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Business / Photographer hopes to offer islanders a chance to immortalise their pets – from hamster to horse

Melissa Mayo.

PET owners in Shetland now have the chance to get professional snaps taken of their beloved animals thanks to a new business venture.

Melissa Mayo launched Ultramel Pet Photography in 2022 and is keen to capture pictures of any animal, from a hamster to a horse.

After moving to Shetland Mayo noticed a gap in the local photography market.

“I started to think about doing pet photography because there are plenty of photographers in Shetland, and they all bring something to the table – it’s great to see everyone’s unique style,” she said. 

“But I noticed that even though there were wedding photographers, event photographers, and lifestyle photographers, there didn’t seem to be any pet photographers.” 

After gauging interest via social media, she launched her business, saying: “I thought it would be perfect to offer people a memento of their furry friend.” 

Another key part of her business is aimed at taking pictures of elderly animals. 

“I’d love to do photoshoots for elderly animals to give people something to remember their friends by before they cross the rainbow bridge,” Mayo said.

“I’ve been aware of people who have lost dogs recently, and they’ve messaged me and said they wish they’d got photos sooner.” 

Mayo, who works at George Robertson’s full time, runs her photography business on a part-time basis while she is starting up. 

She has a love of animals which developed while growing up on a farm and added that photographing other people’s pets gives her the opportunity to spend time with animals and “helps to alleviate the longing” of having some herself, as she doesn’t have the space. 

Originally from South Africa, Mayo moved to Shetland in 2015 after getting a job with Grieg Seafood.

“I must be honest, I didn’t know much about Shetland prior to applying for the job, but it seemed like a bit of an adventure,” she said.

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“I moved over here not knowing anyone, but it’s a really great community and I’ve made a good bunch of friends. It’s a great place to do outdoorsy stuff, and it’s phenomenal for wildlife photography.” 

Her love of photography developed when she was young: “The first camera I ever had was an old Nikon film camera, and I took pictures whenever I felt like it. 

“This was back in the day when you had to go to a camera store and get the film developed and it was quite exciting as you didn’t know what you were going to get.”

Once her parents gifted her a Nikon D3100 for her 16th birthday, she honed her skills further by taking pictures of animals around the family farm in Johannesburg. She added that while growing up she had “every pet imaginable”, which has made her comfortable taking pictures of any kind of animal.  

Since setting up her business, she has primarily taken pictures of cats, dogs, and horses, but added that she would be excited to photograph any animal.

“If people have hamsters, rats, gerbils, chickens, they’re all great. I’d like to be able to extend my services to everyone.” 

However, pet photography comes with its own set of unique challenges. 

“You can’t really communicate with them the way that we would another human,” Mayo explained.

“You have to go along with it, and you never know what you’re going to get, some of the dogs I work with are moving constantly and erratically so trying to get a still picture can be a massive challenge but it’s so worthwhile when you get the shot.”

She also added that pet owners are welcome to get in the photo with their animals – but are not obligated to if they don’t want to. 

In her spare time, Mayo describes herself as an “orca fanatic” and will travel all over Shetland to get a glimpse of them. 

“It’s a bit of an obsession. If I’m not working, I’ll spend hours if I can. It’s a running joke with my friends that I might cancel so I can go take pictures of the orca. I really enjoy getting pictures with them.”

To build up experience, Mayo has also been known to approach people in public to ask if she can photograph their animals.

“Sometimes I’ll approach people and ask them if I can take pictures of their animals as it gives me the practice and then they can buy photos from my website online,” she said.

“However, if someone pays for a session, then they get all the photos for free.”

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