The Cindy Dover Story
by Bill Hedrick
Ask just about any great photographer if they were born with that talent and, if they are honest, they’ll tell you that it came about as the result of a lot of hard work. Cindy Dover of Corinth, Kentucky, will attest to that fact. Growing up, she observed her father taking family pictures and he made it look easy. “He took his camera everywhere!” says Cindy, recalling how he took tons of slides and video of the kids. In fact, because he was always behind the camera, they have relatively few pictures of him.
“He was an entrepreneur and built his business as an offset lithographer,” she recalls. “I remember going to this old building with great big printing machines and the smell of solvents and ink was a powerful memory. He showed me how to prepare the plates and how magazine and book pages were created and used large sheets of paper with CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black) colors and, when they were overlaid, they created beautiful colors.” For young Cindy, it was all magic and she wanted to be a part of it.
She wanted her very own camera with a real lens and film and buttons. After saving her $1.50 an hour baby-sitting money, Cindy finally had enough to purchase her first camera, a Minolta SR-1 35mm. “I was excited to take my camera to Washington, D.C. for our school trip and capture all of those famous monuments that we only read about in our history books. Dad made sure I had enough film and gave me a quick lesson. I couldn’t wait to get home and send it to be developed,” she explains. But the results were one of the first lessons of her photographic career. “A photographer I was not.” She quickly learned about under and over exposure and how light makes a difference.
Disappointment can be the impetus for success or failure, depending on what we do next and Cindy was determined to get it right. She took a photography class her junior year in high school. “Working in the darkroom and watching my images come to life was so much better than sending a roll of film to a store. I was hooked… but I wasn’t a natural. I had to learn to capture on film what my eyes saw,” Cindy explains. I loved photographing people and took every opportunity to use my friends and family as subjects.”
College came afterwards and Cindy became the first in her family to graduate from college, something her father proudly pointed out just before he passed away. “I went into the University of Cincinnati in the Art program with intentions of becoming an art teacher. After taking a year off after my dad passed, I went back to Xavier University in Cincinnati and graduated with a Bachelor of Education, starting my teaching career as a Special Ed teacher, then to third grade, and then to my dream job as an Elementary Art Teacher.” Before long, Cindy’s daughter would be graduating from high school and the idea of doing senior portraits of her daughter was just too irresistible.
“The school had just bought me a new digital camera with a technology grant, so I went online to learn everything I could find,” she says. On a forum called “I Love Photography,” Cindy met some of her best friends to this date. “I had so much to learn.” One of those things included Adobe Photoshop, something Cindy didn’t have on her computer and couldn’t afford to purchase. But, during a sleepless night, she decided she needed to spend $79 to purchase the software. “I got up early in the morning and found everything I could sell in my house and had a garage sale.” Where there is a will, there is a way.
Setting up her first “studio” was an adventure in creativity as well. Cindy made homemade soft boxes using white foam core and sheets with a white table cloth backdrop, transforming her living room into a studio. “I was in business. I was a photographer!” But it was a start and, over the next 15 years or so, Cindy upgraded her camera gear and lighting and tried every action, template, and brush that was available. “I went to photography conventions, Texas School, After Dark, and numerous workshops. I joined PPA, TPPA, and PNN. I was in a community of people that loved what I loved!”
Cindy recalls attending her first PPA Imaging conference. “There were so many cameras and people. Listening to those ‘rock star photographers’ on stage was inspiring. But, as great as the speakers were, walking through the print display was mesmerizing. I wondered how they did that. I wanted to do that. I wanted my work to look like that!”
Entering print competition was the next logical step but, like most of us, Cindy soon learned all about a 79 score. Still, that didn’t discourage her. “I refused to NOT succeed and studied lighting from Tony Corbel and painting from Sandra Pearce. I studied compositing from Richard Sturdevant, Thom Rouse, and Kristi Elias. I learned about weddings from David Ziser, Scott Robert Lim, and Jerry Ghionis, just to name a few.” Slowly but surely, Cindy began to score merit images and saw herself getting better at her craft. She began looking at a subject, a movie, or a photograph differently… how it was lit, the angle, and the emotion of it all. “It truly made me a better creator of images,” she says.
She also began noticing all the “bling” that everyone was wearing at all these conferences… those odd lanyards with 3 pounds of gold on them… and decided to prove to herself that she was a true “professional” by first becoming a Certified Professional Photographer. “That would show the world I was the real deal!” Still, few things are as easy as they seem to be and it took Cindy three times to pass the CPP test. Even so, nothing would stand in the way of her goal.
Cindy continued to learn and to work hard and earned her first degree as a Master of Photography. It was well worth the effort when her best friend and husband walked across the stage in front of all those people with cameras and put that lanyard and gold medallion stating “Master of Photography” around her neck. Cindy Dover was now the real deal!
Her success thus far only served to inspire her to keep going and to step out of her own comfort zone and to add a twist to her images. “I took a couple more workshops and began entering in the Artist category, a whole other world… a world where you can be creative with a camera and with art,” says Cindy. Three years later, she had her Artist degree but why stop there? Before long, she earned her Photographic Craftsman degree by teaching Super One Days with PPA. “I would have workshops teaching lighting outdoors, posing people and using the camera on manual. I love small groups and I’m happy to stay with small groups. No need to teach large groups since I did that for 30 years as a teacher.”
When the Professional Photographers of America decided to make “Wedding Photography” a separate degree, Cindy jumped right in. “Specializing in weddings, I assumed it would be an easy degree to accomplish. It was hard!” It would take three years to accomplish but Cindy received her Wedding Master degree along with her Artist degree. But if you thought Cindy Dover accomplished all of this for the recognition, you would be wrong. “This journey was not for my kids or for the recognition, but to prove to myself that I wasn’t the C student, second string player, back row of the dance ensemble. It was clearly me.”
Telling stories using her camera has become a passion for Cindy Dover and the skills she has learned over the years can sometimes turn lemons into lemonade. On one occasion, a young couple was anxious to take pictures around their grandmother’s old mansion with fields of flowers and a big wrap-around porch. “I couldn’t wait to get creative with all the possible photo ops,” says Cindy. “It started out to be a beautiful day, but that one big grey cloud put a damper on the photo shoot. They looked at me like I was crazy when I suggested that they lie on the floor in the middle of the hallway. I was literally hanging off the railing of the spiral staircase to get the shot.” This is the role of a wedding photographer.
Some photographers and artists have their own distinctive “style” and you can often pick out their photographs among many others. “As far as my style…I don’t think I have one. I believe in finding the light, creating timeless images and staying true to myself. It is difficult to do the same old, same old. I am always learning, trying new things and working towards new goals to be the best I can be.” But sometimes a concept will reveal itself and simply take off. This was the case with an image of prairie dogs. “I knew I wanted to photograph them in their environment… Prairie Dogs… Little House on the Prairie… Laura, Pa, Ma… it just all started coming together.”
High School Seniors, Family Portraits, Maternity and Engagement are also part of what Cindy enjoys photographing. “I love shooting in the environment that reflects their beauty. The majority of my sessions are photographed on my 111 acre outdoor studio. We ride around in a side by side to various locations on my property. I believe the experience is just a bonus to the final product.”
One of her favorite models is her husband, Darryl, also known as Dutch. “He jokes that his modeling career didn’t start until he was in his 60s,” says Cindy. So, just to prove that she could compete with her own environmental images, she used Dutch as the subject of “Remington Man” and photographed him in the living room of their home. “It was the first time I received a Superior score,” she says.
She’s come a long way from that school trip to Washington, D.C. with that new Minolta and she has learned how to accept failure as a part of the overall learning experience. It is a journey that has just begun. In 2021, Cindy Dover was chosen as the Kentucky Photographer of the Year, among other awards. Since retiring from teaching in Ohio, she now resides in Northern Kentucky on 111 acres that she calls her “outdoor studio” consisting of a variety of locations where she creates stunning images of couples, seniors, and families.
“My love is my 4 grandchildren, 4 dogs, 3 horses and 11 ducks,” she explains. “The support and love of my husband, Dutch, who is my light man, handyman, and Santa, has been the key to my happiness and a successful business.”
No doubt we’ll be seeing a lot more of Cindy Dover and her photography for years to come. She is living proof of the power of determination and is the perfect role model for others who want to take their photography to new levels. She may have retired from teaching school but her photography continues to push the envelope as she refines her art. We’ll all be watching.
Cindy Dover is from Corinth, Kentucky, and is a member of TPPA. Learn more about Cindy at her website: CindyDoverPhotography.com.