Easter Portraits with Live Baby Animals - Yes or No?

March 10, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

2 baby chicks, 3 bunnies, and 2 ducklings on white backgroundBabyAnimalsThese sweet little guys are adorable, but is it a good idea to have them in your photoshoot?

It seems that Spring has finally sprung here in North Central Texas! Easter is just around the corner, and undoubtedly you have seen photographers advertising for Spring or Easter portrait sessions. Some of these sessions may feature live animals such as ducklings, baby chicks, or bunnies. There is no denying that the pairing of a fuzzy baby animal with a sweet little toddler is adorable. While I don't want to go all animal rights activist in this post, I do want to offer a couple of perspectives for photographers and their potential clients to consider when deciding if this type of portrait set up is a yes or no. 

There are really three main areas to consider before choosing to pose children with baby animals:

  • Legal requirements
  • Child and client safety
  • Animal handling and safety

Legal Requirements

Although I have read some conflicting statements, in general there are licensing requirements for using live animals in your photo sessions. According to this post by Professional Photographers of America, the USDA issues licenses for working with animals. The article refers to the Animal Welfare Act, and suggests that photographers using animals for a photoshoot would be considered animal exhibitors. There is an application and inspection process, and while the website doesn't specifically list photography sessions, it may be prudent to check into whether or not your planned session requires a license. There may also be additional requirements for your state, county, or city, with which you would also need to comply. 

Opal the bunnyOpal the BunnyOpal is just one of the bunnies that make an appearance in Spring Portraits.

Child and Client Safety

Everyone's safety should always be top of mind during a photo shoot. This is especially important if you choose you invite animals into your session. Even the gentlest, most mild tempered animals can act in unpredictable ways when they are under stress, startled, hurt, or handled in a way they are not familiar with. Bunnies are known to bite, even if it is with affection. Chicks and ducklings have beaks that could pinch tiny fingers. Larger animals could have hooves or claws that could really hurt a child or client if the animal suddenly made an unexpected move. Then there is always the concern for disease. Bunnies can spread Tularemia and chicks and ducklings can carry Salmonella. According to the CDC, young children are especially at risk. Please consider as well that there is a chance that you or your clients may be allergic. 

Animal Handling and Safety

Bunnies, chicks, and duckings are far more delicate than we may realize. Small children may not yet be able to understand how to gently handle these fragile animals. Bunnies' spines can snap from something as innocent as being held the wrong way. Baby chicks and ducks have wings and legs that are easily broken or damaged. Young children are prone to dropping things, and may be startled by the movements of the animals. They may accidentally squeeze an animal too hard, or pick it up in a way that injures the animal. The commotion of small children and a photo session could even stress bunnies to the point of heart failure and death. Small animals are easily sat or stepped on. How unfortunate and upsetting it would be for your child to experience animal death during a session. 

Toddler seated on mint green seamless paper with two brown bunniesHoppy EasterToddlers and baby animals are adorable together. Before you bring animals into your session, understand the legal and safety requirements necessary. Consider alternative methods for producing the same images without the risks.

You must also make accommodations for the handling conditions for the animals in your session. How many animals will you need to have to ensure adequate rest for each animal? Repeated handling and photographing will put a significant stress on an animal. Does the animal need to be kept warm? Will it need to eat or drink? What about normal bodily functions? In a studio setting, photographers must consider the requirements for thoroughly cleaning the studio environment after the presence of animals to be sure there are no traces of urine, feces, hair, or other biological concerns. Outdoors, how will you ensure the safety of your subjects from the environment?

An Alternative

Because my photography business focuses mainly on pregnant women and babies, it is unsuitable for me to have live baby animals in the studio. There is, however, a very easy solution! With just a small amount of internet searching, you can find images of baby animals that you can add to your set ups in post processing. For the clients reading this, you got it - that means they get photoshopped in later! Yes, you do have to make sure you properly license these images, so don't go stealing stock photos! It does require some photoshop skill and time spent in post processing, but to me, these far outweigh the complications of managing live animals before, during, and after the session. The image below is what I shot in the studio, to produce the adorable portrait of Perrin with two brown bunnies. 

Baby boy seated on bone colored seamless paper, reaching for a cell phone. BeforeAn interesting object or a stuffed replica of your animal subject stands in during the actual session.

If you are a photographer choosing to use baby animals in your sessions, please be sure you do it with all the proper licenses, insurance, and accommodations necessary to keep everyone safe. If you are a client seeking baby animal portraits, I strongly encourage you to ask your photographer about these safety points. No portrait is worth injury to your child or an animal. Consider hiring a photographer who can create these images by alternative means!

Tina Caron Photography specializes in Maternity and Newborn photography in Keller, Texas, and extends to offer child and family portraits to continue your family's visual legacy as your little ones grow. 


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