Mental health and capturing family memories

As someone who is struggling with my mental health, I can attest to the fact that it can be a difficult and isolating journey. When it comes to something as special and personal as a family photo session, it can be especially difficult to navigate. I know firsthand how difficult it can be to open up and be vulnerable in front of others. This is especially true when it comes to having my family photographed. I often worry about how I'll look in the photos, or if I'll be able to smile and look happy despite any internal turmoil that I may be feeling. I worry that my anxiety or depression will show through and ruin the experience for everyone. I've come to realize, it's important to remember that my mental health struggles don't define me, and they certainly don't make me any less deserving of beautiful, meaningful family photos.

As a photographer, you are not only capturing the physical likeness of a family, but also the emotions and relationships that exist within it. When dealing with someone who is struggling with their mental health, as a photographer, you have the opportunity to be a source of support and understanding for your clients. Here are a few things that we, as individuals struggling with mental health, need from you during a family session:

  1. Patience: It can be hard to be present in the moment when you are struggling with your mental health. We may need prompts to guide us into interaction with our family. We may need extra time to get comfortable in front of the camera, or may need breaks to regroup. We need them to be patient and willing to take the time to get to know us and our family, to understand our unique dynamic and any challenges that we may be facing. Please be patient with us and understand that it is not a reflection of your work or our feelings towards you.
  2. Flexibility: Along with patience, we may also need flexibility in the way that the session is structured. This could mean changing up the poses or prompts to better accommodate our needs. Again, this is not a reflection on your abilities as a photographer, but rather a way for us to feel more comfortable and at ease.
  3. Open communication: It is important for us to feel like we can openly communicate with you about our needs and boundaries during the session. This could mean letting you know if there are certain poses or angles that make us feel self-conscious, or if there are certain triggers that we need to be aware of. We need to feel like we can be open and share if something is uncomfortable. We need enough communication that we can be free to be ourselves. We need to feel like you know us enough to capture our true selves (a questionnaire and a lot of communication before the session can help with this).
  4. Reassurance: Most of us struggling with our mental health need reassurance that we look great. We need to feel like we're doing fine during a session. Our minds will often make us feel insecure about how we look and how we're doing especially if our kids are being photographed. The insecurity will often times cause us to not be able to come out of our shell. We'll be in our heads the entire session. We can't relax. We can't be present. The more reassurance, the more we can get out of our heads and into the moment. Some reassurance can also come in the form of showing us the back of your camera when you take shots that you love. We can see with our own eyes that we're doing fine.
  5. Compassion: Above all, what we need most from you as a photographer is compassion. Please approach the session with empathy and understanding, and be willing to work with us to create a comfortable and enjoyable experience. Compassion instead of being "all business" can make a huge difference to someone struggling with mental health. It can allow us to feel seen and accepted. When someone feels more like a friend and less like another number on your list of clients, we can open up to be more vulnerable.

As a photographer, you have the unique opportunity to capture memories that will last a lifetime. By approaching a family session with patience, flexibility, having open communication, giving reassurance, and extending compassion, you can help create a positive and meaningful experience for all involved.