Most every photographer I know has contemplated the cute portraits with bunnies, chicks, etc. If they haven't, they aren't photographing little kids! I know that several of my clients ask me every year if I will have live bunnies and chicks during my Spring Portrait Sessions. After asking fellow experienced photographers and doing my own research, I made the decision not to offer live animals during portrait session for many reasons.
Now, there are some photographers and clients that clearly aren't going to agree with me. Here are the (3) things I tend to say.
I'm a pet owner myself, in fact I've got two little dogs of my own, so I know how important it is to include pets into our family portrait sessions. Families who would like to include their family pet in their home based and on-location portrait session are always welcome to do so and will be asked to sign an additional liability waiver and to assist us in adhering to some basic guidelines in order to maintain everyone’s safety.
The following was written by Marcelle Raphael of Southern Belle Studios, on her blog HERE. She explains perfectly a lot of additional reasons why I, WILL NOT photograph animals.
1. The use of a live animals (mammals) in photography requires a license from the federal government’s USDA. See compliance under Licensing and Registration Under the Animal Welfare Act. Different states may have different licensing and inspection requirements as well, however, even if it is just one animal, a license from the USDA is required, regardless of State requirements.
2. A part of the permitting and licensing process includes an inspection by the federal government’s USDA offices. This is mandatory, even if your state does not require a license or permit. The inspectors may also be required to be present during the photo session. If any animal is hurt, injured or killed, the fines are serious and they can ban the photographer from actively doing business permanently.
3. Animals are often brutalized by pulling, choking, squishing, yanking and being sat upon by little clients. This is obviously no fun for the little animal.
4. Rabbits are delicate animals whose spines can snap just from being held improperly and their legs and ears can be broken or severely damaged without much effort at all. Although fowl (chicks, ducks, geese, etc) are not regulated, keep in mind the legs and wings of chicks can easily be pulled off and broken by a child who does not know how careful to be. Some rabbits become so stressed they will die of heart failure right on the spot. Having an animal injured or dying during the session does not produce the best childhood expressions to capture.
5. Animals often panic when handled by children; a frightened rabbit or chick can bite and scratch, causing lacerations, deep scratches and puncture wounds to your clients children. These can lead to infections, skin rashes and other diseases.
6. Bunnies and chicks can carry diseases such as Salmonella which can be devastating to small children. Here is a link for signs and symptoms of Salmonella.
7. Tularemia or “rabbit fever” is even more dangerous. Check the link for signs and symptoms of Tularemia.
8. PETA actively engages in looking for these activities during the year, especially on Facebook. They have successfully (and rightfully) lobbied the largest photography studios like Sears, JCPenney and Olan Mills to stop the use of live animals. PETA is on the look out for photographers who post questionable images and will call, check licensing and file complaints against the photographer. It’s as simple as calling the USDA and asking if a photographer is licensed. Individuals can also report animal cruelty on PETA’s website. Whether it’s relating to photography sessions or not. No animal deserves be to abused, neglected or mistreated, even if accidentally.
9. PPA, Professional Photographers of America, the largest association of photographers in the world, takes the stance that animals must be treated ethically and according to law. The industry widely does not accept the use of animals and is considered rather non-professional as a photographer. (Please note there are many photographers who appropriately use and photograph animals. I am specifically discussing the inappropriate, unlicensed use of animals for Easter portraiture here).
10. You can be sued for injuries, infections and damages that occur to anyone in the session. Don’t forget some people may have allergies or asthma, too! Animals can be triggers for serious allergy and asthma attacks, including anaphylaxis, which can cause death. I personally have to carry life saving Epi Pens and so does one of my children. It’s not a fun experience.
11. The shoot can become quite haphazard if your little clients are chasing bunnies and chicks. That means you are chasing your client. This, along with the frustration of the child because the animal is not cooperating, the frustration of the parents because the child is not cooperating and the frustration of the photographer because NO ONE is cooperating is not conducive to the best shots ever. Plus, editing out scratches on the face and body parts of your client is an added workload.
12. Feces! Animals can leave droppings everywhere. On your little clients, on their new Easter clothing and on your backdrops and props. EWWW!
Often, you will see beginner, hobbyist or amateur photographers in parks around Easter, trying to make an extra buck or increase their portfolio using “live” animals as bait to get appointments. VERY few professional photographers offer this option at all. If they do, it is in a very controlled environment and no one is allowed to touch the animals AND, of course, they have the proper licensing.
Family pets may be incorporated into photographic sessions without a license. But, the pet owner must be the person/people being photographed. There must be an established pet ownership relationship. For example: The photographer may not sell a pet to the client for the length of the session and then have the client sell the animal back. It must TRULY be the pet of the client. They can not be rented animals, either. Also, simply completing a setup in which the animals are not handled is not in compliance either. A license is required even without anyone handling the animal.
Please report any animal abuse to your local authorities, local humane society, PETA (report to PETA link), your State Department’s of Agriculture or the USDA. Each locality and state will have different ways of dealing with this. Usually a pretty hefty fine, often in the thousands, and jail time if the abuse is repeated or severe. The USDA can be reached at 919.855.7100 and complaints can be filed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To see if your photographer is licensed according to the Animal Welfare Act, you can go to the USDA – APHIS databank.
While there are legal and health related issues for not using live animals, in general trying to capture the images of so many activities is time consuming and difficult, when it doesn’t have to be. There are plenty of very real looking props that can be purchased if you would like to incorporate an animal look into Easter sessions.
Another great article for those photographers wanted additional legal information, check out TheLawTog.com
Heather J. Potter