Until I create my blog for the photos, mine will have to substitute in. I wanted to record some thoughts on our shoot on Sunday, before they fly out of my brain entirely.
So, as I mentioned in my previous post, we are doing pictures of special needs kids and their families. So far, it's been all autism, but we are open to everything. The one question I ask the mom's before we start shooting is if there is anything about their kids that they really want us to capture. Their eyes, their smile, their hands...whatever. Once Geoff gets a hold of a macro lens, we will really be able to go to town on that. But until then, we do our best. I firmly believe that parents have a favorite feature on their kids, no matter what age. (BTW, for Sawyer, it's her eyes and her hair, for Bastian, it's his eyes and his elf ear.) I would love to be able to capture that. I am especially thinking of kids that might have a physical disability. While parents love their kids no matter what they look like, I would love to be able to hand mom a beautiful picture of her son's toes in the sand, or the nape of her daughter's neck, especially if the beauty in their face isn't traditional, or readily apparent to the rest of us ignorant fools. :)
So, anyway...Sunday. We had a family of 4, with a son on the spectrum and a NT daughter. They hadn't had a family photo done since the daughter was a baby. She, of course, was gorgeous and a total ham. She loved the camera and the camera loved her.
We went to Table Rock House, down by Niagara Falls. It was our first experience doing photos in an outside environment. I was surprised to find how different it was.
I really struggled trying to connect with the son. There were so many distractions, so much going on around him. I tried to reach out a couple of times, but he very neatly avoided me and skirted away. I think we might have linked a bit later, when I learned that side by side was better than face on. We walked together a little bit, and I mentioned that orange M&Ms are my favorite. He had just gotten a stuffed orange M&M from a store. After a minute or so, he repeated orange back to me. A couple of times. IT wasn't a smile or a hug, but it was a connection. I'll take it. :)
He reminded me so much of my son. The forced, fake smiles, the repeating of phrases, the need to have and show his "things". Very similar. I think that made it a bit harder on me when I didn't seem to be able to connect.
We had to employ a couple of different strategies in this shoot. We did some posed shots, but because it wasn't their environment, it was very difficult to capture the candids that I love. When we did encourage him to explore an area, to try and get some natural shots of smiles and fun, we inadvertently triggered a meltdown. I realized then, it wasn't so much that we could avoid those, but it was how we would respond and handle these that would make or break us. As dad worked with son, to try and calm him, Geoff did some fashion model photos with the daughter and I chatted with mom. That's when I told her, her son was just like mine. That I was shocked by the similarities. I reassured her that Geoff had gotten some good shots already. That it was working and was worth it. I said we could break as long as she wanted, and whenever she wanted to call it a day, that was a-ok with us. But we would keep going if she would.
She smiled then, and she was glad we were there. She said it always felt good to have someone that got it. And I did. Totally.
After that, we took a couple more photos, outside. Geoff really wanted to be able to take advantage of the ice and the Falls, but kiddo was done. Completely. The hard part for Geoff is turning off what he wants, and working within that really tight framework of when our autistic kids are willing to work with us.
So, what have we learned? A lot, actually.
1. We book for an hour and a half. We rarely use it, but it's good to have.
2. I prefer a controlled environment, like a house. I like being where the kids are comfy and at home. But the challenge is good, being out in the world.
3. We have a very limited timeframe when we can work with the kids. The sweet spot is about 10 or 15 minutes after we start, until about the half hour to 45 minute mark. Not really long, when you think about it. Before or after, we are lucky to get anything with them at all.
4. It's not about me controlling the environment. It is great to work with the kids and connect. But it is about respecting the parents, knowing that they really do know best. Letting them do what they do, and just being there to capture the moment.
5. The parents are more nervous than I am. Maybe. But it's close. It's my job to make them feel better. And confident.
I think we are going to keep learning. I think we are going to keep going. :) I'm even a little excited.
Rosie N. Grey
The N stands for "new stuff to learn."