After stepping away from an 8-year career as a Special Education Teacher, Gina Whalen began her journey as a professional photographer. Although she was able to build up her photography business in Chicago, Gina eventually moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, where she had to start over once again. In a serendipitous twist, however, a model call would soon lead Gina’s photography career to somewhat familiar territory. Gina recalls the fortuitous moment:

“I did a model call to get my feet on the ground in my new state, and my now-friend Kelly sent me a photo of her little girl Brylnlee and I fell in love. I knew 100% that I wanted to photograph her.”

During the photoshoot, Kelly told Gina about GiGi’s Playhouse, a Down Syndrome achievement center that runs free therapeutic and educational programs for individuals of all ages with Down Syndrome, from birth through adulthood. As her passions for photography and working with children converged, Gina found a way to leverage her talents and get involved with the community.

“After shooting all of the promo photos for GiGi’s playhouse, I wanted to do more for the families of GiGi’s playhouse. I began offering free newborn and milestone sessions for them. I also offer discounts on family sessions. My hope is that my photographs help to end the stigma surrounding the word Down Syndrome.”

About Gina’s Process

When photographing these beautiful babies, Gina opts to keep her sessions “organic and pure.” To capture those pure, everyday moments, Gina encourages the kids (and their parents) to “have fun, laugh, love, and play.” In her studio, she tends to play right alongside them and often sings songs and dances in between capturing images to keep things fun.

Gina’s Go-To Gear

In the studio, Gina prefers her Canon 35mm f/1.4 lens, which enables her to “get up close and personal and really get those details and connection shots.” Her other favorite is the Canon 85mm f/1.2 lens because of its amazing bokeh characteristics. She favors this lens for kicking off outdoor sessions to give the families time to get comfortable with her shooting, as she notes with a smile, “Without being in their face.”


George Carlin’s quote, “Everyone smiles in the same language,” is one Gina thinks about often. She adds, “No matter where you are from, what abilities you have, what family dynamic you have, we all smile in the same language.”

You can find more of Gina’s work via the links below:

Gina Whalen: Website | Instagram | Facebook

All images were used with the artist’s permission.