Patient Photography: Tips for Working with Children and Families

Cynthia Brodoway and Pam Kleinsasser

Working with patients can be a rewarding and challenging experience for a medical photographer. Arriving at a patient photography session well prepared can make a real difference in having a successful outcome. Here are some tips for photographing children and families.

Don't rush—take your time to gain their trust.

Explain everything you are going to do before you begin. This will get you the most cooperation. Begin with introducing yourself to the family using AIDET, the Studer philosophy Nemours has adopted (Acknowledge, Introduce, Duration- how long it's going to take, Explain what and why, always ending with a sincere Thank you). Explain to the family what it is you will be doing, how long it will take, and where the photos will reside. Assure them the photos taken will remain secure and confidential. In doing this, you are letting them know you have a consistent structure in place and that you will take this part of their child's treatment very serious.

Be Prepared

Gather as much as information as you can about the child ahead of time. Finding out how old they are and the child's favorite things or activities gives you something to talk about and gives you the opportunity to gather appropriate props.

Bring along age-appropriate toys and books to get their attention or to provide distraction, and also to occupy siblings. Let them hold a toy they like even while photographing. This allows you the angle or view you need to get the shot.

Bring along a sample marketing piece to share, such as a brochure, or display example images on an iPad. This gives the parent/guardian, and even the child if old enough, an idea of the types of shots we are looking for from the photography session.

Getting Started

Take a picture of the child with a parent/guardian first and show the picture on the back of the camera to them. This often loosens everyone up!

Set the shutter speed at least 250 or higher if possible. Kids tend to move around a lot. To get the child to hold their hands or feet still while you take a photograph is the most challenging for young kids. Have a dedicated plain background for this such as paper or cloth background (such as savage sky blue paper background). If the paper gets soiled you can discard it easily or wash a cloth background. If they can stand on the background that is the best way to get a dorsal view of the feet, or sit them down with their feet out stretched for the plantar view.

Shake a rattle or hold a colorful toy when photographing babies to get them to look in a specific direction.

Provide Direction

Provide direction to the parent/guardian and sibling(s). Sometimes parent/guardian can be helpful sometimes not. You may need to gently ask the parent/guardian to allow the photographer to provide the child direction. If siblings are making the situation difficult and two parents/guardians are present, ask one to step outside the room with the sibling(s), providing them with a book or toy. Ask the parent if they are willing to let you provide direction. This allows better control of the photo session and cooperation from the patient. Patients should always be accompanied by at least one parent/legal guardian during photo session.

Upset Children

Never try to photograph a child that comes to you upset. Allow time for the parent/guardian to calm them down and then try to engage them with a book or toy or something allowing time to settle down before the shoot.

If you are having difficulty calming baby or getting a small child to cooperate, ask the parent or guardian if the patient can sit on their lap (if they are willing and able) to get the medical photos you need. While background may not be ideal, our goal is always for patient and family to be comfortable and to do our best to get the shots needed for physician; this can make a world of difference.

If all else fails, and the patient becomes upset, Brodoway says she immediately stops the session and does whatever she can to calm the patient down. "We will resume when can, but there are times when you have to reschedule the photography session," she says. "Each child and situation is unique so it must be treated that way."

About The Authors

Cynthia Brodoway, Director and Medical Photographer at Nemours / AI DuPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington Delaware, has over 30 years experience and education in the biomedical photography field, providing a wide range of support and training across the organization. Cindy has been an active member since 1994, and appreciates the knowledge and good-fellowship of this unique group.

Pam Kleinsasser is a Medical Photographer/Manager Visual Communications at Nemours Children's Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, a one-person shop that depends on happy patients. She has 40 years of experience working with photography clients. Being a part of the Education Dept at Nemours, Pam also designs and produces scientific poster exhibits, assists with publications and presentations. "Customer Service is something I strive to improve everyday and make this one of my top priorities when dealing with patients, families and co-workers."