Meet our presenters: a five-question interview with Rick Sammon

 In Conferences, Interviews

To shed some light on our upcoming Out of New York Photography Conference, we introduce this new blog series: “Meet Our Presenters.” Designed to more deeply explore the lives and philosophies of some of our most renowned photographers, these five-question interviews are intended to tell their stories from a new and intriguing perspective.

First out of the gate: Canon Explorer of Light and award-winning photographer, Rick Sammon. Known as “The Godfather of Photography,” Rick is a tireless, prolific and inspirational image-maker who’s one of the most active photographers on the planet. Rick divides his time between creating images, leading photo workshops and making personal appearances, and his enthusiasm for digital imaging is truly contagious. He is a man on a mission: a mission to make digital photography fun, creative, exciting and rewarding for others.

Just hours before he left for Botswana, Rick aimed some of his highly-energetic pep our way — giving us the outstanding interview that follows.

He even put down his guitar for this…

We see you started as an underwater photographer, then branched into anything and everything from there. To take you back even further, what are the roots of your interest in photography? What got you started?

“Well, this goes back to my boyhood — my father was an amateur photographer, and used to develop his own film in our basement. My mother would actually hand-color the photography with pencils. That, in itself, was a true art-form, and she was so good at it. I just…I saw magic happening. The creativity between the two of them was just incredible.

“I remember taking in the scene, all the images, and feeling so inspired. While my dad was never a professional by any means, he loved to see the beauty in anything and everything — like myself — and I’d say his influence is still the foundation of things I do.”

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When it comes to your dad, you’ve said that — of the images you’ve taken — the last photo you took of him is your favorite. What did he think of your career, and did he give you any advice?

“My dad was my biggest fan, and I miss him dearly. [Rick laughs]. And as far as advice — that’s part of the reason I miss him so. My dad was my editor until the day he died. He proofread every book I wrote. Even with maculate degeneration, which left him unable to see anything in the center of his view, he’d still insist I send over my drafts, and he’d proofread them at 90-point font, one word at a time. This went on until he was 92 years old. He was just amazing.”

bookYou two shared an affinity for seeing the art in everything. And you’re, quite literally, Out of New York. Are there places you can’t get enough of there?

“The cover of my new book, Creative Visualization, is taken at Brooklyn Bridge Park — there is so much there, especially when it comes to playing with shadows. I just love it. I’m a fan of Times Square. Then there’s the High Line Railroad — this park’s so unique. It’s about a mile and a half of old elevated freight railroad tracks in Manhattan that’s been converted into a long, narrow park. The walkway’s just beautiful, and lends itself well to photography.

“I’m actually looking forward to the New York conference for several reasons tied to my city. The Out of Chicago team has brought together such an outstanding group of professionals who I, myself, can’t wait to meet and work with. And the most exciting part of gatherings like this are all the different perspectives you gain — someone can go somewhere I’ve been a million times, and come away with something I’d never think of — a whole new take and vision on the same exact things. I consider myself a life-long student who never tires of asking questions and learning, and these groups are always so enlightening and exciting.”

Any lesson plans already completed for the conference?

“Well, there’s always the fundamentals of f-stop and shutter speeds. But, for me, the best photography conveys a mood: and that’s all about light and shadows.

“I truly believe that shadows are the soul of a photograph. So many people want to use HDR to get rid of the shadows, or edit shadows out in Photoshop, and I think ‘Noooooo!’ Highlights and shadows are the essence of the photo — they create the mood — and I teach a thoughtful balance of these.”

Do you have any shining student or teaching moments from the past? Moments that stand out in your memory?

“I gotta tell you — my favorite thing is asking students is, ‘What does your photography mean to you?’

“I remember an outing I conducted in Montana — a week long in the wilderness. In situations like that you really get to know one another — there’s such a bond formed. When I posed the question at the end of the week, there were literally tears from many. I got answers like ‘it saved my life’ and ‘it gave me something to live for.’ Others answer ‘it has preserved my best memories’ and tell some of the most amazing and personal stories. I never get tired of asking this question…and never fail to be surprised by the answers, even after all these years.”

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With that, Rick was on to his Botswana adventure, referring us to a wrap-up of what he likes to call “Rick Sammonisms:”

  • The name of the game is to fill the frame.
  • Dead center is deadly
  • When you think you are close, get closer
  • Expose for the highlights
  • Use your camera like a spaceship (a Dick Zakia philosophy)
  • Light illuminates, shadows define
  • Backlight = shoot tight
  • Make pictures, just don’t take pictures
  • See eye to eye, shoot eye to eye
  • Take the darn flash off the camera

This October, Rick will be joining 20+ other photographers for workshops, photo walks and tours at our first Out of New York Photography Conference.

We thank Rick for spending this time with us, and look forward to bringing you insights on additional presenters soon. You can learn more about Rick at

We’ll see you this fall!

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