Want to make sure you’re getting the very best out of your camera when it comes to photographing furry friends? Join Lilly Swarfield as she shares her tips for capturing fantastic pet portraits with the help of her golden retriever, Charlie.

I first picked up a camera four years ago: a secondhand E-PL1 with the 40-150mm F4-5.6. I started out photographing the birds I’d lured to my bedroom window with suet balls. The camera was set to remote access (a very handy feature that I still use regularly!) while I hid around the corner and snapped away via my phone. I soon upgraded to the E-PL7 then this year, the E-PL9.

When Charlie entered our lives, my wildlife photography fell to the wayside. Forget hiding in bushes and spying on birds: I had a living animal who would sit on command! It wasn’t long after bringing Charlie home that I’d set up an Instagram account to deposit the inevitable barrage of dog photos. I figured it was time to get my hands on a portrait lens, and the 45mm F1.8 was the perfect option! It’s my all time go-to lens, it’s the only lens I take out with me for photographing Charlie. The creamy bokeh is stunning, and the sharpness is to die for! 

During lockdown, I moved to the Forest of Dean – I’ve spent the last six months exploring our local woods and mountains with Charlie. Photographing Charlie against these breathtaking backdrops really helped to keep me grounded throughout the year. I’ve had plenty of free time to really throw myself into my work and to grow my small Instagram following. Charlie soon became a model for various small dog businesses. This brought me a new-found love for product photography (the 45mm F1.8 is an outstanding lens for this!). 

I’ve been a loyal supporter of the PEN series since I first started. The incredibly lightweight and compact body makes for an ideal on-the-go camera. The touch to focus/touch to shoot option has been perfect for ensuring Charlie’s eyes are always the center of focus. For days I don’t quite fancy laying in the mud, the flip screen feature is a brilliant alternative! The built-in white balance presets are excellent for bringing out Charlie’s natural golden tones on an otherwise dull day. 

For those looking to get started, a solid sit/stay command is a vital skill, unless action photography is your forte! There are plenty of tricks you can teach your dog to make things more interesting. ‘Sit Pretty’ is a fun trick that makes for an adorable photo in which the dog will sit up tall on just the hind legs. Teaching eye contact is also an invaluable tool, not just for photography, but dog training in general! It certainly helps a lot with the more dramatic head-on portraits. Incorporating your surroundings into your photographs can make all the difference. I absolutely love positioning Charlie on top of tree stumps to switch things up a little! Take advantage of the weather, too. Frosty photos are definitely worth the 6am wake up, and nothing beats a cosy golden hour scene! Dog photography is such a rewarding hobby, one I’m hoping to soon turn into a career. 

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