By Lucia Viti
North Park photographers love working with pets
Oh My Dog! Photography — a pet photography studio on Ray Street in North Park — is an expression of art designed to adorn the walls of aficionados who adore their animals.
The furry-friendly studio provides four-legged family members a safe and distraction-free environment to photograph forever keepsakes, and was established in 2008 by veteran photographers and husband-and-wife team Mike Fish and Tee Taylor.
By accident, the idea began in search of a more rewarding photography business, the North Park residents said.
“A photographer is sometimes required to make people who harbor body image issues feel good about themselves,” Fish said. “The chronic, ‘I look fat’ or ‘I don’t like my look,’ becomes frustrating. We noticed that people who included their dogs in the family portrait never complained about how they looked and really loved the photos. And the dogs certainly never complained about looking fat or wrinkled.”
Intrigued, the couple began photographing dogs solo as fun, artistic, tongue-and-check conservation pieces. The more clients raved, the more Fish toyed with the idea of turning it into a career.
“At first Tee thought I was crazy,” Fish said. “Oddly enough, during an afternoon Downtown stroll discussing the pros and cons of photographing dogs for a living, we turned the corner to Petco Park. I knew instantly that if a pet store can support a Major League Baseball field, we can photograph pets for a living.”
For those apprehensive that their pets won’t behave, the photographers assure that dogs and cats are more cooperative than we think. Touting “loads of patience,” Taylor remains adamant about knowing every trick in the book. “Mike and I strategize to make the session fun for every pet,” she said. “We’ve never met a pet we couldn’t photograph.”
People clients are schooled on animal photography protocol “to control the owners” first. “A dog’s behavior reflects an owner’s body language,” Fish said. “And a dog’s behavior changes drastically as the owner’s behavior changes. So dogs and owners are given time to sniff around and chill.”
Fish compared photographing even the most energetic of dogs to a tough 3-year-old boy as the difference between productive and impossible. “In our former life, parents sometimes left our studio minus pictures of their 3-year
-old boy who understands the meaning of the word ‘no’. But we relax dogs — and wait patiently for cats — so we’ve never had a photo shoot that didn’t work.”
“Although all hands are on deck to tame the mayhem of photo shoots with multiple pets,” Taylor added.
Fish said that while kids can be a handful during family portraits, pets give children an excuse to assume the role of big brother or sister. “The psychology of giving a child the task to hold their pet keeps them distracted from a camera’s focus,” he said. “Kids take joy in caring for their pet, and that joy comes through in the photograph.”
Fish and Taylor noted the difference between photographing cats and dogs. “We’re ready for anything with dogs, but we’ve had cat dilemmas,” Fish said. “Cats arrive riding in crates — aggravated — while dogs sit — happily — on car seats. Aggravated cats don’t necessarily play nice. Cat owners wait patiently while their felines run around backdrops and hide beneath furniture. We often herd the cats to photograph them.”
“A cat’s world is a cat’s world,” Taylor said. “Cats simply won’t do what they don’t want to do. I handle the cats because Mike’s allergic. And of course, cats know this through cat telepathy, so they constantly rub him. Patience is key to our success. We capture what people love about these graceful spirits, their beautiful eyes and perfectly sculptured bodies.”
Photographing pets and people-feet began serendipitously. A client sporting colorful shoes, wild socks and arms brimming with bangles fenced in a wandering feline with both hands between her legs. Fish captured the image, which became an instant hit. Fish jumped at chance No. 2 with a dog so shy he wouldn’t leave his owners feet. “I told the owner to stand in the middle of the backdrop while I photographed the dog playing peekaboo between his feet,” he said. “The image was so sweet and sincere, we decided to shoot pets and feet on purpose.”
Sessions typically run 30 to 60 minutes — although nothing is rushed — and include water breaks, playtime, sniffing and snuggling. No one is allowed in the studio during a shoot. Proofs can be viewed within the hour. Clients can peruse the artsy Ray Street neighborhood or eat in one of the many local pet-friendly restaurants and beer-tasting gardens while waiting. Prints are ready to take home within three weeks.
Once a month, Fish and Taylor take glam photos for Second Chance Dog Rescue, a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving homeless and senior dogs with health issues from high-kill shelters in San Diego, Baja California and Mexico. Dogs receive medical care, including spays and neuters, and rehabilitation. Founded in 2008 by Sandra D. Simpson, Jason Cordoba and Maria Blake, Second Chance Dog Rescue has placed over 3,000 dogs in forever-homes. Lacking a central shelter facility, dogs are integrated into volunteer foster families to allow otherwise frightened, timid or emotionally scarred dogs to blossom and flourish. Upon approval of a thorough application process, dogs and adoptees go through a foster period to ensure the perfect fit. Adoptions are finalized upon approval of a home visit.
“We’ll help every rescue that requests our assistance but we love working with Second Chance Dog Rescue,” Taylor said. “They rescue a volume of dogs — from death row — on a tiny, tiny budget. Once our glam photos are posted on their website, applications come pouring in. It’s powerful to know that photographing 25 dogs helps to find them forever homes so Second Chance can rescue 25 more.”
“We love working with Oh My Dog! Photography,” Second Chance Dog Rescue volunteer Linda Acosta said. “Mike and Tee generously donate their time and talent into expediting the adoption process for our dogs. The photographs are glam shots of personality!”
Oh My Dog! Photography also contributes gift certificates to other rescue sites including the Helen Woodward Animal Center, The Rancho Coastal Humane Society and the San Diego Humane Society.
The North Park residents love working and living in the artistic community along Ray Street. “We’ve lived and worked in North Park long enough to witness its evolution to an urban village of retail vibrancy and pedestrian traffic,” Taylor said. “Our activated storefront enables folks to walk in, look at our photos and engage in conversation. Our business thrives by referrals so we’re fortunate that people love what we do.”
Taylor described the art of Oh My Dog! Photography as both challenging and fun. “The idea that we play with dogs all day — which in itself can be challenging — is only a part of what we do,” she concluded. “Running a business requires wearing many hats. But we’ve grown organically working with beautiful, innocent and funny pets. Fur babies are family members, so our success doesn’t surprise me. Oh My Dog! Photography is art that extends from open hearts and loving environments. People love art so why not display a piece that makes your heart melt every time you look at it?”
Oh My Dog! Photography is located on Ray Street between North Park Way and University Avenue. Day, evening and weekend appointments are available Wednesdays through Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visit the website at ohmydogphoto.com or call 619-295-DOGS.
—Contact Lucia Viti at email@example.com.