Robin Conover shared photography tips in an Aug. 24, 2021 webinar, The Art of Seeing, from the Cooperative Communicators Association. Pioneer is a proud CCA member; if you’re a co-op communicator, you’ll love this group, too! We asked Robin for a preview of the webinar. 


Are you strengthening storytelling with solid photography?

In all my years, decades really, of making photographs I found a few basic principles that are self-evident. They are automatic for me, and once you learn them and put them into practice, they will be for you, too.

These simple principles can be applied with any device, from a smartphone to a $5,000 DSLR, and in any mode, from fully automatic to manual.

Automatic Start

Today’s cameras are incredibly good, out of the box, set to automatic. This is not an excuse to not learn the technical side of photography, but it certainly does make it easier to capture good exposures without a thorough knowledge of ƒ-stops and shutter speeds.

It is technically less intimidating to take a photograph with the ability to review each image instantaneously on an LCD screen, make adjustments and reshoot until you get it right. With film this was obviously not possible and thus required a photographer to be much more well versed technically to just get the proper exposure.

See Before You Shoot

With the technological luxuries we have in our equipment now, I argue that creating your eye and how you see images is easily the most overlooked aspect in learning to be a better photographer.

You can make the most technically perfect image with regard to exposure, but if a subject isn’t defined, the lighting is boring or there is no consideration for the composition, it fails as a photograph in my book.

Subject, composition and lighting form the holy trinity for me in photography. Once you understand how these aesthetic elements work together, your images will improve noticeably.

Each time you begin to make a photograph, consider the following:

  • Clearly define your subject within the viewfinder and with regard to the background. Move your eye clockwise around the edges to each corner of the viewfinder. This will make you aware of extraneous tree limbs, power lines, buildings or other distractions that can be eliminated from the composition by simply repositioning yourself and “cropping” them out. Intentionally pay attention to the background. The background should not distract from the subject in any way.
“Blue Dasher Dragonfly” by Robin Conover. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV EF 100-400 mm, 4.5-5.6 L lens, extender EF 2x, at 800 mm ISO 1600, fl13 at 1/800 second, Gitzo tripod
  • Avoid centered compositions. Use the rule of thirds for more interesting compositions. With smartphones and most DSLRs you can turn on a grid that will appear on the screen. Think “Brady Bunch” here. The grid will divide the viewfinder into three areas both vertically and horizontally. Placing your subject at the intersection of the grid lines will make more interesting compositions.
“Sunset in Cades Cove” by Robin Conover. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV EF 24–70 mm, 2.8 L lens at 62 mm ISO 250, fl13 at 1/13 second, Gitzo tripod.
  • Lighting makes all the difference. Direct flash and overhead sunlight are some of the worst-case lighting situations. If the light isn’t good on your subject, change it. You may need to move your subject into good light or shoot at a different time of day to capture the golden light, about an hour after sunrise or an hour before sunset. You may also need to use simple diffusers and/or reflectors to subtract or add light where you want it. Fill flash may also be an option to help with bad lighting situations.
“Geese at Sunrise” by Robin Conover. Canon EOS 6D EF 70–200 mm, 2.8 L lens at 98 mm ISO 400, fl2.8 at 1/1600 second, handheld.