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How to Series: Sensory Friendly Photography Sessions

An overview into all sensory aspects of a photography session

It seems like within the past 5ish years, EVERYONE is talking about sensory needs or being sensory-friendly. Not sure what any of that means? Don't worry. I'm here to bring some sensory awareness and education.

While I am absolutely not an expert neurologist or occupational therapist, I have spent close to a decade learning about all things "sensory." When you see or hear the word "sensory," it is generally referring to how someone responds to stimuli in their environment.

I like to think of this as a line graph--at one end you have people who prefer little to no outside sensory stimuli (sounds, sights, physical touch, etc.) at the other end, you have people who prefer TONS of outside stimuli. The people who prefer little to none are known as sensory-avoiders and the people who prefer all the outside stimuli are referred to as sensory-seekers. All people live somewhere on that line, while most people generally live "in the middle."

So what does this have to do with photography? Keep scrolling!


Have you ever had a moment where you felt pulled too many directions and you could just scream? Maybe the dog was barking, the TV was on, a kid is asking you a question, you smell dinner burning, and it's all just too much?! That is called being overstimulated.

As adults, we can often pick apart what components of a situation are overstimulating us... However, children cannot. When they are overstimulated, their body can respond in negative behavior or outbursts, commonly looking like tantrums.

While I hope you never have to deal with tantrums during a photoshoot, chances are that it might happen due to the fact that photo sessions can be overstimulating for some children. It could be due to the clothing the child is wearing, the location you are in, the sounds around you, the smells, etc.

Preparing yourself to have a sensory friendly photoshoot and avoid overstimulation can help both you and the family have as positive experience as possible.

How to Adapt for Sensory-Avoiders

I am going to start with the most obvious--sensory-avoiders! Sensory avoiders are typically more likely to be overstimulated.

Things that photographers need to keep in mind when photographing a sensory-avoider are:

  • How noisy the session location is (Is there a park nearby? A stream with running water? A construction site? Etc.)

  • How bright it is (either outside or in your studio)

  • The frequency your flash may be firing (not touching on seizures in this post, I will link that post once it is out!)

  • How loud your own voice is when communicating instructions

  • How visually busy your own clothing is

Sensory-avoiders usually respond better to games like "no smiling" or silly prompts to get them to smile. They are less likely to love crinkle paper or a fart machine. You likely want a calmer environment for these kiddos (and adults!)

How to Adapt for Sensory-Seekers

Sensory-seekers are the adrenaline junkies. Generally, they love all the thrill. The louder, the crazier, the goofier--THE BETTER! They connect well with boisterous personalities and love more "invasive" games like Bop the Bunny.

When a sensory-seeker is not getting enough input, they will create input! This could look like running around in circles, spinning, or even more "undesirable" behaviors like running into objects or other people. They crave as much stimulation from their outside environment as possible!

Sensory Friendly Photography: The Big Picture

Keep in mind, those are the two "extreme" ends of the spectrum and everyone typically lives somewhere on that linear chart. By being mindful of the sensory photography concepts that naturally exist, you will be able to ideally read the child / children in the photoshoot and help create a positive experience.

Hopefully this helps the next time you are conducting a photoshoot and wondering where to start. Having these tricks and knowledge in your photographer's toolbox will be incredibly helpful!

Until next time!


Check out these other posts that offer helpful photography advice:


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