Easter is just around the corner, and many photographers are undoubtedly scheming ways to set themselves apart from the pack while enticing clients for Easter-themed photo sessions. There are all kinds of things you can do to provide a great experience for your clients, but here’s one to skip: using live animals as props.
Putting animals in the hands of small children is inviting disaster for both the animals and children. Animals can carry illness-causing germs, like those which cause salmonella poisoning, and can bite or scratch kids. Very young children, for their part, simply don’t yet understand the concepts of hurting or killing an animal, even through trying to show affection. Their ignorance, in turn, can result in the bites and scratches mentioned above to the kids, or worse for the animals.
CASE IN POINT
Providing an extreme example of what not to do, and repercussions, in just about every sense is photographer Mercer Harris. Harris has found himself in the virtual crosshairs of animal lovers around the world as his animal-incorporating sessions have gone viral. He has received upset messages, phone calls, comments, and Google reviews in droves and they continue to pour in from people in many different countries. Many people were so horrified by what they saw that they reported him to authorities in his state.
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So what did he do to bring on the wrath of the masses? For years, Harris would host pre-Easter photo events with live ducklings and rabbits for the local children of his small town. Harris chose to let very young children handle animals, and when things went awry (as anyone could foresee they would) he snapped photos. In yet another curious judgment call, he shared many images that show children mishandling animals on both his personal and business Facebook pages.
The images have been damning, and contain babies and children holding ducklings by their heads and throats, and flinging them into a pond, sometimes with great force, and rabbits being carried by their ears or throat, dropped, and even bitten. They have now largely been removed from the corners of the web which are controlled by Harris, but not before they were seen by thousands of people and screen captured as they spread across social media.
If you’d like to see more of the images in question, check out PetaPixel’s coverage of Harris’s story, but be warned, they are upsetting to many people.
This case exemplifies what kids can do to animals and what allowing that behavior can do to photographers, so let’s look at what you can do instead.
ALTERNATIVES FOR YOUR EASTER PHOTOSHOOTS
There are lots of ways to say “Easter” in a photo shoot that don’t involve mixing live animals and children.
From cute and fuzzy animal props that will neither be traumatized by nor injure a child, to bunny ear headbands and Easter eggs, there are so many fun things you can use to symbolize Easter. You can build entire sets using decorations and Easter colors and take an opportunity to flex your creativity, play with color harmony and symbolism while you create photos your clients will love.
In this digital age, it’s easy to add animals to your photos after the shoot that can look real if you’ve got some composite skills, or at least acceptable if that’s not your forte. This solution is an opportunity to have a fun and imaginative session as you direct your subjects to pretend they’re interacting with the animals you will later add in Photoshop.
This post isn’t meant to be a condemnation of the responsible and ethical use of animals in photography, but great care must be taken, and in most cases when factoring in children, the safest bet is going to be to forego including animals.
In any case, it is not suitable for animals to be used in the capacity of mini session props where they are subject to children of varying ages and temperaments repeatedly throughout the day. Be responsible, be smart, be kind, and no one will come to your door with pitchforks.