Iconic Beauty Images is the leader of the pack when it comes to extreme photo shoots — most of all the kind that includes an array of exotic animals. The popular phrase, “Lions, tigers and bears, oh my” doesn’t just apply to “The Wizard of Oz”, but also to what photographer, Scott Schisler calls the experience of a lifetime. However, it’s his popular model wife, Dana Hamm that gets all the media attention for her ambassador role with the animals and as the figurehead of Iconic Beauty Images. Let’s have a Q & A with Dana to find out more about this unique opportunity.
AT: How long have you been doing photo shoot with animals? How did this genre come about?
Dana: My first exotic animal photo shoot was in 2005. I have always loved animals since I was a little kid. Growing up, the posters on my walls were not of boys, but of African Lions, elephants and so forth. My parents bought me this really cool volume of National Geographic encyclopedia of animals. I would look at these over and over until the pages were worn. I have been innately fascinated with animals my entire life. When I met Scott it was a match made in heaven, because we mirrored each other’s interests, and shared that burning desire to explore it to a higher degree by incorporating into our business. Very few people realize that Scott is an incredible wildlife photographer. It’s a huge passion of his, so the opportunity to photograph people with animals gives him that creative outlet he craves.
AT: What type of animals do you work with? Is there a particular animal you have not worked with that you would like to?
Dana: The list is getting pretty long! Our regulars in the exotic category are Wolves, Tigers, Grizzly, African Lion, Lynx, and Cougars. But we have worked with many other types of animals too notably the illusive Snow Leopard. On the domestic side we do a lot of photo shoots with horses. Of course, dogs and cats too. On my wish list of animals to work with are elephants, and the good news is we are working on that for spring, so I’m very excited!! Otherwise, like everyone else I’m crazy about Pandas and Sloths! Those two would be a dream. They are both simply adorable beyond description.
AT: Are you ever nervous or scared around the animals? What do you do to stay safe?
Dana: Of course, I think it’s only natural. It’s a respect thing too. When you’re standing side by side with a 750 lb Tiger, anyone in their right mind should be humbled. Although we work with well-trained tigers that are handled by professionals, they are still apex predators with immense power and quickness. So, yes that fact alone can make you nervous, but it’s like everything else we do in life that carries an element of risk — there is a proper protocol put in place for you to follow. I have been working with exotic animals for 11 years without indecent or even a close-call, so I believe it’s all in who you put your trust in and following your gut instinct in the moment.
As far as staying safe I work with some of the best, most experienced animal handlers in the world. To me they are THE BEST. All my photo shoots with them and their animals have been nothing short of great. Experience and wisdom shines in this line of work and gives you that impeccable sense of security. The handlers have strict rules regarding work with their animals too. There’s most definitely a list of do’s and don’ts. It’s not a haphazard free frawl as they their work and animals very seriously.
AT: What’s the most nerve-racking experience you’ve ever had while working with an animal?
Dana: All my animal photo shoots have been fairly uneventful in terms of anything scary happening. However, several years ago I went with Scott on one of his wildlife photo safaris. He photographing a young adult male bison, which had actually been hand-raised by a rancher and his family. It was a cold winter day in Minnesota, so I waited in the car with the heat on extra high while Scott went out to do his thing. Some time had passed without word from Scott, so I got out of the car to see what was going on. To my dismay I saw Scott crouched down behind some trees and using his tripod to protect himself from the aggressive Bison. This seemingly “low-key” Bison suddenly became extremely territorial in the middle of Scott’s photo shoot, and decided he wanted to bull fight. From my point of view it was looking pretty bad for Scott as he had nowhere to go other than behind a few trees. Luckily, I remembered an old technique I used to do with my horses, and that’s rattling their feed trays! It’s key to getting their attention fast. Thank goodness it worked with the Bison too! I guess you could say I saved Scott’s life!
AT: How do you keep your clients safe on their photo shoots with the animals? How do they react when they first see an animal?
Dana: Like I said before we work with very experienced animal trainers and fantastic, even often mellow animals. We take all the necessary precautions in order to avoid any issues, which is why we’ve been successfully providing this type of photo shoot experience (without incident) since 2005. We plan on keeping it that way.
Clients are over-the-top excited when they first see the animals. It’s safe to say that the large majority of our clients are huge animal lovers, so they absolutely relish in this experience. Some of them can hardly contain their excitement, while others stare in disbelief. Most people have never been up close and personal with Grizzly Bear or African Lion. It’s definitely a bucket list experience, and the final portraits are the icing on the cake!
AT: I can only imagine this animal theme has gotten a lot of media attention. Mostly positive reactions or some negative too?
Yes, it has gotten its fair share of public attention, especially on social media. Let’s face it some people view it as controversial. Like with all things special and unique there are pros and cons. Some people are all for it and think it’s the neatest experience ever, while others are against it. The biggest problem we face is ignorance, and by that I mean the assumption that we are somehow mistreating or neglecting the animals we work with. Nothing could be further from the truth. We love animals, and the animals we work with are well taken care of in every way. We only work with trainers/handlers that are state and federally licensed. This means that their animals, facilities and practices are inspected on a regular basis making sure they meet the highest standards.
Furthermore, these beautiful animals are the superstar ambassadors of the animal kingdom, and they are treated like celebrities. I realize there are a lot of horror stories in the news, but those do not apply to us or the people with work with. We love, protect and promote the well-being of all animals.
AT: How would someone go about booking an exotic animal photo shoot with you?
Dana: They can contact me through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or email.
Twitter: Dana Hamm
Scott’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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