Excerpt from my latest book: Creative Visualization for Photographers

Here is an excerpt from my latest book, Creative Visualization for Photographers.

Check out my six-step process for creative visualization (condensed from a longer and more detailed chapter in the book).

Step 1 - Selecting a subject – Never underestimate the importance of a good/interesting subject. My subject here is Fairy Glen in the Conwy Valley, North Wales. Fairy Glen is, indeed, a magical fairytale setting, someplace that reminded me of a scene from the movie, Harry Potter. It was that concept that I visualized during the early morning shoot.

Step 2 - Consider composition – Composition is the strongest way of seeing. When you see a scene you’d like to capture with your camera, think about what you want in the scene, as well as what you don’t want in the scene.

Upon arrival at Fair Glen, my first inclination was to include the sun in the photograph, but then I thought the bright spot in the frame would be too distracting in the end-result photograph, so I eventually cropped it out.

Step 3 - See the light – In the following chapters you will read about seeing the light, as well as HDR (High Dynamic Range) and EDR (Extended Dynamic Range) photography. Once you learn how to see the light, you know if a single exposure is adequate to convey your creative vision, or, for example, HDR is needed, as was the case at Fairly Glen, due to the very high contrast range.

Step 4 – Find your focus – Just because you have an auto focus camera, that does not mean that your camera knows where you want to focus.

In this scene, I wanted everything in focus, from the foreground rocks to the branches in the background. To achieve that goal, I focused 1/3 into the scene and set my aperture to f/22.

Try those setting to achieve maximum depth of field in any landscape (or seascape or cityscape) photograph. When doing so, the wider the lens the more you’ll have in focus. Here I used my Canon 24-105mm IS lens set at 47mm, which is not really a wide-angle setting, but it worked here because of my framing (no rocks or trees close to my lens).

Step 5 – Expertly expose – In the days of film, we used the BLH rule: Bracket Like Hell – and hoped to get one good exposure. Today, it’s much easier to get a good in-camera exposure, thanks to the histogram and highlight alert.

When a scene can’t be captured in one frame, HDR comes to the rescue. Still, you need to take enough pictures to capture that dynamic range. If you don’t you defeat the purpose of HDR.

When setting your exposure, you need to consider the Exposure Triangle: aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Those setting affect how much of the scene is in focus (aperture), if the subject is sharp or blurred (shutter speed) and the amount of noise in your picture (ISO).

Keep in mind that when you change one setting, you affect the other settings. Here I used a low ISO (ISO 100) so I could shoot at a slow shutter speed to blur the moving water.

Try to get it right in camera, and don’t use the S&P technique that some novice digital photographers use. S&P: Spray & Pray.

Step 6 - Process with purpose – Image processing is the final step in conveying your creative vision.

Explore the light,

"I Hate HDR" and "I Teach HDR the Right Way"

Natural-looking HDR image.

I teach HDR on most of my workshops. The next HDR workshop will be in Atlanta, GA later this month. We'll shoot at Old Car City and the Southeastern Railway Museum. Great fun!

Want to have some fun? Do a web search on "I hate HDR." Tons of pages will come up.

 In that search you will find a photographer who says, "I teach HDR the right way."

As my dad used to say, "To each his own." I say, "Why hate anything?" And, my take on teaching HDR - or creating HDR images - is that there is no "right way" and no "one way."

Natural-looking HDR image.

Natural-looking HDR image.

It's all personal, like all art.

Some folks like realistic-looking HDR images, such as the image above, while others like super-saturated images with the grunge look, like the images below. 

Super-saturated HDR image.

Super-saturated HDR image.

I don't teach HDR the right way, I simply teach it my way - which covers creating all types of HDR images.

The HDR program I recommend most is Photomatix from HDR soft. You can save 15% on Photomatix when you use this code - ricksammon - upon checkout from the HDR soft web site.

Here is post I did on the latest version of Photomatix. The above image is from that post.

One tip I do offer when it comes to HDR: The subject often suggests the HDR effect. For example, you probably want a natural-looking HDR image for a landscape, while the super-saturated/grunge effect may look good on a photo of an old car.

Magic Beach Motel, St. Augustine, FL.

Magic Beach Motel, St. Augustine, FL.

As with all your photography, I say follow your heart. Or as Ginger Baker wrote, "Do what you like."

South East Railway Museum near Atlanta, GA.

South East Railway Museum near Atlanta, GA.

If you want to get good at HDR, put yourself in a very high-contrast situation: shoot indoors and get details inside and outside. If you can see into the shadows and if your highlights are not blown out in your final HDR image, you are on your way to creating a good HDR image - your way. The image directly above illustrates that technique.

rick sammon.jpg

All my 2016 photo workshops are listed on my 2016 Workshops page.

Explore the light,

No Other Old Car City Photo Workshop Offers This Much!

rick sammon mail for blog.jpg

Above: Old Car City. Model photography is included in my October 2015 Old Car City/Southeaster Railway Museum photo workshop. Canon 5D Mark III, 17-40mm lens.

Registration is open for my October 2015 Canon EOS Destination Workshop: Capturing the Classics: Old Cars and Antique Trains. I can't wait to return to Old Car City and the Southeastern Railway Museum - both of which are located outside of Atlanta, GA.

I'll be teaching: composition (the strongest way of seeing), "croposition" (combining composition with cropping), storytelling,  lighting, HDR – and how to use reflectors, diffusers and speedlites when photographing a model.

My friends from Canon will be there to loan you the newest cameras and lenses (including fish-eye lenses and super-wide-angle lenses) to photograph some of the oldest cars in the country. You will also have plenty of time to process your images – for our group slide show/critique session. And, you'll even get to make a print or two on Canon printers.

No other Old Car City photo workshop offers this much. In addition to the teaching, model session, processing and printing, each workshop participant will receive an autographed copy of my three favorite books: Creative Visualization for Photographers, Exploring the Light and Travel and Nature Photography. In addition, everyone will also receive a free download code for two of my on-line classes: Master the Art and Craft of Bird Photography and Master Landscape and Seascape Photography - both available in my on-line store.

All participants will also received an SD card loaded with Perfectly Clear (see my Plug-in page) for both Lightroom and Photoshop. Thanks to my friends at Athentech for your support!

Total value of these items is over $250.

rick car for blog.jpg

Above: Lounge car, Southeastern Railway Museum. Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 15mm lens.

Here's a look at some of my favorite photographs from my previous trip to Old Car City and the Southeastern Railway Museum.

The lounge car photograph (above) and the mail car photograph are HDR images, created in Photomatix. I recommend Photomatix for this workshop. You can get a discount on Photomatix on my Save on Plug-ins page.

rick sammon old car 1.jpg

Above: Old Car City. Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 17-40mm lens. 

I removed some of the reality from my images in this post either by using a fish-eye lens, by altering the true color of a scene, by applying a plug-in, by shooting HDR, by selectively blurring parts of an image –  or by using a combination of all these techniques.

I can show you how to apply digital enhancements during the workshop. Of course, I'll show you how to get awesome in-camera shots, too.

Above: Southeastern Railway Museum. Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 17-40mm lens.

About removing some of the reality from a scene: When we remove some of the reality from a photograph, the photograph can - but not always - look more artistic.

Photoshop, Lightroom and plug-ins make creating artistic images relatively easy - if you have a creative vision. 

rick sammon belair for blog.jpg

Above: Old Car City. Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 24-70mm lens.

On my workshops I stress light and composition, the topics of my two latest classes on Kelby Training. The picture above (taken on my previous workshops) of our model Hanna (she's coming back for this workshop) illustrates the benefits of shooting on an overcast day, when contrast is low. It also illustrates creative composition: shooting at an angle creates a sense of depth in an image, the Bel Air insignia adds a sense of place to the image, and shooting at eye level helps the viewer of the photograph relate to the subject.

rick caddy for blob.jpg

Above: Old Car City. Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 17-40mm lens. Effects added with Nik Color Effects Pro. Several Photoshop CS6 enhancements.

Above: Old Car City.  Like abstracts? You will find them in pealing paint and in rust at Old Car City.

Another element of photography we talk about on my workshops is the importance of cropping. In the above photograph, the extremely tight crop (I know it's extreme) emphasizes the fins and tail lights of this cool Caddy.

hanna by rick for blog.jpg

Above: Southeastern Railway Museum. Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 17-40mm lens.

Yes, the railway cars and old automobiles are awesome subjects. But hey, I especially enjoy photographing people on location. That is why I was so glad our model Hanna is returning! 

I hope to see you at Old Car City and at the Southeastern Railway Museum - where we not only make good pictures, but where we also have a ton of fun.

If you can't make that workshop, all my workshops are listed here.

Explore the light,

If you have any questions about this workshop, or any of my workshops, give me a call at 914 271-6132. Note: I'm in the Eastern Time Zone.

"Out of Chicago" Brings Together the "In Crowd"

Today's guest blog post is by the talented, dedicated and enthusiastic Chris Smith, founder of the Out of Chicago conference. Take it away, Chris.

I am always nervous to write for Rick's site. He has been my biggest supporter and mentor. From the first time he convinced me to lead a photo walk, to Out of Chicago growing into a full-blown conference, Rick has always been there to help. Thank you, Rick . . . and I am super excited that you will be speaking at the 2016 event.


2015 marked the second year of the Out of Chicago conference. What started as a fun get-together for a few of my photography friends has turned into an event beyond anything I could imagine. In 2014, 15 of my photo friends taught classes on how they shoot. In 2015 I was able to convince Elia Locardi, Bryan Peterson, Juan Pons, Valerie Jardin, Thomas Leuthard, Bob Davis, Jim Harmer, and 24 other amazing photographers to teach what they do and lead photo walks around the city. It was an unforgettable weekend in Chicago.

There is something special about the Out of Chicago conference. I don't know what it is. But I've never seen so many photographers this excited about photography in one place before. Maybe it's because we're not only learning from the best photographers in the world, we're out on the streets of one of the greatest photography cities in the world. The conference venue is in the heart of Chicago, walking distance to the best photo locations in the city.

Some highlights: Photographing the Chicago Riverwalk with Juan Pons. Leading a photowalk with Elia and Naomi Locardi. Leading a photowalk with Jim Harmer. Hanging out with instructors and attendees at the after-party. Teaching my classes on photographing Chicago. Meeting my photography idols. Giving out cameras and lenses as prizes from our sponsors. Meeting so many photographers that I've only known through social media and the internet.

Sometimes I think I'm dreaming. Our 2016 lineup includes some of my absolute favorite photographers. You know at least one of them. The 2016 lineup is headlined by Rick Sammon, Frederick Van Johnson, Jimmy McIntyre, Bryan Peterson, Mike Moats, Jim Harmer, Valerie Jardin, Karen Hutton, Rob Knight, Corwin Hiebert, Derrick Story, Levi Sim, and a whole bunch of people yet to be announced.


Save the dates for June 24th-26th, 2016. For a limited time, we are doing a pre-sale. Save $200 off the full conference price and pay only $199 for the full conference registration. Click here to sign up. It will be another special weekend.

• • • • •

Thank you Chris for your kind words and great post. I can't wait to attend the event!

Explore the light,

What's new? My 36th book: Creative Visualization for Photographers

Today's Guest Blogger Mickey Rountree Takes Us to Old Car City

I'm Mickey Rountree from Chattanooga Tennessee, and I'd like to thank Rick for giving me the opportunity to write a guest blog post. Rick asked me to do the post after seeing some of my Old Car City images.

Rick asked me to give you a few tips on Old Car City in Georgia because I've been a regular visitor there for years – and because Rick is leading a photo workshop to this location in October. You can register here.

It's forty acres of cars from the 1920's through the 1970's in conditions from relatively undamaged to totaled, and in various stages of being reclaimed by nature. If you like rust, decay, and the interplay between nature and machine, this is your place.

So, in no particular order, here are a few tips based on my experiences.

1) Forty acres and thousands of cars can be totally overwhelming. Don't feel you can see or shoot it all in one day. Pick a smaller area and work the scene. Broaden your areas on successive trips. I've been there twenty times and still don't feel I've covered it all.

2) Do your homework! Research Old Car City images and you will finds thousands of images. Look at what others have done, and try to find a style that interests you and plan to work on those kinds of shots. Try not to make copy images, but put your own style and personality into shooting and processing.

3) You can literally use every lens you own here. I have shot with my Canon 8-15mm fisheye, my 70-300mm and everything in between. However, I suggest that you don't carry every lens you own. Pick a viewpoint you want to work on, and carry one or two appropriate lenses. My all purpose lens for walking around OCC is my 24-105mm on a Canon 5DM3. When I'm doing a project with a specific viewpoint in mind, I only carry one or two lenses to help keep me on task. My last shoot was interiors, so I only carried a 17-40mm and my 8-15mm fisheye. I spent a couple of days solely working on hood ornaments and badges and only used my 70-300mm and occasionally my 100mm macro.

4) This place just screams HDR! If you have never shot in HDR, the range of textures, tones and colors is perfect to make your first HDR shots amazing. I tend to shoot almost every inanimate subject in HDR, or at least shoot the required brackets. I then have the choice of doing HDR, or just picking the best single exposure and working with that. On an overcast day, shooting a whole car or large scene, three brackets at +/- 2 stops is probably sufficient. Shooting an image that goes from very dark areas to very bright sky, such as a car interior that has bright sunny sky visible may require 7 or even 9 brackets. In those cases I'm also usually shifting my exposure compensation down to -2 or -4. Check all of your bracketed shots to see that you have a shot with good detail in the shadows and a shot where the highlights are just barely visible. When in doubt, it's better to over-bracket than to get home and find that you don't have the range you need. It's easy to delete the extremes that you don't need, and much easier and cheaper than having to go back and re-shoot.

5) I Often use the in-camera HDR just to help me see if a shot is worth pursuing or not. If your camera will do in-camera HDR you are usually limited to three exposures and 4 or 5 styles. I find I can usually do much better in Photomatix with a wider range of brackets, but it's an useful check. And when the in camera HDR looks good, I really get excited and motivated, because I know my edits will be great.

(If you don't have Photomatix, you can get a discount here.)

6) Some essential equipment to bring would include a sturdy tripod, a right angle finder, extra cards and batteries, a brush or microfiber fiber cloth to clean your lens (hey, it is a junkyard after all!), and a loupe for viewing your screen. The loupe can be very important. Everything looks sharp and pretty on the small screen, and it can be disappointing to see out of focus shots when you get home. Better to fix it in the field.

And last, a few non-photographic tips:

7) Watch where you put your hands! I went to lean on a boulder that turned out to be a compacted ant hill containing thousands of very upset ants. I have seen several snake skins, but thankfully no live snakes. I'm betting some snakes have seen me though. Also there are lots of sharp edges of old rusty metal.

8) Unless you're there in the coldest months, long sleeve shirts, long pants and bug repellent are a good choice. There are lots of hungry mosquitoes, and chiggers are waiting in the high grass. Check for ticks when you get home. Sturdy shoes or hiking boots are a must, and it's good if they're also waterproof when you're walking through wet grass and mud.

9) A good pair of contractor's knee pads will be useful if you like getting down for those low perspectives (and you should). Carry a large plastic garbage bag to lay on for ultra low shots.

10) I like to carry a small first aid kit for minor cuts and scrapes.

11) If there's a particular car you want to find, ask Dean Lewis the owner.

12) If you like down home Southern cooking (or need to try it), Wesman's restaurant across the street is part of the experience.

• • • • •

Thank you Mickey for a great blog post! Nice work.

Again, readers can register for my Old Car City workshop, which also includes shooting at the South Eastern Railway Museum, here.

Explore the light,

What's new? My 36th book: Creative Visualization for Photographers