Photographing Children with Animals
What’s cuter than a bunny? An adorable child gently snuggling it, of course.
As an animal lover, some of my favorite child portraits are those that include furry animal friends. There’s just something magical about a child’s face when they are given the chance to get up close and personal with a puppy, a duckling, a rabbit, or a baby goat. The emotions invoked by the close proximity to a live animal are so incredibly vivid on a child’s face - whether it’s awe, adoration, or even a touch of nervousness. There is nothing forced or inauthentic about it. It’s just so REAL!
Including animals in your child photography will not only result in amazing images, but it will also turns the session into an amazingly fun experience for the child.
- But how do you conduct a session with such unpredictable subjects?
- How do you encourage those precious moments of connection?
- And most importantly, how do you create a safe, controlled environment for both animal and child?
Here are my top 3 tips to follow for best results:
1. Find a Partner to Assist
Let’s start with the most important. Assuming you are not a farmer or a trained animal handler, it is important to partner with someone who knows what they are doing with animals. This person will work alongside you for the entire session, first, to teach the child the proper way to hold and interact with the animal, and then, to ensure the animals are safe throughout the shoot.
I have been fortunate to find a partner and owner of a local farm who, recognizing my passion for the animals as well as the resulting photography, has been very helpful with my animal sessions.
I shoot right on the farm. Not only are her animals used to little hands (the Art Barn is open to the public and hosts birthday parties, field trips, day camps, etc.), but she also provides me with a “farm hand” assistant to ensure the animals are safe and happy. I could not do these portrait animal sessions without this assistance!
2. Establish Comfort Between Child and Animal
Securing a location and an assistant is key, and of course, you also want to make sure your subjects are animal lovers. You obviously cannot make these sessions work with a child who is terrified of animals!
But even animal-loving kids can get a bit nervous when asked to hold a live animal. This is one reason you (or your assistant) will need to educate them upfront about the rules of handling the animals. Do not push them to do anything they are not comfortable with, and of course, if the animal seems at all uncomfortable, you’ll need to change course.
One option for this is to place small animals in a box or basket and have the child sit next to it or hold the basket. This is also a great option if you are concerned about the animal going to the bathroom. This still allows for sweet interactions, but it may put both child and the animal more at ease. For larger animals, like a goat or miniature horse, you can always increase the distance between the two of them and go for a more wide shot.
And speaking of being at ease, it’s essential that you are also comfortable and relaxed throughout the session. Kids and animals can smell fear! They will pick up on any discomfort you are feeling. So relax and go into it prepared for anything.
3. Guide the Session
If at first the child seems awkward with the animal, ask the child a few questions to shift the focus:
- How does the animal feel?
- What color are the animal’s eyes?
- Is the fur soft?
- What color are the feathers?
Once the child is comfortable, invite her to kiss the animal or give it a gentle snuggle.
These interactions happen quickly, so I recommend shooting on high speed continuous mode. There can be so much movement with multiple subjects, so sometimes it’s good to shoot in bursts.
Final Tips for Successful Animal Photo Sessions
There is some debate about the ethics of including animals in child photo sessions. As an animal lover, I would never do anything I felt was disrespectful or potentially harmful to animals, but there are those who do not see it that way.
If you are considering including animals in your child photography, explore the licensing and permissions required in your area. Contracts and liability releases may be especially important for these sessions.
While photography sessions with animals are admittedly unpredictable, they always result in truly special images. For this reason, my clients usually jump at the opportunity to shoot with animals. It’s not something I offer year-round, so perhaps that too gives it additional appeal.
Do you have any questions or comments about Child Portraits with Animals? Leave us a comment below - we would love to hear from you! And please share this post using the social sharing buttons (we really appreciate it)!