It all started with a few tall dogs and a camera. A friend brought her greyhounds to Lisa Asp’s house where Asp was already taking care of another dog. She took the dogs along to her photography studio where, soon enough, she started snapping pictures of the pups. With a career of experience as a professional photographer, Asp realized pet photography might just be her future calling.
At Asp’s photography business, Tangerine House of Design, you’ll find the time she’s put in with dogs has paid off. While she specializes in portraits of families, kids and pets, her pet photography seems to have taken over her Edina studio. Pictures on the wall illustrate many of these dogs and their personalities—each as different as their breeds. Asp’s own Staffordshire Bull Terrier occasionally greets clients at the door. And it’s in Asp’s sweet disposition that you can see the importance she places on capturing images of a family’s best friend.
“I think every pet should be photographed,” Asp says. “They’re part of the family.”
Chaos can be a given in the world of pet photography. Asp has grown used to it, arming herself with knowledge for a successful photo shoot. She seems to like putting together the puzzle of pet photography. “I’ve never had a session where we didn’t get a picture,” Asp says.
“Every dog comes with its own quirks,” she says. “It takes a lot of time to get to know how they’ll respond to getting their picture taken.” For example, on one occasion, a client’s dog was afraid of noise. “You never know what they’re going to pick up,” Asp says of dogs’ fears. For rescue dogs, those fears can sometimes go unnoticed but are usually not in short supply.
The uncertainty of how a dog will react doesn’t seem to phase Asp, as she’s prepared to take the time to get the best session possible. “Every animal is different, and you don’t always know how a pet will react in a different environment,” Asp says. “Some dogs are totally cool and other dogs need to be in natural light” because they’re not comfortable with the flash.
Some photo shoots are especially touching. Asp recalls a time when the owner of a Shetland sheepdog received a gift certificate for Tangerine House of Design. Sadly, the sheepdog had cancer. Between the photo session and the day the owner came in to look at the pictures, the dog had passed away. Thankfully, this beloved pet was forever captured in these special photographs.
Asp describes the dogs like they’re people, recalling stories with ease. One story involved two bulldogs. “The dogs’ names were Buster Douglas and Pickles Marie,” says Asp. “We set up a white background with sheer fabrics, so soft and pretty for Pickles Marie, but as soon as I used the squeak toy, she bolted through and pulled down the entire set.” The result was the otherwise tough-looking young bulldog appearing soft and playful.
While it’s individual stories like these that inspire Asp, she works to make a difference in more than just her clients’ lives. Every September, Asp releases her annual Pin-Up Pets calendar, a charity project involving six different rescue organizations and thousands of dollars raised for pets. The calendar features a different pet for every month with the dog-of-the-month chosen by voters.
For a period of time in the spring, Asp accepts clients’ requests to have their pet photographed for the calendar and donates the session fees to the cause. Asp estimates she’s photographed 68 sessions for the calendar this year alone, and those are just of pets whose owners requested a spot in the calendar. In June, the public is invited to vote through donations for their calendar choices. Winners are announced later in the summer.
“Between session donations, voting donations and the sale of completed calendars, over $10,000 has been raised,” Asp says. She credits the success of this charitable work to word of mouth and support from other groups involved, including Twin Cities Pet Rescue, Save-a-Bull Rescue, Homeward Bound Rescue, Greyhound Pets of America and more. Their support allows for the calendar to be properly advertised and marketed. Such groups have been regular recipients of the money raised, but Asp changes the recipients every year.
This year-round effort raises money for animals that otherwise might not get a chance at proper care. “There are so many animals that don’t have a home,” Asp says.
The cause is clearly close to Asp’s heart. As a pet adopter herself, she’s seen the difference donations can make and the stories that need to be told. “Studies have found that adoptable pets that are professionally photographed are adopted three to five times faster,” says Asp. Finding a home and care for pets is the reason she set out to help and why she devotes so much time photographing animals.
Her work on a photo album for Save-a-Bull Rescue earned her top album in the state from Twin Cities Professional Photographers Association, an organization where she’s the Minneapolis president.
The album shows bulldogs from situations of both medical issues and neglect before and after they’ve received care and is sold to raise money for the rescue operation. The before and after differences are striking, such is the power of quality photography.
With the holidays in full swing, Asp offers regular portrait sessions along with a weekend in October devoted to holiday card pictures with a backdrop assembled for quick sessions. A past highlight was a snowy winter scene with a sleigh. She recommends making any photo session appointments a few weeks in advance, but knows life can be unpredictable.
Besides raising money for animals in need, the images dog owners can take home are Asp’s biggest reward. “And dog kisses,” Asp says. “I’ll never say no to those.”