More than a photo – capturing special family moments

Just yesterday we opened up sign ups for photo sessions to be featured in our 2014 calendar. Calendar photo sessions are now a DSAGSL tradition, with the help of many talented and generous photographers. This week we invited one of those photographers, Nichole Olea of Solea Photography, to write for us about her many experiences taking photos of kids and adults with Down syndrome. What she gave us far exceeded our expectations and will definitely touch your heart.

Wow, I was so honored when the Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis asked me to be a guest blogger!  Of course I jumped at the opportunity to share how much I love working with this organization and why.

When I tell people about the DSAGSL and how I’m involved with them, I always get asked the same two questions – (1) how did you get involved and (2) what makes it so important to you?  So I thought this was a great time to answer those questions…

I was introduced to the DSAGSL about 5 years ago by a family member that knew someone on the board; I was told they are always looking for photographers to donate services.  Shortly after that I met about an idea to offer free family portraits to the families of children with Down syndrome and then use the photos for a calendar that they have been putting together for the past few years.  It was confided in me that many parents are a little hesitant to take their kids with Down syndrome to get a professional portrait because it’s not always an easy process and can be very upsetting.  This has been something that several other parents have confided in me throughout the years, as well.  I thought, “How sad that these families haven’t had a fun and enjoyable experience while capturing their family memories”.  I knew that I could offer a service to them and I couldn’t wait to get started!

The first year was a huge success, but it wasn’t until the second year that I realized that this is something that I’m extremely passionate about.  There is one photo session in particular that is responsible for opening my eyes and touching my heart:

I had a mid-afternoon session scheduled with a sweet 2-year-old little girl named Lydia during one of those unbearably hot summer days – you know the ones!  It goes without saying that she really wasn’t interested in being photographed.  It was hot and sticky, right in the middle of nap time and Lydia was pretty unhappy!  She didn’t really cry or complain, but she sure didn’t smile either.  I wasn’t really happy with any of the images I was getting during that shoot.  Lydia was adorable with her cute blond pig tails, rosey round checks and bright blue eyes, but I wasn’t capturing her true spirit…yet!  I noticed that she kept making hand gestures and soon found out that Lydia knew sign language and was asking for her little brother.  We took a small break for Lydia to get a drink and give her brother a quick hug.  I remember her dad was holding the baby brother and let the two have a quick embrace that lasted only a few seconds.  I quickly grabbed my camera and was barely able to snap off one or two shots before the moment passed and to this day one it is one of the most moving images I have in my portfolio.  Not technically perfect – the composition is way off and maybe a little out of focus, but I’ve never captured a more natural moment in my entire career.

Several months later I found out that Lydia was scheduled for a very routine surgery to repair a hole in her heart.  Unfortunately sweet little Lydia had complications with her surgery and was hospitalized for several weeks.  I’m sad to say that Lydia didn’t make it and after a long fight she passed away.  I, of course, wanted to pass along some of the photos we had taken that day with the people that knew and loved Lydia – after all they were some of the last photos taken of this sweet angel.  I intended to have some images printed to display at the funeral but when I arrived the first thing I saw was a large image of Lydia and her brother barely touching noses in a quick impromptu embrace – the image that I barely captured!

It was that moment that really hit home for me. How much I love my job and truly the importance of what I do.  I help families capture memories that they will cherish for a lifetime.  I know it sounds corny, like something on a hallmark card, but I don’t take that job lightly.

Nichole Olea
Solea Photography 

Want to see your loved one with Down syndrome in our calendar? Sign up for a photo session here! And learn about all of our great photographers: Solea Photography, MK Loeffler Photography, Your Story Photo Art, Fisher Photography and MNC Photography