This article is applicable specifically to photographers based in the United States. There are additional or specific laws and regulations for other areas of the world. Follow this link for information specific to Canada.
It’s that time of year again when little ones are getting their cute Easter outfits and clients are looking for spring portrait sessions. Also around this time of year my inbox receives notes from new photographers seeking advice on how to offer spring themed sessions. I have five messages in there right now asking about portrait sessions with bunnies, chicks and lambs.
So how do you find a photographer doing these cute little sessions? And photographers, should you offer these sessions?
FOR PARENTS TO CONSIDER:
- Live animals can frighten and startle at anything. When frightened or startled they can bite and scratch.
- Tularemia or “rabbit fever” is not pleasant at all.
- Salmonella is not pleasant either. Chicks and ducklings can harbor salmonella that can make your child sick. In fact, the CDC recommends that children under the age of five not handle baby chicks and ducks for this reason.
- How would your child react if they accidentally killed or damaged a baby animal? Baby animals are fragile. Kids drop things all the time. Rabbits are delicate animals whose spines can snap just from being held improperly. Their legs and ears can be broken or severely damaged without much effort at all. Stress alone can be enough to cause a rabbit to die of heart failure. Having an animal injured or dying during the session does not produce the best childhood experiences, or expressions for portraits.
- Using live animals during a portrait session requires a permit. Your chosen photographer should be able to display and provide proof of that permit and licence.
- Although fowl are not regulated the same way lambs and rabbits are, keep in mind that the legs and wings of chick can easily be pulled off and broken by a child.
- Baby animals will make a mess. They will poop and/or urinate in the portrait studio. The animal may be near your child when it does its business, or perhaps even sitting on his/her lap. Just a heads up!
FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS TO CONSIDER:
- Everything listed above as concerns for the parents.
- Using live animals (mammals) in photography requires a license from the federal government’s USDA and most states. These are two different licenses which must be renewed each year. Here’s a link to get you started: Licensing and Registration Under the Animal Welfare Act
- You may need to schedule an inspection of your portrait location by the federal government’s USDA offices in advance of your session, even if your state does not require a license or permit.
- You may need a state or county level permit as well as your Federal permit. Different states may have different licensing and inspection requirements in addition to the Federal requirements.
- Some jurisdictions may require an animal behaviorist or veterinarian to be on location with you, or on call for the duration of your session. Rates for these services will vary.
- The American Humane is the regulatory body who can certify and authorize any company, artist or production to use the words “no animals were harmed” in the making of a particular piece of art.
- What does your insurance provider cover? Would you be covered if you or your business were taken to court over an injury from a lamb, rabbit or chick?
- PETA actively engages in looking for these activities during the year, especially on Facebook. They have successfully lobbied the now closed large photography studios like Sears, JCPenney and Olan Mills to stop the use of live animals. They can and do look for images online that photographers and clients post and call to check licensing. It’s very simple to check on the current license – I called this week just to check and see how it’s done!
- It’s very easy for anyone to report their concern to the permit office. The complications that result from that may be more than you want to deal with.
- How will you manage sanitation and the smell in the studio? Even a few baby chicks smell. They dirty up their cages with alarming speed, and require bedding changes regularly just to keep the stink at a manageable level, let alone keep the mess out of their fluffy, downy feathers.
- If you are scheduling your session outdoors, how will you keep the baby animals safe and warm?
- The window for which to attain images of a child with a baby chick or duckling is very, very small. Timing is essential because these tiny babies grow very fast! You’ll have to schedule the sessions and delivery of your chicks carefully in order to get them when they are 2 days old.
- Babies are babies. They need lots of rest. You cannot expect to have one chick in your studio and pass it from child to child all day long – this could harm the chick. You will need to have more than one animal available. Keep the animal’s best interests in mind.
- These animals are considered more ‘exotic’ pets in many jurisdictions, and they do require special care.
- Often baby animals require warming lamps to stay alive, since they don’t have their fur/feathers yet.
- What’s will you do with the baby animals after the portrait sessions?
- How will you deal with animal death on set? How do you dispose of the dead animals? Death can happen due to fear, loud noises, accident, dropping, falls, crushing, kids tripping etc.
- How will you deal with a child contracting illness from the animals? How will your clients deal with the same?
- Will your business insurance cover being sued by a parent of a child who is traumatized by killing an animal, or by contracting an illness? Does your insurance cover working with animals? What does your insurance say you need to do if someone is injured in your studio? Who is liable?
- Does your building building code cover working with animals? Do your local builsing, HOA, or county regulations allow you to have animals on your set? If so, under what circumstances?
- Do you need running water, a heat lamp, a cage, clean bedding material every three hours, an animal handler, a vet certification to ensure they have less communicable disease?
- How do you plan to time the chick hatching so that the 3-4 days that the chicks are cute and fuzzy happens right during your shoot?
- How will you deal with PETA or other animal right groups who make a point of verifying whether photographers have the right paperwork? What will you do if you become the focus of an animal right advocacy campaign?
We’re pet owners ourselves (in fact our two fluff balls are often seen at the studio) so we know how important it is to include pets in 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. After consideration of all of these points above, we have concluded that our studio will not offer portrait sessions with live animals.
We do have some really adorable Easter and spring themed sets featuring soft, fluffy and adorable little props, like the one pictured here. Watch here next month when we announce our spring themed sessions.
Edited March 27, 2014. In addition to the links above here’s a link to the document you will want to consult. I’ve screen grabbed the relevant sections of the document below, just to make it easier to find and read.