work and great help for photographers without experience working with special needs!

Tom Ashland said...

I know both families and their story. Thanks for sharing your talents with them. What a wonderful series of photos and touching post. These images will be family treasures. Great job Jeff!

Tom Ashland said...

I know both families and this is such a blessing for them to get these wonderful images. You captured the family so eloquently. Great images, wonderful timing and editing and a touching post. Thanks for sharing your talents with them. Your images will be treasured forever.

ionicphotography.co.uk said...

I really love all the hints and tips you give re the photos on all your posts - but I also really enjoy your stories about families and the obvious passion you infuse into your work... your creative skill turns the photos into something extra special - and the family here have something they will always treasure - very inspirational on many levels - Thanks Jeff ! Amanda

Howard said...

Great shots and an inspiring story. Thanks for sharing, Jeff. What did you use to get the great up-lighting for the shots next to the tree? Is that just sun bounce off the ground, or did you use something else?

Jeff Cable Photography Blog said...

Howard - For some of the shots, we used a reflector to add some warm light to them. On others, I use fill flash from my on-camera flash (stopped down 1 or 2 stops).

Jeff Cable Photography Blog said...

Thanks everyone for such amazing feedback. As I said before, I feel so lucky to be able to capture and share images with the family (and all of you).

Brent Marchant said...

what a great gift for a great looking family. You did very well.

Brent Marchant

Anonymous said...

Fantastic shots and amazing story telling of the photo shoot. Very touching how much though and consideration you put into this for the family.

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing, what a precious child. obviously a special family. can't wait to see me of your work.
Thanks again

Unknown said...

When I was a child, one of my dreams is to become a photographer but sadly it doesn't happen.
Tampa baby photographer