Keep Learning and Keep Creating – An Interview with Dog Photographer, Caroline Dell

Caroline Dell is a dog photographer, based in South Yorkshire. She photographs dogs in her studio and out in the beautiful Peak District countryside. Winner of numerous awards, Caroline is a qualified photographer with The Guild of Photographers and an Associate of The Societies of Photographers. She also teaches photography for Going Digital as well as running her own one-to-one courses and group workshops. I spoke with Caroline to find out more about her gorgeous work. 

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Photo by Caroline Dell

What got you into photography and what made you decide to specialise in dog photography?

C: I was living on the South Coast near Weymouth and had one of the first DSLRs that came out. I took landscape photos for fun along the Jurassic Coast. Then in 2011, I got Bob, my black Labrador puppy. I took him gun dog training, not because that’s what I was going to do with him, but because he needed training. But when we weren’t training, I started taking my camera to training days and quickly worked out that people love to have photos of their dogs. 

Then in 2012, I made a big move from Dorset to Yorkshire. I didn’t know anyone or anything, but I decided I was going to take dog photography further and try to make a living out of it. I got involved with a lot of people locally and went to gun dog training days and took photos. At this point, I was almost a field sports photographer. People were buying photos of their dogs working. But then came the off season and I needed a way to keep making money. We were living in a stone cottage and had the use of a barn, so I locked myself in the barn and learnt how to use off-camera flash and studio lighting. That meant I was able to start offering studio portraits of dogs, meaning I was photographing pets as well as gun dogs. In 2020, we moved a mile down the road to a log cabin. We live in one log cabin and have a second cabin permanently set up as a studio. It’s big enough for two full size backdrops to be up at all times.

I do teach as well – what I’ve found is that people come for lessons and then want to be dog photographers themselves! I also get other photographers coming to the studio and using it to photograph their dogs. I also run creative dog workshops with Pandora Maund (who we’ve previously featured in Spotlight) out on the moors and these sell out really quickly. 

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Photo by Caroline Dell

What kind of influences do you draw inspiration from?

Country life. We live on the edge of the moors, so my inspiration is barns, wellington boots, being immersed in the countryside and capturing that with a dog. I am very much one for wall art – we lose the tactile element with digital when people just keep stuff on computers. 

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Photo by Caroline Dell

Do you have any favourite photographers or creative influences that have informed your photographic style, and why?

I have a few! Kerto Elvin is a studio-based dog photographer with a very distinct style – beautiful images and I find them very inspirational. Sarah Farnsworth is a hugely respected field sports photographer who travels worldwide and her work is stunning to look at. Heather Burns does composite work to create storytelling artwork with a really gothic feel. It’s very different to what I shoot but I find it amazing. And there’s also an equine photographer called Mark Harvey. His work is very clean and classically lit with studio lighting. 

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Photo by Caroline Dell

What kit do you shoot with and what’s your favourite bit of kit?

I am a Canon girl. I shoot with an EOS 5D Mk IV, with an EOS 5D Mk III as a back-up. There’s a 70-200mm f2.8 on the end of it and they’re almost never separated. I do have a 24-70mm, 135mm etc, but I nearly always use the 70-200. Studio lighting wise I use Pixapro AD200 and softboxes – I love the Pixapros as they’re battery powered and you can take them anywhere. 

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Photo by Caroline Dell

What are you working on at the moment?

It forever changes. When you teach people, they come to you because they like what you do, so you can end up producing mini-mes. So you’re forever trying to reinvent yourself while still keeping the feel that clients like. 

What would you say is your goal with your photography?

My goal is to keep learning and keep creating. There’s got to be something new coming through all the time. As long as people are loving the work that I do, I still want to keep creating it. The main drive behind what I do is that our whole lives revolve around dogs, we have a lot of dogs and have masses of photos of our dogs. And I want to give that experience to other people and capture the character of their dog. My sessions are never a rush – I want to make sure I get the right photos, however long it takes.

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Photo by Caroline Dell

As a female photographer, do you feel that you face any particular challenges? Do you feel that the industry is favourable towards women, or would you like to see any changes?

When I was doing field sports photography, that was much more of a male dominated domain. It’s a male oriented sport and I did find it hard to get into that genre. In terms of now, I haven’t had any negatives aimed at me for being a woman. I don’t think sex makes any difference in how you interact with a dog! The market is shrinking and there isn’t enough room for everyone. Everyone seems to think they can be a photographer and while, yes, they can be, it’s important to be respectful of other photographers and what they’re willing to teach you. 

What advice would you give to budding photographers?

Get over the imposter syndrome. Practice, practice, practice and have faith in who you are and what you’re doing. If you are doing it for business, make sure you keep a bit of creativity back for yourself. I still go out and shoot landscapes, it’s my relaxing time and a time to be creative. You

need to have that outlet. Imposter syndrome gets to us all I think; you have to have faith that if people are coming to you to have photos taken of their animals, they like what you’re doing. 

You can view more of Caroline’s images at her website

Photographer, Caroline Dell
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