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Great photography is as much about the process as it is about the result. For award-winning photographer, Rick Sammon, creating a fun learning environment is the key to success.
Having photographed in numerous countries all around the world, as well as having produced 40 incredible books during his career as a photographer, there is nobody better to talk to than Rick about travel, landscape, wildlife, cultural and nature photography. This month, we sat down with Rick to find out a little bit more about how he got to where he is today, his enthusiasm for digital imagery and the beauty of the Arctic.
When travelling, photograph what you recognise. When I was photographing a waterfall in Iceland, I saw this “angel.” Photo by: 'Rick Sammon'.
Hello Rick, thank you for joining us today! Tell us a bit about what inspired you to become a photographer.
First, thank you for having me on your awesome site. It’s an honour.
For 20 years, my focus was on underwater photography, so the beauty of the world’s coral reefs was my inspiration at first.
My scuba diving travels took me to places like Papua New Guinea, Palau, Fiji, Indonesia, Costa Rica and Thailand - to name just a few places. It was in these places that I fell in love with photographing faces - so again, it was the subject matter that inspired me.
What was it about your first photo that really validated your interest as a photographer?
In 1975, I traveled to Hong Kong – not when I was a photographer but when I was a musician, which I still am. I came back with some nice images and cover a cover story in LENS magazine. My cover photograph was of a Chinese man holding his hand up and his index finger raised. He was asking for one more dollar for a photograph.
A favourite shot from Antarctica. Can you see the “polar bear?” Photo by: 'Rick Sammon'.
What do you like most about nature photography?
Being in touch with nature. Capturing the light. Chasing the light. Getting up early and staying out late. Breathing fresh and salt air. The sense of adventure. Taking pictures is the reason to get out and explore, but I always enjoy the experience.
Mood matters most. I was lucky to capture the mood of this scene at the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in Iceland. Photo by: 'Rick Sammon'.
What was your first travel-related adventure?
In 1980, I traveled to Belize, Central America for my first open-water scuba diving experience. We were diving and documenting Spanish shipwrecks. We camped out on Ranguana Caye (a tiny island off the coast of Belize) in tents. We brought everything we needed for a week. My job was to take underwater photographs and write about the adventure.
In which countries do you particularly enjoy spending your time?
Botswana and Kenya, of course, are wonderful. Rural China is awesome. Lately, however, I am loving my adventures to Antarctica, South Georgia, the Falkland Islands and the High Arctic. It’s in these Arctic regions where I feel I get my most original images. I think that goes for my photo workshop students, too.
I started my photo career underwater. This photo of a whale shark in Galapagos is one of my favourite underwater images. Photo by: 'Rick Sammon'.
Of all the places that you’ve visited during a long career, which destination has changed the most over time?
Iceland and Antarctica have changed. If someone does not believe in climate change, they should spend some time in these areas. Glaciers are receding at record speeds and the the weather has never been warmer in Antarctica.
When traveling, it’s all about the light. Get up early and stay out late. You can sleep when you’re dead. Photo by: 'Rick Sammon'.
You shoot amazing wildlife photography. Can you tell us a bit about the work that goes into capturing the characteristics, behaviour and personalities of animals in photographs?
Sure! It’s simple. I only get 25% of the credit for my Africa wildlife photos. Here’s why: My guide gets 25% because he finds the animals, my friends get 25% of the credit because they get me special, private vehicles that can go off road, and my wife get 25% of the credit because she helps me change lenses fast.
Also, the key is understanding animal behaviour – knowing what an animal might do or react.
Technically, getting the eye in focus and well lit is the key.
Animals can often be unpredictable. Have you ever had any close calls in nature?
Only once. We were on safari in Africa and following a herd of elephants. All was calm. Suddenly, a bull elephant charged our vehicle head on. I have never seen a driver drive so fast in reverse in my life!
This scene at the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in Iceland brought tears to our eyes because we were surrounded by Mother Nature’s beauty. Photo by: 'Rick Sammon'.
In your opinion, what makes a great photo stand out from all the rest?
I think it depends. For a person, it’s the emotion or gesture. For a landscape, it’s the subject and the light. For an animal, it’s behaviour. For all of the above, it could be a sense of mystery. There is an old saying: When you destroy the mystery of the photograph, you destroy the photograph.
In wildlife photography, action and gesture is the key. I captured this photo of lions mating in Botswana. Photo by: 'Rick Sammon'.
What is the narrative that you seek to tell with your photography?
My 40th book, Photo Therapy Motivation and Wisdom – discovering the power of a picture, was just published on Amazon (Kindle and paperback). Throughout the book, I talk about the real stuff that makes one a good photographer – emotional intelligence, seeing versus looking, group photo therapy (as on a workshop), learning as health, and creating your own reality. I think the more we understand about ourselves, the more our pictures will speak with out voice.
What is the most exotic place you have been to and the most amazing subject that you’ve shot?
I think that must be Antarctica. The blue ice is breathtaking. That being said, the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in Iceland has some of the very best blue ice I have ever seen. One day, we were in a Zodiac and it was so beautiful that several of my photo workshop students had tears in their eyes when they saw and recorded this beauty.
A lucky shot from Iceland. Timing and light came together to create an Icelandic favourite. Photo by: 'Rick Sammon'.
Do you often return to the same location repeatedly to find new angles? What do you look for when you go back to a place that you’ve photographed before?
That is a great question. That is how one can become a better photographer! I live by the New Croton Dam (1.5 hours north of New York City) and go there often and promise myself that I will not come back without a different image.
A luck shot from a Zodiac at the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in Iceland. This seal pup popped up on the ice at just the right moment with just the right light. Photo by: 'Rick Sammon'.
How do you keep yourself motivated and your photography fresh?
I go for two walks a day, or one walk and a bicycle ride. Another expression: Angels talk to a man who goes for a walk. I have actually written (in my head) most of my 40 books on my walks. I also get inspired by finding people on Instagram who have taken amazing photos!
How do you feel photography has impacted the way you see the world?
I can answer that with a question: What would the world be like without photography? Sure, video tells a story, but it’s often a still picture that has more power.
I tell people that my specialty is not specialising but when it comes down to it, I love photographing people. I took this photo in Papua New Guinea at what is a called a “sing sing" – an event where many clans come together for several days for a big celebration. Photo by: 'Rick Sammon'.
Tell us a little bit about what you’re currently working on and what’s in store for you in the coming year.
My main goal in life (at almost 70) is to stay healthy. Exercise every day and eat healthy. If you are not fit, you can’t feel good and make good pictures. I will also keep writing books and doing more classes for kelbyone.com (where I have 17 on-line classes). Most of all, I plan to play much more guitar. I actually play every day and play more guitar than I take pictures.
Thank you so much for having me!
For more information on Rick Sammon's work, you can visit his website or find him on Facebook and Instagram. You can also hear him chat with the best photographers in the world on his Picturing Success podcast.
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