Rick's Backyard Digital Photography Workshop - Learn Digital Photography From Start to Finish

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Each Fall and Spring I offer an intimate (10 photographers) digital photography workshop in my "backyard" – Croton-on-Hudson, NY. It's one of my favorite workshops of the year. Cost for the two-day workshop is $600.00. (Private lessons in my backyard are available, too.) 

2014 dates are listed on my 2014 Workshops page.

Shoot me an email if you have any questions.

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We shoot along the Hudson River at sunset and at the New Croton Dam. I teach lighting and composition – two ingredients that make a good picture. I also talk about the value of thinking like a painter, which frees us up from the limitations of photography.

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I take the students to the largest Buddhist Temple in the United Sates. We shoot indoors and outdoors. We make straight shots and HDR images.

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I show the participants how to shoot and process panoramas, too.

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We have plenty of time to process our pictures using Photoshop and Lightroom. We also cove creative plug-ins. The group slide show/critique is the highlight of the workshop.


I stress the importance of making pictures rather than just taking pictures. Making pictures is way more fun and creative. 

Left Photograph: Jeremy Pollack. Right: Photograph by Joe Brady.

Left Photograph: Jeremy Pollack. Right: Photograph by Joe Brady.

We also have portraits sessions, during which you'll learn about speedlites and fill-in flash.


I hope you can join me someday in my "backyard" for a rewarding digital photography learning experience.  Shoot me an email for more information. Please keep in mind that these workshops fill up very fast.

Places to Stay
Comfort Inn
(15 minutes from Croton)
Bed and Breakfast (in Croton). Our recommendation.

All my workshops are listed on 2014 Workshops page.  I hope to see you on one someday soon.

Explore the light,

P.S. I call the opening image – an in-camera HDR image taken with my Canon 5D Mark III and enhanced with Nik Color Efex Pro – "Sunset in the Park with Rick."  Yes, the title of the image was inspired by the play, "Sunday in the Park with George," a musical inspired by the paining by Georges Seurat, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte." 

Today's Awesome Guest Blogger: Jeff Clay

I’ve been an admirer of Rick for some time and when the Wasatch Camera Club brought him out to Salt Lake City to speak as part of Canon’s Explorers of Light program, I had a chance to talk one-on-one with him.  At the end of our hour or so he graciously extended the offer to me to guest blog and for that, and his wonderfully received presentation, I thank him!

One of the things that Rick discussed at our presentation was the role of luck in photography. This resonated with me as I call it the serendipity factor.

Above: The image entitled North Window Sunrise is one of my prime examples. An early cold Halloween morning found me at Arches National Park with the goal of shooting Turret Arch through North Window Arch. It’s a classic shot (if you don’t know what I am writing about, Google that phrase), perhaps overdone, but I wanted it anyway. To get it one clambers through North Window, climbs up a ledge and waits for the light. When I got there – early as it was – there was one person on the ledge and another making his way up. I do not like cheek-by-jowl photography so resigned myself to shooting first light on the “wrong side” of North Window. As the light touched the top of Turret Arch I shot several images and then turned around to look through the arch and towards the just rising sun. Hallelujah! This was the shot, courtesy of serendipity! (This was early in my HDR career so I captured multiple sets of only 3 exposures and processed with Photomatix. If I were to reshoot this now, 5-bracketed exposures would likely be the minimum.)

[Note from Rick: Readers can save 15% on Photoshop on the Play & Save on Plug-ins page.]

For almost 10 years I have been exploring cityscapes and landscapes with infrared cameras. Starting first with screw-on filters for IR sensitive point-and-shoots, several years ago I began converting DSLRs to infrared-only by having the appropriate filter installed over the camera’s sensor. The images that are captured in the infrared spectrum can be quite extraordinary. Literally things you can’t quite see, become revealed. Contrast, tones, texture, and the interplay of shadow and light dominate.

Above: This image of Early Morning, Mesquite Sand Dunes shows all of these: the almost razor-sharpness of the sand dune ripples, the dance of the light and dark areas, the tones of silvery grey in between and the bright-white, “woods effect” of the creosote bush. Generally, all of my IR images are converted to B&W with Nik Silver Efex Pro. I increase contrast and structure and often will shoot multiple exposures with the idea of blending them in Photomatix. Infrared dynamic ranges can be quite narrow.

Above: Moonset over Island in the Sky is a good example of the power of exposure blending of infrared images. Three captures at shutter speeds of 1/15, 1/45 & 1/25 at a focal length of 200mm (tripod required for this shot!) yielded pretty flat images. But once blended and processed with Silver Efex Pro a very sharp, layered image with wide tonalities emerges.

The last couple of years I don’t travel anywhere – whether in the Southwest, NYC or overseas – without a number of Neutral Density filters. I love the effect of blurred water or clouds. It’s also a good way to make people disappear from an otherwise crowded scene.

Above: I photographed this composition of Gjáin Falls (in Iceland) five times at exposures ranging from 1.5 seconds to 20 seconds. Don’t just settle on one exposure and move on. I have found that looking at the light, the way the water flows down falls and over submerged (or not) rocks, and the general image composition tends to determine the best exposure times.  This image was on the longer side – 20 seconds – and after processing with Lightroom, Photoshop and the almost-always-used Nik Color Efex Pro yields a colorful and detail-rich photograph. The sky was grey and overcast so note the inclusion of little of it. I usually carry three ND filters: B+W ND 1.8 (6 stops), Hoya NDX400 (9 stops), and for really bright days, B+W ND 3.0 (10 stops).

Huge vistas such as provided at Dead Horse Point in Utah can make for some fantastic – or very boring – imagery. The lack of clouds and/or foreground interest can kill an otherwise interesting landscape.

Above: I often prefer to be in the landscape rather than above it as this two-shot montage of the Gooseneck of the Colorado River shows (a thousand feet below Dead Horse Point). The first image was taken in October and the second, captured in almost the exact same location, was photographed two years later in January. The light is obviously very different but also note how different the reflections are. In October I had boring skies but a beautiful reflection of the Gooseneck cliffs themselves. I focused in relatively tight (24mm) and the image is all about the warmly glowing rocks above and mirrored below. For the second image I used a very wide angle (10mm) to capture the pastel clouds coolly glowing in the dawn light. The reflection of the cliffs (and waning moon) is secondary to the larger landscape view.  This was a triple exposure blended in Photomatix and the longest shutter speed was 1.3 seconds, yielding soft clouds, which added to the overall intended effect. The first image was also processed via Photomatix.

Above: My last image – NYC Pano –  is a landscape of a decidedly urban nature. Again using an infrared-converted camera, this is actually a four shot, hand-held panorama taken on the Staten Island Ferry as it is plowing its way across New York Bay. IR really brings out the clouds in this view that stretches from Jersey to Brooklyn. I do a lot of hand-held panoramas (and vertaramas as well) – including utilizing bracketed exposures – and surprise myself at how well I can swivel at my hips whilst keeping my upper body erect. Nothing beats the use of a tripod for panos or bracketed exposures – and I almost always carry one – but frankly I often don’t want to take the time and it is impressive how accurately software is able to align images. Ninety-plus-percent of my panoramas are stitched using the “Reposition” setting in Photoshop’s’ Photomerge function.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief excursion down my photographic lane. If you want to see more of what and how I shoot – or want to send any questions or comments – please visit my website.

And again, a big thanks to Rick!


Goodbye HDR! Hello EDR?

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Goodbye HDR! Hello EDR?

Digital HDR (high dynamic range) photography has been around for years. Before digital HDR, film and wet darkroom photographers, including Ansel Adams, created HDR-like images by using various techniques – including, but not limited to, burning and dodging.

I've always liked a good HDR image, mostly where the image does not look as though it was processed with an HDR program such as Nik HDR Efex Pro and Photomatix - the two HDR programs I use to create images that don't look like HDR images . . . if that makes sense.

Info on those programs, both of which I teach, is on my Save on Plug-ins page. 

HDR, as you may know, has gotten a bad rap. Do a Google search on "I hate HDR" to see what people are saying. (As an aside, I had a bad wrap a few weeks ago at a roadside deli. The tortilla was soggy, as was the lettuce.)

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Recently, someone said about my work, "He's overly fond of HDR." Perhaps that's because I teach HDR, in addition to teaching natural light photography and speedlite photography, on my workshops. Or maybe it's because I have an HDR app - iHDR. That's only one of my 12 apps. Most of my apps feature straight, non-HDR shots.

Fact is, I only shoot HDR about 10 percent of the time. Anyway . . . .

I still like  HDR - the shooting part and the processing part. Mostly, my goal these days is to create an image that does not look like an overly processed, or "over cooked," image. That said, I have been known to go over-the-top when it comes to HDR. That was, and is, good fun.

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Because HDR has such a bad rap, I thought I'd change the name of my HDR images to EDR images. EDR stands for Extended Dynamic Range.

To bring out the detail in that top left scene, HDR shooting and processing was needed to create the image on the top right. By the way, we shoot at this temple on my Rick's Backyard Workshop, which is a ton of fun.

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Even the opening  image for this post is an EDR image. I created it in Lightroom by cropping and then by adjusting the Shadows, Highlights, Contrast, Exposure, Whites, Blacks, Clarity and Saturation . . . and then by making it a black-and-white image. The train was moving fast when I took the shot. So I guess you could say this is a one-shot HDR image, but now I'm calling it a one-shot EDR image.

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By the way, many of my fellow pros are now using Lightroom and Adobe Camera RAW to create HDR, oh I mean, EDR images. It's amazing how, with these programs we can open up shadows and tone down highlights to create EDR images. So much so that you don't need to shoot and process HDR in medium contrast situations.

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In extreme lighting situations, such as the one above, a series of images is needed and processing in an HDR program is required.

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Above is also an EDR image that I made in Iceland. It's a JPEG HDR, with a bit of tweaking, of three RAW files that I took with my Canon 5D Mark III, which has built-in HDR. My tweaking included using the Detail Extractor filter (which I call the HDR simulator filter in Nik Color Efex Pro).

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So whatta ya think my friends? Should we replace the term HDR with EDR? Hey, maybe I could write another book or do another app!

In reality, it really does not matter what we call HDR/EDR. Because what's in a name?  Art is art and a photograph is a photograph. My guess is that not many people asked Ansel Adams, "How much burning and dodging did you do on that image?"

Leave a comment here in the Comments if you'd like. I'd like to hear from you. 

FYI: When I first heard about HDR and saw some cool HDR images, I thought HDR stood for High Do-it-Yourself Rockin' Images. :-) 

Explore the light,

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P.S. When it comes down to it, I think I like photographing people the most. Check out my World Portraits gallery to see some of my favorite images. However, my favorite recent photograph is this one of several Camargue horses running toward me at top speed.

What features would you like to see added to Photo Sundial?

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App developer Craig Ellis and I are in the processing of updating/adding features to my Photo Sundial app. What features would you like to see added?

For now, here's what's included.

The short story: 

Key features include:
• Interactive touch screen that shows the position of the sun
• Easiest and most fun-to-use sun-finder app available
• Text and voice search
• Shows sunrise and sunsets times
• Displays the phases of the moon
• Enables photo sharing
• Photo gallery with 25 of my favorite sunrise and sunset photo with tips
• Includes a sun compass and shadow meter
• Shows five-day forecast
• Allows you to set current locations
• Sunrise and sunset planner
• Direct link to my Follow the Sun site
• The only all-in-one sun-finder app you'll need.

The long story: 

Rick Sammon's Photo Sundial is an interactive app loaded with features that help you find the best light - sunlight, starlight and moonlight. What's more, it includes 25 of my favorite sunrise/sunset/moonrise pictures, along with photo advice.

Here's a quick look at what you'll be able to do in the different main sections of Rick Sammon's Photo Sundial.

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Sundial - You view, with a virtual sundial overlaid on an aerial view of the set location, where the sun will rise and set each day at your location in the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, Japan and China. You use a slider to preview the sun's location throughout the day. Sunrise and sunset times are shown, along with the sun's elevation and angle. And for the iPhone 5 and iPad, there is even a shadow meter.

GPS coordinates are also provided, as well as nautical and astronomical information, such as twilight start and stop times.

Want to get sunrise/sunset info on a nearby or far away destination? There's a location search - by text and voice - feature, too. Once you find a location, you can name that location, save that location and even make notes. When you want to plan a sunrise and sunset shoot, the Set Date/Time helps you make that plan.

Current weather and a five-day forecast can tell you to get up early (when there is great light) or sleep in (when it is cloudy).  Phases of the moon are also shown in real time and for the week ahead.

My Locations - This feature lets you save all your favorite locations in one place, for easy reference. You can plan your trip and home and access that location in the field. You can even share your locations with other Photo Sundial users.

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Tips Gallery - Here's where you'll find my favorite sunrise, sunset and moonrise images, along with practical how-to tips. These 25 images – landscapes, seascapes, wildlife, and people – were taken in the United States and around the world. The Tips Gallery was originally designed as an e-book, but I decided to include the Tips Gallery in this comprehensive app.


Follow the Sun - This section brings you to my Follow the Sun Google+ Community. This Community is a great place to share your work, and to get inspiration for making awesome images.

Follow Rick - I post stuff - on my blog, Google+, Facebook and twitter - almost every day. This section is where you can keep up with my photo tips, tricks and techniques – or just say hi or ask a question.

Information – We'd like your feedback on the app, and we'd like you to tell your friends about the app and your sunrise and sunset images. You can also learn more about Craig's GO Mobile apps.

Explore the light,