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The Dangers of Using Live Animals in Photoshoots (And Learn How to Achieve this Look in Photoshop Instead!)

There is a huge temptation to use live animals in your photoshoots, I mean any image with animals in them are adorable! You might want to have live chicks during your Easter mini sessions, or have horses in your styled session. But the thing is, there are a lot of ways in which it can be dangerous to work with live animals and it’s important that you know of them. Here are some of the hazards that you might come up against if you work with live animals, plus learn how to achieve this look in Photoshop!



Insurance Issues

Be sure to check out the terms of your insurance before you shoot, too! This includes the insurance on your equipment and camera as well as your public liability (or the relevant type of insurance depending on your country). If someone gets hurt on your set because of an animal, are you liable? Ask these questions and get them answered before you even think about booking an animal for your photoshoot. Unless you are specifically an animal photographer (in which case, all of these issues are simply par for the course!), you may find that your insurance will not pay out in these circumstances.


Wire Hazards

One of the big hazards on any photographic set is the wires that connect your equipment or power it, and this is also something to watch out for when you have animals around. They may become tangled in the wires, hurting themselves or pulling equipment over. They may also chew the wires if they have suitable teeth – rabbits and other rodents are particularly likely to be guilty of this. This could result in electric shocks, failure of equipment, and hazards strips of wire which may be touched by children or other people during the shoot. It is of absolute importance that animals are always kept away from wires and supervised to ensure that they do not approach them. Not only is it bad for your equipment and the safety of those on set, it may also harm the animals, especially if they end up eating the small pieces of plastic or rubber coating.


Children and Animals

You know how they say, never work with children and animals? Well, they definitely say that for a reason – and when you combine both together, it’s a lot of stress to take on. Children can react differently to animals, sometimes in unexpected ways: they might be scared of them, in which case your photoshoot will feature a crying and unhappy child. They might on the other hand be overly familiar with them, which could result in panic on the part of the animal – and your clients and/or animals could get harmed. Even trained animals with their handlers have bad days, and you just never know how a child or an animal is going to react. In this case, the safest way to get a good photograph is to use a family pet that they are familiar with already.


Panic and Biting

When the child isn’t panicking, the animal might be. Panicked animals can have a variety of reactions. A chick or duck can snap or peck with its beak, as well as raising its wings and trying to fly away. A horse or rabbit may scratch, bite, or kick out with powerful hind legs. Dogs can growl, bark, and bite – and the list goes on. Of course, frightened animals are also likely to empty their bowels ready to run away, which could result in a lot of mess! The last thing that you want is a client, particularly a child, ending up injured or the animals themselves. Even the most docile animal can turn around and bite if they feel that they are being threatened in an unusual situation. Don’t forget that they may also panic when they see bright lights, so to keep them in one place and steady enough to take the shots, you will have to give up your flash in favor of modelling lights or natural light only. You may look into having a professional animal handler with you during your shoot if you do end up having live animals, someone who knows the animals you are working with and knows the signs of when their animals need a break or need to finish up.


Chaos on Set

When you have animals to deal with, it also brings just that extra level of tension and chaos to the set. Even if they are very well behaved, you have to try and get them looking the right way and standing in the right place alongside your human models. When you are working with family portraits or child portraits, there is the especially difficult challenge of directing someone who does not know how to pose alongside this unpredictable addition of the animal. Mess is another factor – particularly when you have animal urine around live cables and wires – and having an animal trainer on set might actually confuse the matter and make it more chaotic rather than the other way round. The more factors you need to get right when you are shooting, the more chance you have of not actually getting a single good shot. While you can fix this with compositing, it is time-consuming and difficult.


How to Achieve this Look in Photoshop Instead

So, if you want to avoid using a live animals, what can you do instead? One of the easiest options is to use Summerana’s animal overlays. These collections work in Photoshop to allow you to insert animals into your shoot in a smooth and believable way – without having to spend hours working on it first. It’s much safer and easier than dealing with the real thing – and requires a lot less cleaning up afterwards, too! You may also look into shooting on location with the animals, photographing the animals and your clients separately, and later combining the your clients and animals in your images. This makes it more real for your more skeptical clients since they were actually shooting with the animals, but were just in a safe range.

Here are some images where Summerana’s animal overlays were applied: 

Images are courtesy of Shannon Squires Photography, Stephanie Ratto Photography, and Samantha Boos Photography


Watch how to apply animal overlays to your photos using Photoshop actions here:

Do you have any funny stories or horror tales to tell about shooting with live animals? Let us know in the comments – it would be fantastic to hear about your experiences!

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