Working With Kids And Animals

“Never work with kids or animals”…said so many people, always, forever…..

But kids are my wheelhouse, and there’s nothing cuter than kids with animals! I see their point, though. Kids=chaos. Animals=chaos. Kids x Animals = whoa…….

Sessions with kids and animals can be super cute and fun! For little kids though, it can end up being more of a lifestyle session than portraits. That’s fine if it’s what you’re after! I’ve been enjoying doing some animal composites this season though, and I’m finding the results are sometimes a bit more magical than the real deal could have been.

girl and rabbit meet at sunset
Could this kind of calm, thoughtful interaction really happen outside of fairy tales–no less in front of an audience of kindly coaching parents and an imposing camera lens?

I shared this image (the girl in the yellow dress) on the Relish Facebook page, and I received a handful of requests for similar shoots. Folks were disappointed when I told them, “yes we can do this, but just so you know, there wasn’t really a bunny at the shoot!” I get it–it’s a super cute thought to see your kids get to play with a real bunny and have pictures of that. But in reality, that situation can be more stressful than cute. A real bunny can easily get scared and run away. She needs careful, gentle treatment, and may get nervous and nibble fingers or have an accident on that beautiful little dress. When real animals are in the shoot, I find that tensions can run high.

With a real bunny, we had to be confined to make sure she didn’t get lost, and both bunny and child were in constant motion. Daddy was trying to keep Evi from standing up and the bunny from jumping out of the wagon.

My daughter got a bunny this spring and I wanted to do a photoshoot for Easter. I made a nice flat spot in a grassy planter for her to hold the bunny. I set up my reflector. But I put her in the grass and she pitched a fit. She didn’t want to sit in the planter. The bunny climbed up the grass and wanted to chew on the tree bark. It was not picturesque. Plan B was putting them both in the wagon–not my vision for a nice color palette, and I had to quickly improvise the backdrop by changing my angle to something less than ideal. The bunny ate grass, and Evi petted her. It was cute. Super cute.

But these shots have barely a hint of the aura of wonder I was able to create in that first image, where I didn’t have to worry about the bunny escaping, and the little girl could be given a simple task without being distracted by the erratic activity of a live animal.

I asked that sweet little girl to look for ants in the bright yellow leaves that the sun was backlighting. She was calm. It was mellow. When I got home, I saw that shot and thought “that’s a perfect spot for a bunny!” …I had a perfect pose from her, and I was able to blend in a bunny in a perfect pose, in a perfect position.

I love this lifestyle image of a little girl with her new baby sheep. Images like this have more of a documentary feel, and are a lot more difficult to achieve with smaller animals.

So… yes, we could bring a bunny out for little kids’ sessions. I do have a real bunny, and she’s super sweet and friendly. But it wouldn’t be very fair to that timid little creature. The reality of live animals in a session is a lot more chaotic and less picturesque than it plays out as in the mind’s eye. I’m not saying I’ll never do it–I gladly will any time if folks have their own animals they’d like to include! But to make something like the really magical composite above, I need to be able to have more control than a real “kids x animals” experience can usually give.

Even when the animal really was at the session, those shots are also often composites. The animal and the child so rarely do the right thing at the same time that I often blend multiple shots to create one final image. With over 20 years’ experience with Photoshop and photography, I can create a full composite that is even more magical, and nobody has to get tinkled on.

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