Instagram gives us intimate access to the world’s most famous personalities. And we don’t just mean humans. Some pets have also become social media sensations, like Aspen, the Mountain Pup. We spoke to Hunter Lawrence, the brains behind the lens and proud owner of the six-year-old Golden Retriever, to find out the secrets to his success.

What was your journey to becoming an influencer?

It all started with an impulsive road trip to Canada. We had never canoed with Aspen before, but a stranger gave us free canoeing passes, so we obliged and went out for a paddle. While on the lake, surrounded by the incredible Canadian Rockies, we snapped a few pictures of Aspen in the canoe, and then shared them that evening. We had zero cell service or Wi-Fi for the entire day while we trekked around the region. When we got service again our phones were blowing up with emails, and messages responding to the photo of Aspen we had shared earlier that day. From there Aspen’s account just sort of took off and the rest is history.

How do you separate your feed from all the other pet accounts out there?

We just try to share Aspen’s authentic character with others. We aren’t trying to pose him or make him do things he wouldn’t naturally do. He loves to swim, explore, camp, hike, and of course snuggle, so capturing him doing what he loves leads us to really capture his character in an authentic way.

1/250 sec | F6.3 | ISO800

Have you developed a character or personality for Aspen? Do you suggest aspiring pet Instagram pages to do the same?

We haven’t developed anything that wasn’t already there to begin with. As the pet owner, you know your dog the best. Share those things that you love about him or her.

Do you spend a few hours shooting per week or are you constantly snapping throughout the day?

We try to do one to two hikes a week and then a bigger trip one time a month to create content. It’s mainly done on the fly and without a shot list. We enjoy capturing whatever comes our way without expectations. The important thing is to create content.

1/160 sec | F4.5 | ISO320

Is there a particular time of day that’s best for capturing pet photos?

We love cloudy days and evenings. Shadows can be funny with a pet because they have so many features that can get lost if there isn’t proper lighting. We look for even light that is diffused across Aspen, especially his face.

Are there any tips or tricks for making a pet pose for photos?

To be honest, we use sticks, rocks, treats, and his toys — really anything to get him to focus or give us his full attention!

1/160 sec | F7.1 | ISO200

What lenses are best for pet photography?

We like primes (fixed focal length lenses) because they don’t distort your imagery. That being said, if all you have is a variable lens, pick a focal length that is offered as a prime and practice shooting at those lengths. We like to stay around 35mm, 50mm, or 85mm equivalents for portraits, and 24mm or 35mm equivalent focal lengths for landscapes.

Editor’s Note: Prime lenses have fixed focal lengths, meaning there is no zoom functionality. This typically allows them to shoot faster and take sharper images. The focal lengths mentioned above are equivalent to those of the following Olympus lenses: 35mm: M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 lens; 50mm: M.Zuiko 25mm F1.8 lens; 85mm: M.Zuiko 45mm F1.8 lens; 24mm: M.Zuiko 12mm F2.0 lens.

What shutter and aperture settings do you usually use when photographing your pet? Does it change if they’re in motion?

We always shoot in manual mode, so we can decide all the variables we are wanting in a photo. For portraits staying around 1/50 – 1/125 sec shutter speed is perfect. Then depending on what sort of depth of field you are after, you can adjust your aperture to fit your vision. If we are trying to capture Aspen in motion, shooting 1/250 sec and up is super important to be able to capture his motion without blur.

1/50 sec | F8 | ISO200

How do you ensure your pet’s eyes look sharp?

A lot of cameras have facial recognition technology that helps, however, we typically shoot with our focus area right in the center of the camera to make sure all of Aspen’s face is sharp and in focus.

Are there any angles or perspectives that tend to deliver better results?

We try to capture imagery from Aspen’s perspective. Getting at his eye level, even if it means getting dirt or whatever on your clothes, has been the perspective we tend to focus our attention on.

1/50 sec | F22 | ISO200

How often do you include people in your shot?

Because we’re always together when we’re taking photos, we try to capture the whole moment, not just Aspen alone. However, there are times where all we are wanting is to focus on Aspen and his adventures, so not having people in the photos every so often is important to us as well. I think at the end of the day, it’s up to you and the vision you have for your content.

How do you promote your account?

We don’t pay for followers or features. Instead, we create content on a consistent basis and share it. There is no magic trick to gaining followers, and certainly no shortcuts. It takes consistently creating beautiful imagery that you are proud of.

Do you recommend building a consistent theme?

I don’t think there has to be a theme for the content. If you can create some fun imagery in your home or out in a city or nature then go for it! Having a consistent edit is vital though, so really honing in on the edit of your photos creates a cohesive look that is really pleasing to the eye.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

1/250 sec | F4.6 | ISO1600