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Showcasing a Dog’s-Eye View of the San Francisco Bay Area

Buster, the chief canine officer for Hotel Nikko San Francisco, and his pooch pals (plus one cat) have been making quite a stir with their new coffee table picture book, 49 Dogs and One Cat: The Insider’s Guide to San Francisco.

The gorgeous 12-inch-by-12-inch picture book, released in May, contains 120 portraits of pups and Nikko the cat in iconic Bay Area locations by Michelle Russ of Hilarious Hound. The award-winning portrait pet photographer — who will do just about anything possible, including crawl on her knees, to get the perfect pet portrait while simultaneously coaxing unbelievable things from light — lives in Alameda. 

These lovable canines — 49 in all — frolic at Fort Funston, pose perfectly at Alamo Square, tilt heads at the Palace of Fine Arts, race through waves at Baker Beach, and stop by many other interesting and beautiful locations, some populated with well-known celebrities.

Publisher Hotel Nikko is donating 10 percent of profits to the San Francisco SPCA. Fans can purchase the puptastic book online at www.HotelNikkoSF.com, in the hotel gift shop (22 Mason St.), and at the San Francisco Traveler’s Visitor Information Center (900 Market St.). Hotel Nikko, a dog-friendly luxury hotel, is offering Bay Woof readers 20 percent off the purchase price with code WOOF20.

Bay Woof caught up with the Hilarious Hound founder and learned this about the book project.

How was Hilarious Hound selected?

I was typing away at my desk in the spring of 2018 when I received an email from Hotel Nikko. They were inquiring about creating a coffee table book featuring their Canine Operating Officer, Buster, and his friends, and they wanted a photographer who specialized in dogs.

I was immediately intrigued, and quickly hopped on the phone with their marketing director, Dani Ortega, to learn more. I knew this was not going to be a typical two- to three-day shoot, but I was excited for the opportunity.

Do you have a favorite shoot from the book?

They were all memorable in their own way, but one that stands out was with Popeye (@popeyethefoodie), one of our furfluencers with a following of nearly 400K! It began on a perfect fall day, with a bright shining sun and a gentle breeze. I met Popeye and the crew at the base of Battery Spencer and drove up the hill to capture Popeye with the Golden Gate Bridge.

I was fixated on Popeye and ensuring our light was just right, and then I noticed: #Karlthefog was lurking to the west, ushering in soupy skies. We had to work fast. Popeye, the crew, and I hopped into action, and in 10 minutes, the bridge was engulfed in a cloud of gloom. But thanks to quick work and a bit of luck, we landed the perfect shot.

How long did you spend on each photo, meaning the length of time it took and how many photos you shot?

Prior to each shoot, I spend hours in pre-production to scout locations, coordinate talent, and monitor the unpredictable Bay Area weather. Once we’re ready to shoot, we spend about an hour at the location, producing 200 or so frames.

Afterward, we select the best images, apply finishing touches, and prepare them for print.

What was it like to work with Nikko’s Canine Operating Officer? Talk a little about Buster.

Several years ago, Anna Marie Presutti, Hotel Nikko’s general manager, adopted a ball of lovable fluff. Anna Marie is a big Giants fan and named her new best friend Buster, after Buster Posey. Buster (the dog) spent his days at the hotel, and both guests and staff adored him so much that the hotel decided to appoint him Hotel Nikko’s Canine Operating Officer, or COO.

He wears his title proudly, but he’s also the office’s guard dog; think twice if you plan to storm the offices of Hotel Nikko, for you will be greeted by 10 pounds of fury. Fortunately for me, I was equipped with treats upon entry, and Buster and I became pals. And when it came to photographing Buster, he was an all-star, just like his namesake. 

What rocks your world — action shots or poses, manmade or natural settings?

We live in such a naturally beautiful environment, one that I have grown to appreciate artistically, and I love taking advantage of that. Whether it be a shoot with the Golden Gate in the background, endless rolling hills, or on the beach with waves rolling in, I love to put the dog front and center of this picturesque place we call home.

How do you get the light like that?

Hey, that’s a secret! But really, I photograph my four-legged subjects with an off-camera flash. So, I use a combination of natural light to fill the background of the images and I fill the foreground or the subject with a flash. With this lighting technique, I’m able to highlight the natural colors present in the scenic landscape.

49 Dogs and One Cat: The Insider’s Guide to San Francisco (Hotel Nikko, 2019, $49, 185 pp.) with Michelle Russ, photographer, Hilarious Hound; Ken Woodard, art director, Baker Street Advertising; Jeff Teator, production manager, Baker Street Advertising; and Dani Ortega, marketing liaison and art director, Hotel Nikko San Francicsco.

At top, Popeye, a furinfluencer whose portrait at Battery Spencer was challenged by #Karlthefog lurking about. Below: Behind the scenes.

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Main article photo by: Photos courtesy Michelle Russ / Hilarious Hound & Hotel Nikko San Francisco