Photographer Offers Free Photo Shoots for Kids With Special Needs and Their Families


It all started when Stephanie Smith read an article about a photographer who denied service to a potential client who has Down syndrome.

As an office manager who’d taken up photography as a hobby, she decided to use her skills to offer a remedy.

Smith gives away three photo shoots each month to children with special needs and their families.

One of Stephanie Smith's photo subjects smiles in a Superman shirt.

One of Stephanie Smith's subjects is shown giving a thumbs-up.

“99.9 percent of [parents] tell me how scared they are to reach out to photographers and put their children’s battles out for the world to see,” Smith told The Mighty.

That’s a predicament Smith understands well. Her sister, Melissa, was diagnosed with transverse myelitis, a rare neurobiological disorder that left her paralyzed from the waist down, after beating cancer twice. And when Melissa’s story went viral and she received $450,000 in donations, her sister knew she wanted to give back somehow.

“Between knowing the financial strains special needs families have, and wanting my 3-year-old to see, treat and love everyone equally, it brought me here,” Smith told The Mighty.

Through Stephanie L. Smith Photography, based in Annapolis, Maryland, she’s completed 16 complimentary photo shoots. The only thing Smith asks in return from her subjects is a photo of the two of them together.

Stephanie Smith poses with one of her subjects.
Stephanie Smith poses with one of her subjects.
Stephanie Smith kisses one of her subjects.
Stephanie Smith and one of her subjects.
Stephanie Smith hugs one of her photo subjects.
Stephanie Smith hugs one of her photo subjects.

After all, Smith said, she’s the one who benefits most from the exchange.

“It means everything. It has taught me so much. I can’t put it into words,” Smith said. “[Taking these photos] has taught me patience, resilience, unconditional love, strength … the list goes on.”

Eventually, Smith hopes to open her own studio space, where she can conduct indoor shoots and accommodate children whose conditions don’t allow them to be outdoors for long periods of time. And on Friday, she’ll head to Wisconsin — a trip funded by friends and supporters — to photograph 2-year-old Charlie, whose mother, Cori Salchert, takes in hospice children left in the foster system.

Stephanie Smith poses with one of her subjects.
Stephanie Smith poses with one of her subjects.
Stephanie Smith hugs one of her photo subjects.
Stephanie Smith hugs one of her photo subjects.

For now, she’ll continue offering free photo shoots — and reaping the benefits:

“What these families have given me does not even compare to the small gift I am giving them.”

TOPICS
, Photo story, Video,
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Related to Not Yet Categorized

tomatoes on a picnic table

How Eating Healthy Food Makes Me Sick

You won’t find many fruits or vegetables in my fridge. In the fruit crisper, you might see some golden delicious apples and a few pears. But both must be peeled before I can safely eat them. As for vegetables? I’m free to eat white cabbage, iceberg lettuce, celery and white potatoes — peeled. The reason? [...]
Mother and daughters sitting on a beach

16 Things That Can Happen When You Become a Special Needs Parent

I believe when you have a child with special needs… 1. You are fierce (with your knowledge and your heart). 2. You become a fighter. 3. You love more than you ever thought possible (true for having children period!). 4. You cry at the smallest things. 5. You get much less sleep. 6. You have constant “brain fog.” 7. You have mountains [...]
Happy girl jumping in a park

12 Things a 'Highly-Sensitive Person' Needs

If you’re a highly sensitive person like me, you know little things can be too much. Busy environments, violent images in movies or weekends with little downtime can stress you out. Because you’re so in tune with your environment and other people, life can be pretty exhausting, which makes you withdraw — and non-sensitives don’t [...]
woman standing on the beach gazing out at the ocean in contemplation

To the Woman Taking Care of Everyone but Yourself

I turned 40 years old two months ago, and I believe I have a lot to show for these decades. I got married. And then divorced. I’ve been caretaker to my mom during her breast cancer. And again with her uterine cancer. I’ve traveled to 18 countries. I’ve lived in five states. I’ve mentored more [...]