A photographer in Annapolis, Maryland, is on a mission to ensure children with special needs know how beautiful they truly are. With camera in hand, she’s changing the community, one photo at a time.
Stephanie Smith is an office manager, but uses her free time to take lots of photos. Prices for her work start at $125 per hour, and she takes photos of everything you would expect from a photographer—weddings, newborns, couples, families, etc. Stephanie does something a little different from the plethora of photographers in her field though. You see, some of her photoshoots are free, and only for children with special needs.
“It’s to make them feel important. Make them feel special, make them feel original and to make them feel no different than any other kid,” Smith explained. “I know the financial strains that special needs families, disabled families, have, and it’s a luxury to be able to get family portraits done.”
The self-taught photographer began donating photoshoots to these families six months ago. It all started when she read a story about a photographer that had refused to take photos of a customer with special needs. Troubled by this, Stephanie said, “I put it out on Facebook that I was willing to donate special needs photo shoots, and the amount of people that reached out to me was completely insane.”
When she began, Stephanie said some people would tell her that they didn’t hire professional photographers because “they felt scared or intimidated.” Some worried about how they would be perceived if they “put their children’s battle out there.”
Stephanie knows the struggle well. “I have a disabled sister,” she said. Her sister, Melissa, beat cancer twice before she was diagnosed with transverse myelitis, a rare neurobiological disorder that left her paralyzed from the waist down. When Melissa’s story went viral and she received $450,000 in donations, Stephanie knew she wanted to give back somehow.
“Ever since then,” Stephanie explained, “I just felt like I have to lend my hand out to people in need because we were in need.”
Three times a month, Stephanie does photo shoots for families who have children with special needs, and she never takes money for them. All she asks for in return is a picture of her own with each child she photographs.
She has collected 16 so far.
Stephanie hopes to open a studio location one day where she can photograph children who aren’t able to be outside for long periods of time. This weekend, though, she is headed to Wisconsin to photograph a 2-year-old named Charlie. Charlie’s mom, Cori Salchert, takes in hospice children who are left in the foster care system.
“What these families have given me does not even compare to the small gift I am giving them.”
For more information, or to see even more of Stephanie’s beautiful work, click here.