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
I tend to get the question of "How do you get that dreamy look" (aka Bokeh) from photographers and I see it posted in forums a lot.
There is no 100% perfect answer to that question because every situation is different. It has to do with how many subjects you have, the distance you are from your subject, the distance between your subject and the background, plus your cameras settings.
Here's a program that will help you learn just how to get your camera set up for the perfect Bokeh background. Remember it's all about your camera settings.
Do you know of other programs and apps that have worked for you? Let me know, I would love to check them out and review them.
This may not be a secret to everyone, but I will tell you there are more times than not that I hear of professional photographers getting stressed out because they aren't booking as many sessions as they would like, their clients are coming back to them because they raised their prices or that potential clients are "scared" of their "new prices".
Here's something you may already know, but I'll say it again just in case you haven't heard it or you need a reminder ... "You aren't going to be the photographer for everyone."
I repeat "You aren't going to be the photographer for everyone".
Just like, I’m not the photographer for everyone. In fact, lets face it NO ONE is the photographer for EVERYONE.
The moment you become "OK" with the notion of "You aren't going to be the photographer for everyone" the better you, your business and your clients will be.
I'm serious, isn't it time to take a step back and realize we can be accepted for who we are as individuals and as business owners? We don't need to please everyone, frankly that's going to be way too hard. You'll die trying to please everyone, your bills won't get paid and you'll be miserable ... so my suggestion is to STOP!
Does this sound at all remotely familiar?
NEWS FLASH ....
Their request WAS NOT ... I repeat WAS NOT a personal attack on YOU, YOUR BUSINESS or YOUR PROFESSIONAL SKILLS. Their email or communication with you was their way of asking "can you meet my needs as a photographer".
My suggestion would be to use a diplomatic approach while responding both professionally and kindly. If you can, refer them to someone who does fit their needs. Maybe you know a local photographer who is running a special or who is building up their portfolio. If you aren't able to offer a referral, simply let them know that you do not offer that type of service or package.
End of Chat.
There’s no need to share the story online with your friends, clients, or within a Facebook Photographers Group. There is no need to shame the potential client because they won't conform to your needs. Remember, you aren't conforming to their needs either.
One more thing - they aren't the "BAD GUYS!". They simply aren't YOUR CLIENT and that's OK!
Remember what I said above? That's right ....
"You aren't going to be the photographer for everyone".
Now, if you find you are getting a lot of “not your clients” contacting you, perhaps it’s time to revisit your business plan.
What language are you using?
You'll first NEED to KNOW who your ideal client is ...
If you haven’t, perhaps you need to sit down and do just that.
I highly recommend figuring out how to effectively communicate with your potential client. You will need to know who he or she is and what type of session will appeal to him or her
The above mentioned questions are those you should be asking your potential clients, there are more questions if you'd like a list of potential questions let me know. I would be happy to message you or post them here.
In asking questions to your clients, you will be speaking directly to his or her specific needs. This is also a very easy way of being able to filter out those who you aren't able to service. Which will help you decrease the number of "not ideal" potential client inquiries.
Don't be shocked if it still happens from time to time, because it will. When it does happen, remember to be polite, graceful and show then dignity when responding.
Have a blessed day,
Heather J. Potter
Heather J. Potter