Is It OK To Use Your Kids For Profit?

May 5, 2017

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

Is It OK To Use Your Kids For Profit?

May 5, 2017

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

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Is It Ok To Use Your Kids For Profit

Hitting the news recently has been the story about the YouTube family “DaddyoFive” losing custody of two of their children due to an ongoing series of prank videos.

I haven’t watched any of the DaddyoFive videos, nor do I intend to, so I am not going to comment on that particular situation, but as a stock photographer I routinely sell images of my children, so this raises a serious bigger question: is it OK to use your kids for profit?

What is the Return on Investment For A Child?

Profiting from your kids is nothing new.

Behind every single Hollywood child star, reality TV family and teen pop icon are parents who are profiting from their children.

You can also make the argument that farmers who put their kids to work on the family farm and even senior parents who are cared for by their kids are profiting from their children.

The kids in these scenarios don’t have a lot of choice in the matter either, and in many cases suffer serious consequences as a result.

So generally speaking, what’s the big deal?

Mother, daughter and dog fishing from a dock on a quiet cottage lake.

Is Stock Photography Using Your Kids For Profit?

Yes…so what?

If you look through my stock photography portfolio on Stocksy, you’ll see that a large proportion of my work includes images of my kids and my friend’s kids.

Yes, it’s true – I profit from selling images of their likeness (probably way more than most YouTube’ers make from the peanuts their monetized YouTube videos earn).

JP Danko Stock Gallery

It is also true that after an image is sold, I don’t have a lot of control about how it is used. Stocksy and most stock agencies include provisions to limit sensitive use of all images sold, but this is the internet – what is innocuous to one can be a mortal sin to another.

So what would happen if an image of one of my kids ends up being used in a way that someone finds offensive or even abusive?

Of course, the same is true of an any image of a child that a parent posts online – one you post a pic of your kid to Facebook, Instagram whatever – you’ve lost control of that photo.

My Kids Know They’re Really Lifestyle Models

It’s an ongoing joke in our family that we are all really lifestyle models.

No, my kids don’t have much of a choice – I can make them pose for photos (which used to involve chocolate or ice cream but now usually involves cash bribes). Then I can sign a model release on their behalf and sell images of them for profit.

The 10 year old that has to milk cows at five am every morning doesn’t have much choice either – so what’s the difference?

The flip side is that we specifically go out of our way to do interesting things as a family – with the intent of paying for those activities by selling images of whatever we’re doing.

Little girl about to go swimming at sunset.

Whenever we’re out somewhere, we’re always talking about if this particular scene or activity is “stockworthy”.

I like to think that most of the time my kids enjoy the experience – and now that they are a old enough and have their own cameras they are starting to take an active interest in photography too – often turning the tables to photograph their mother and me.

Another advantage of always looking for stockworthy photography opportunities is that we specifically plan whatever we’re doing to be as aesthetic as possible. That means staying in places that have a good view, getting outside at the right time of day and avoiding logos at all costs.

Instead of getting up before dawn to go fishing, we get up before dawn to go kayaking and watch the sunrise.

Instead of fighting the crowds to visit a tourist destination with awful mid-day light, we’re taking a nap or hanging out in the pool.

Instead of sitting down for dinner at 6:00, we grab a snack and hike up to a lookout for golden hour.

Instead of going to bed at bedtime, we stay up late to watch the stars.

Stay up late to watch the stars with your kids

I have to admit that I also get a kick out of it when the kids independently pick up on what goes into making a good stockworthy photo.

“Dad, come down to the lake right now, the light is really cool.”

“Dad, this shirt would look great for photos except this logo is too big.”

“Dad, get a picture of me jumping off the rocks – it’ll sell for sure!”

Of course, not everything we do revolves around capturing stockworthy images, but since we’re there as a family anyway, what is the matter with making a little money off of the situation?

Family outdoors on snow shoes in winter exploring frozen Georgian Bay, Ontario

Is It OK To Use Your Kids For Profit?

So what do you think? Is it OK to use your kids for profit?

In an age when someone will inevitably find everything offensive – it is worth worrying about haters?

How have you profited from your kids? How did you feel about it?

What would cross the line for you?

Leave a message below and let us know!

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JP Danko

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

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14 responses to “Is It OK To Use Your Kids For Profit?”

  1. Dunja Đuđić Avatar
    Dunja Đuđić

    Great topic JP! I’m not a parent so my opinion may not be relevant, but I think it’s okay. You don’t exploit your kids. They enjoy the experience, and you take the photos not to buy yourself something new and shiny, but to provide for the whole family. I’m curious to know what parents and /or photographers think. :)

    1. JP Danko Avatar
      JP Danko

      They don’t always enjoy the experience lol…and sometimes they are little mobsters when they realize sunset only lasts for 10 minutes and I really really really want to get them in the right spot for a sunflare shot.

  2. Madara Avatar

    It’s OK to use your kids for profit. Farmers and family owned businesses have done it for years. Even YouTube is OK unless you are creating a Jackass style channel to prank you own kids, then it’s child abuse.

  3. Solomon Tetteh Avatar
    Solomon Tetteh

    I know some top photographers here in Ghana who used both their wife and kids for a job and its all over the country. He captioned it as “The Wife & Kids Paying Bills too” ? I really love it and dont think it’s wrong for you to do it as long as you & your family are comfortable with the content. ?

  4. Ian Hecht Avatar
    Ian Hecht

    Great question! As a parent, I’ve certainly used my kids’ labour occasionally (oldest child babysitting, etc), but I’m not sure where you draw the line. Even the YouTubers in question had supporters who (presumably) thought that they way they were using their kids was perfectly acceptable. It seems like the logical follow-on to shows like Jon & Kate + Eight or Honey Boo Boo. What’s incredibly tacky (or child abuse) to some may be perfectly within the bounds of reasonability for others.

    Personally, I don’t sell images of my kids, so it’s not their likeness I’m exploiting. That’s maybe where I would draw the line, though you make a good point about simply sharing photos online, too. Tough call!

  5. Leah Diaz Avatar
    Leah Diaz

    I have a few shots of mine on my website but not enough to know that they are my children. Privacy is important but some shots are just to perfect.

  6. Galonii August Avatar
    Galonii August

    Jon and Kate plus 8. Is a prime example, their kids made them millions.

  7. Carl O'Day Avatar
    Carl O’Day

    My daddy brain went in many directions during and after reading this article. My immediate questions were would the business survive without the kids and what happens when the kids become adults? If the business can’t survive without the use of the kids (milking cows or modeling), then the kids are being exploited. To temper that, if the kids have $30k in a savings or investment account and their college is paid for when they become adults, then they indirectly profited. It’s not as easy as asking is it ok to profit from your kids…
    Then I remembered the “cash bribes” line… If the kids get $10 for a 30 minute “shoot,” they are making $20/hour. Many working adults don’t make that much money. If they are getting $1 for the same shoot, then they are not being adequately compensated for their time. back to the questions above.
    Then I started thinking taxes – if the kids are getting paid, that is a business expense that can be written off and unless the kids are making a lot of $, they won’t pay any taxes… It may be to the benefit of the family business to pay the kids – everyone benefits and the tax man takes a smaller piece of the family pie.
    Told you… Many different directions…

    1. JP Danko Avatar
      JP Danko

      Pay kids freelance modelling fees…then make them pay for their own food, activities, clothes etc. Genius!

  8. Leona Rose Avatar
    Leona Rose

    it’s great if it benefits them … but not if their quality of life is affected/reduced… what they did to that kid on DaddyoFive was serious abuse…

  9. Leona Rose Avatar
    Leona Rose

    to be honest … i’m really surprised that was able to go on for that long… i think the parents are low life scum… none of it was done with consideration to how it affected the kids.. the parents are just really shitty people…

  10. Matthias Bober Avatar
    Matthias Bober

    That’s why you get kids in the first place, or not? :D

  11. Colbe Wells Avatar
    Colbe Wells

    Use your kids as tax deductions, as extra welfare money, as cleaning maids all of that is ok but using them to make money in an actual job is questioned?

    No different than having them do chores around the house so you have more time to work and make money.

  12. Photerloo Avatar

    I also sell stock photos from family vacations but we are less focused on the stock photos aspect most days I am alone at golden hour shooting landscapes. However, my oldest is now 5 and I do plan to get her more involved in taking the photos and the whole process.

    When you are raising your kids (I have 3), I always think of what kind of person is doing this going to make them. Well, she is going keeping going to go a lot of beautiful places and be well traveled. The extra cash I make from the stock photos goes towards funding these vacations. She is going to spend a lot of time travelling with her parents and siblings. She is going to learn about photography and creative art. And I hope this will contribute to my kids becoming awesome, fun and kind adults.

    So, Is it okay to make a profit while raising kids to be awesome, heck ya.

    Is it okay to exploit your kids and make a profit at the expense of there future happiness and success (like the DaddyOFive) example, I think not.