Being an event photographer can often pose challenges in terms of who your audience is. From corporate events where you’re taking hundreds of headshots in a couple of hours to candid photography in big company parties, photographers have to be able to blend in with the crowd and understand that the service they’re providing is geared toward any and every kind of individual. No matter what kind of event you are participating in it’s important to understand that there are situations in which you’ll find yourself accommodating individuals with disabilities. As LV Photo just recently wrapped up the annual Joy Prom charity event (you can read more about that here) its become increasingly important that we take a moment to think about how we’re serving our community and how, as photographers, we can help others provide the best kind of service to any and all guests. Here are some helpful tips to make sure you’re accommodating to all people with disabilities on your next photo shoot or event:
- Be aware of correct terminology
Perhaps one of the most delicate topics when accommodating people with disabilities is language and terminology. It is important to keep updated on what correct terminology is when treating your guests. When they come up to take their picture in front of your step and repeat, it’s important that you treat them with basic human respect and decency deviating away from patronizing tones.
In truth, the number one thing to remember is that you should always emphasize the individual and never their disability. In fact, their disability should never be referred to at all.
Here are some terms and ways to use them that you may want to be familiar:
- Emphasize the individual: A person with disabilities NOT a disabled person
- Emphasize the ability: A person who uses a wheelchair NOT “confined to a wheelchair”
- Avoid passive/ subjective victim words: not mentally handicapped but person with a learning disability
- Ensure that your staff is trained
In the same wavelength, often times some events have Techs or Models to help you out when taking pictures. It’s just as important for them to be involved in the process in a respectful way, especially for events like Joy Prom. Once you have knowledge of an event hosting many people with disabilities, it’s important you look over some phrases and keywords to stay away from and or to incorporate into their vocabulary. Make sure both techs, but more importantly, models establish communication and consent expressing what they are doing, how they are posing, and whether the guests are comfortable with posing with them and or being directed by them. Techs and Models should also take a look at all of these tips so that they’re complete
- Talk to family members, friends, dates, or nurses for insight
Remember that when your guests come up to take a picture communication is key! The fact of the matter is anyone and everyone wants to look their best when taking photos and videos. There may be things that you are able to do to ensure that the photoshoot runs smoothly and to your guest’s content. They want to look great when they take their print or digital copy home and you, as a photographer, probably want the same. it is important to use all your resources as a photographer so when you are introduced to a guests’ family members, dates, or friends you may want to communicate with them on a variety of ways to make sure they are comfortable with their photo experience. Even more so when having photoshoots with kids. Its highly suggested that you speak to the parents to find out what makes them smile, if the flash may be too jarring or too bright, and what the guests overall would like to capture. It is just a matter of making sure that you are open to problem-solving and accommodating.
- Make your photography set up Accessible
Although the layout of the event will be completely dependent on the event planners, you must make sure that your event photography set up considers physical space and attendees with disabilities.
- Make sure that any lighting and wires used are away from the entrance to your photo booth, step and repeat, etc.
- Tape all wires down to make sure no one falls
- Use proper signage to signal the entrance of your photo booth and where they are able to pick up their prints or digital copies
Often times you may find yourself in a situation where some individuals have extra equipment necessary for their mobility. For people with wheelchairs, walkers, oxygen tanks and other helpful equipment it is important to be extremely accommodating. Make sure your set up has enough space to allow for this type of equipment to enter with ease. Remember to adjust lighting and camera between shots to allow for the best picture, even if it takes a bit longer, they will be sure to appreciate it.
- Consent and Communication
Consent and direction are extremely important in the world of photography. When done with care it gives your client the confidence and trust often necessary for a great photo! As a photographer, no matter who your client, it is necessary you ask permission to take their picture, even if the client may be standing in line. Some of your guests may simply be curious about your photo process and or equipment. After asking for permission to photograph, consider the way that your client may be posing, and make sure that they are facing the camera by giving them clear directions. Never invade your guest’s personal space, and if you insist on fixing a prop they are wearing or holding always ask if you may do so while giving them an explanation of what exactly you would like to happen. If they are wearing a prop, be it a hat, wig, or costume incorrectly, politely tell them “you know what would make you look fantastic?” or “If you wore it this way it would look even better!”. Always use encouraging language when directing your clients and never place emphasis on the fact that they may not look their best initially.
- Advocate for Flexibility
Perhaps one of the most essential abilities one could acquire as a photographer, besides the very obvious, patience, is your willingness to be flexible with your client’s needs. For weddings, it may be extending your photography work for a couple of hours, for events it may be arriving earlier for setting up your photo/video installation. Flexibility helps develop good photographers. This is especially true when trying to capture a perfect photo for someone with a disability. Being flexible provides an opportunity for both parties to leave satisfied with the end product. Flexibility may include extending your hours, taking a variety of pictures from different angles despite the step and repeat and or stationary camera bot. Yet, although flexibility is quintessential it must continuously be paired with another attribute that will not work alone—patience.
- Practice Patience
Patience is running scarce nowadays. It is a fleeting sentiment that most of us do not know because each day our lives are filled with instant and constant interaction through the internet. However, when capturing moments and memories as a photographer it is important to realize that this picture is going to be worth much more to the recipient than one may think. This is exactly why patience is key especially when aiding people with disabilities. There may be situations in which you may have to grab their attention or shift your setting to accommodate them and get a great image! As long as you present a comfortable environment for your guests, full of flexibility and patience you are bound to be regarded as a wonderful photographer
Being a professional event photographer is not an easy task. With a vast array of events both private and corporate, from weddings to bat mitzvahs it is important to note that each of these areas will have an equally vast array of diverse people. It is the photographer’s responsibility to be open-minded and accommodating to the desires that people have when capturing a picture-perfect moment. This means that photographers should be both adaptable and helpful to all their clients. When guests have a disability, it is even more evident why it’s necessary to be communicative and patient. The fact of the matter is that no matter who your guests are, what disabilities they may or may not have, and how they may or may not interact does not change one fundamental truth. Every single one of them wants to be treated like a human being, with respect, and with a problem-solving attitude. All your guests want is the satisfaction of knowing their images will make them look their best. They want to remember the day as a wonderful experience and each image that the photographer takes is proof of the existence of a new memory. As long as you place forth humanity, understanding, patience, and flexibility, you are sure to capture some beautiful smiles at your next photo event
Resources and References
Most information on this article comes from both personal experiences working with LV Photo and a variety of websites focusing on Photoshoots with people who have a disability. For more information regarding this topic here are a couple of helpful sites that include both training materials and more tips on how to best serve your customers with disabilities.
here you can find a ton of information on disability etiquette specifically in the hospitality industry. It is broken down into brief digestible pieces making it the perfect tool for you and all of your techs and models to sift through in preparation for your event.
The Americans with Disabilities act website is one of the best resources for any and all information having to do with disability etiquette and legal information. Remember to visit this site regularly to keep updated on terminology, legal information, and links to other organizations ready to help people individuals with disabilities.
this link leads you to a document on the Association of University Centers on disability written by the National Youth Leadership Network. It is a brief summary of the basics of Respectful Disability Language. This is a great resource to keep handy before any events as a quick refresher of the do’s and don’ts when communicating with individuals with disabilities.
this website is especially helpful if you’re thinking about having a photo shoot for kids with disabilities. It is specifically geared toward their needs and some tips on how to make the photo shoot go as smoothly as possible. For example, it is extremely important to treat the kids without patronization and to follow their parent or guardian’s advice when photographing them. However, the one thing that saves photographers from a frustrating photoshoot is to just take a great number of pictures!
Lastly, Cornell University has established a webpage dedicated to making your next event as accessible as possible. In the world of event photography accessibility should not be disregarded. It is vital that any individual be able to have their photo taken without any obstacles. Cornell has provided a checklist as well as a plethora of information that you can use to make sure that your next event or photo set up is completely accessible and so that you can establish a smooth and amazing experience for all your guests.