families & children
Advice from Emily
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Spring! It is the most beautiful time of year for children’s and family portraits. The sun is out and the world is new again! Easter for me means spring breezes, flowers blooming, chocolate bunnies and baskets, and reflection on what is truly important.
But as a photographer, it also means something else: live animal Easter and spring portrait session.
Bunnies and chicks are just adorable in the photographs. We see a cute toddler cuddling a fluffy bunny or duckling, a sweet preschooler with his arm hugging a calf’s neck. But what I really see is danger and injury, both to the animals and to your child.
As an animal lover and pet owner, I know that things can go really wrong, and there are so many reasons to not choose live animal photography sessions for you and your kids.
If you are considering hiring a photographer for a springtime or Easter session, you owe it to your kids (and the animals involved) to read below. You can prevent injury and trauma to both your children and animals. And, truly, the best way to do that is not to participate.
The safest way to incorporate animals into your session is to bring along your family pet–an animal whose health you know and who you trust around your children. I am a huge fan of bringing your pet to your session if they will be comfortable and safe. I encourage dogs’ inclusion, in particular, who can be such loves at a family session and are a huge part of a family dynamic; I welcome any size, every breed. (But I’ve also photographed cats and hedgehogs who are absolutely part of the family, so the list grows!)
The USDA requires a license every time live animals are used in a photo session. Pets are the exception; I love it when a family pet is included in a session. An inspection of the business and photo location is required, and there is a fee, which the photographer must pay. An inspector may be required to be present at the session itself. Be sure that your photographer is a legally-operating business, insured and registered in your state, in the first place, but this other particular duck must be in order as well.
So what can you do? Ask your photographer if they have a license for this year’s date from the USDA–and ask to see it. A legally operating photographer will have no trouble showing you immediately that everything is in order.
Baby animals–tiny chicks, baby rabbits, ducklings, and even larger babies like calfs–can be easily hurt by accident during a session. These delicate creatures have fragile features and bone structures that aren’t meant for untrained and excited children to handle them. These little animals’ wings can be literally broken, their necks snapped, and their spines twisted in a moment. Toddlers and even older children are just not equipped to know how to handle baby animals safely and without accident. Even a child who is used to animals may become excited in the moment and squeeze a chick or duckling to injury or death.
This is not, I know, the experience you want for your sweet child to have.
None of this is the fault of the children in any way–they simply should not be given baby animals to hold or be near as props in photography.
There are horror stories of abuse by children (unintentionally, of course) biting animals, holding them by the ears, or flinging them in water, all because the adults in charge did not take steps to prevent trauma.
Your session may be short–10-20 minutes–but these animals are used over and over across hours of “mini sessions,” and that simply isn’t fair to or safe for these babies.
Let me also say that I am a BIG proponent of educating children about animals–the work of farms and zoos are extremely important, and I support what they do. Reputable refuges and farms have rules in place and safeguards that help keep children and animals healthy and safe.
Using live animal props for photography is a very different situation.
There are many dangers for your children that you may not have considered as well. Unless the photographer has taken each animal to the vet to have them checked out, there is no way to know they are healthy. Even if these farm animals are healthy, they may still carry germs and communicable diseases that can infect your children. Tularemia or “rabbit fever” is common in bunnies and almost all farm animals carry salmonella in their claws.
These sweet fuzzy babies can also truly do physical harm to children. These untamed animals may panic from over-handling or pain, and when they do, the scratches can be deep and infectious. A scared rabbit can panic and claw deeply.
And then…there’s poop. These animals will certainly need to release many times during the day–not only may it end up on your children’s adorable spring outfits, but feces certainly contains germs and may also carry disease.
Every year at Easter, animal shelters like our local humane society see a huge influx of surrendered animals–usually these same small farm animals and bunnies that are given as gifts. It absolutely breaks my heart. Spring and Easter photography sessions with live animals only add to the problem if the photographer does not plan to keep and care for them him or herself after the session.
Ask your photographer: Where are these animals going after the sessions are over? Does the photographer intend to love and care for them? Are they equipped and outside of zoning restrictions that disallow these animals? If not, they may be surrendered despite best intentions.
Bunnies can be wonderful pets, but they require care, regular vet visits, and careful and regular handling just like any other beloved pet.
Again, be sure that your photographer is running a legal and insured business.
Even so, and even if they have a permit, if animals are harmed, it is considered animal abuse. I implore you not to support a photographer whose business includes the potential for abuse. There are hefty fines and the photographer can be banned from doing business permanently.
If you want animals in your photos, choose someone who will use a backdrop, will photoshop in adorable animal images that can look absolutely life-like, or hire someone who uses high-end plush (and incredibly life-like!) faux animal props.
If you can’t tell from the promo photos, ask! Sometimes you really can’t tell the difference!
The set up can include an Easter basket and eggs, flower bouquet, Easter hat and bowtie, or plush toy bunny, for example. Your images can include all of the beautiful colors of spring and Easter (hint: dress in the colors of spring!), and your photos will be gorgeous!
Have your photographer focus, as I love to do, on your beautiful children’s faces and the joy in their relationship with the world, with you, and with each other.
Dress them in soft spring and Easter colors, and really let your photographer capture this sweet stage in their lives and their adorable personalities. I’m a fan of organic props like sweet flower crowns and bouquets, and I welcome them at my family and children’s sessions!
Your photos will be timeless, classic, and transcend any current trend.
+Request that your photographer shows you proof of their USDA license.
+Ask for proof of a recent, healthy vet visit for all animals on site.
+Ask the photographer’s plan for what happens after the session is over.
+Be sure your photographer is a legal business with business insurance.
+Sign a legal contract, which covers liability for injury to yourself, the photographer, and your child.
Leaving you with two more of this sweet boy of ours with his dog Bruce.
Thanks for reading!
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