A Green Spring visitor’s photos appear on Forever postage stamps.
“How can I make a living off of this?”
A question asked one day in Cindy Dyer’s garden would lead her to a successful career in photography. The buoyantly inspiring Dyer has been honing her craft with a camera since high school, where on the staff of the yearbook, which she lovingly refers to as “photography boot camp,” she discovered her skill in the art of capturing images.
“I first started noticing all that hard work paying off when I was doing a shoot for the football team during one of their games,” Dyer said. “I was taking some really great action shots; passes caught, touchdowns being scored, and players getting tackled. I’ve never been a big sports fan, but that was something that got me pumped to go to those games.” After college, Dyer became a graphic designer by trade, though she maintained a close relationship with photography, cataloging her botanical endeavors on her Zenfolio account. After being fervently pressured by her friends, she began to promote her photography skills and to do more with her abilities. Her first major triumph came a few years ago from a local park where she had already shot most of her material — Green Spring Gardens.
“A friend of mine introduced me there seven years ago now, and it’s just a lovely park,” Dyer said. “It’s smaller, so it makes it a bit easier to get around in, and the horticulturists are always planting some unusual stuff that you really don’t see anywhere else. To me, even the bigger parks don’t do as well for photographing as Green Spring.”
She pitched the idea for a gallery exhibition to the park’s volunteer manager, and then spent three winter months matting, framing and planning. She said her show in the spring of 2012 had “a really great reception,” adding that “it really solidified that I could make it doing photography.”
Her success continued with the help of a very important patron at the Green Spring show. During the first month of the show, she met the wife of one of the U.S. Postal Service’s art directors. “She bought a piece of mine, went home and talked about my show with her husband who, luckily for me, was tasked with putting together a series of stamps with ferns, palms, and orchids,” Dyer said.
Dyer received a call from Photo Assist, a procurement agency for the Postal Service, asking about her show and if they could license some of her fern photos. Those stamps were issued in January and re-released in March 2014 as a part of the Forever Stamps series.
Dyer’s photography also received notice in 2011 when Nikon web columnist Barry Tanenbaum interviewed her for a how-to piece illustrating the mechanics of photography and used 12 of her images to demonstrate tenants of the discipline. That led to another interview and photo feature with Tanenbaum when he later wrote for Talking Pictures Magazine, and she gained more exposure for her photography in Shutterbug Magazine.
In a tone that is both matter-of-fact and undeniably humble, Dyer attributed her burst of success to Green Spring Gardens. She said that the park takes an intelligent approach by endorsing an attitude of quality over quantity in terms of space and how it is used.
Discussing photography at Green Spring, Dyer said some plants are more predictable because they naturally grow there. “I can look in my calendar and say ‘okay, it’s mid-April, I’ll bet this is in bloom,’ and I’ll usually be on the money.” She also adores the park’s “beautiful bunch of lilies” and her personal favorite, the Love in a Mist. Those she described as “something you’d see in outer space.” She noted that Green Spring marks its flowers with both a plant’s common and Latin names, which Dyer calls invaluable. “Being able to add even that little bit of information to my photos helps make it look a bit more professional,” she said. Dyer added that the park’s intimate size limits the walking she has to do between shoots on her searches for interesting photo subjects.
Her tips for inspiring photographers center on the thought that “a good photographer can do a lot with a little.” Her point is that good photography is not about the camera and its associated toys:
“You need to not just have the gadgets; you also need to have a good eye for capturing the moment. Don’t be so obsessed with equipment. Get the best for what you can afford. If you really want to invest your money into an important part of the camera, invest in the lens. Scientifically speaking, photography is about capturing light and the piece of equipment that does that job the most is the lens. I’ve taken some great pictures that have ended up going on my website with my iPhone. Those things have some really solid lenses.
“Another essential piece of equipment, I’d say, for photographing still scenes/objects is a tripod. Even if you have hands steady as a surgeon, the tripod will do the job for you 100 percent right, 100 percent of the time, and it frees you up to move around the shot to see if there are better angles to get an even better shot without having to focus through the lens or lose where you were originally standing.
“And of course the big one is that if you really believe in your work, get it out there. Don’t be shy. Get a blog, get a website, and just post your photos somewhere. It really wasn’t until my friends started asking me, ‘why don’t you get a show for your work?’ that I started to truly push for my work to get more exposure. Getting my show opened so many doors for me, more people were seeing my work, and I was getting paid to do what I love. All because I was in my garden taking pictures of my plants wondering, how can I make money off of this?”
Author Dominic Lodato is a summer intern for the Fairfax County Park Authority’s Resource Management Division. To see more photos of Green Spring Gardens, visit Cindy Dyer’s website.
Editor’s Note: All professional photographers conducting business on FCPA property or in FCPA facilities must obtain a photography permit and submit appropriate fees in advance. To learn more and apply for a permit, visit Professional Photography in the Parks.