Note: The image above is a digital composite.
Often, you will see beginner, hobbyist or amateur photographers trying to make a few extra bucks or add to their portfolio using live animals 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 they have the proper licensing.
Since I first began my business in 2014, I had considered doing the cute portraits with bunnies & chicks, but after doing some research I decided against it for many reasons. Here are my top concerns: the fear of children hurting the animals and the fear of the animals hurting the children.
I do allow family pets at my sessions. Family pets may be incorporated into photo sessions without a license. But, the pet owner must be the person being photographed.
Here is why I do not offer this service:
1. Animals could get hurt: If any animal is hurt, injured or killed, the fines are serious and the photographer can be banned from actively doing business permanently. Animals are often abused by being pulled on, choked, or squished by little ones. This is obviously not fun for the animals. Something that I did not know before doing some research is that rabbits are very delicate animals whose spines can snap just from being held improperly also the legs and wings of chicks can easily be pulled off and broken by a child who does not know how to be careful. Some rabbits become so stressed they will die of heart failure. Having an animal injured during a session does not produce the childhood memories you want captured.
2. Children could get hurt: Animals often panic when handled by children and a frightened rabbit or chick can bite and scratch, causing deep lacerations and puncture wounds to your children. These can lead to infections, and other diseases. Bunnies and chicks can carry diseases such as Salmonella and Tularemia (Rabbit fever) which can be devastating to small children. Some people may also have allergies or asthma and animals can be triggers for serious allergy and asthma attacks, including anaphylaxis.
3. It can be considered non-professional: 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 live animals and is considered rather non-professional as a photographer. (Please note there are some photographers who legally use and photograph animals. I am discussing the inappropriate, unlicensed use of animals for Easter portraits here).
4. You have to have a license: The use of live animals in photography requires a license from the USDA. PETA actively looks for use of live animals, especially on Facebook, for photographers who post questionable images with live animals and will 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 is relating to photography sessions or not!
To see if a photographer is licensed according to the Animal Welfare Act, you can go to USDA – APHIS
5. Feces: Animals can leave droppings everywhere. On your little ones, on their clothing and on backdrops and props. EWW!