Have Kid Will Photograph

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Rick Sammon (bottom) falling through the air at 125 miles per hour over Namibia. (Is this guy nuts!?)

Several weeks ago, I was hanging out at Kelby Training in Oldsmar, Florida (founded by R.E. Olds – as in Oldsmobile) shooting two new Kelby Training shows. On my last day in sunny Florida, I saw Matt Kloskowski (unbeknownst to him) leaving work holding his young son’s hand. That night, from my hotel room, I sent Matt an email: Cherish every second. All too soon your son will be way too cool to hold your hand.

After my two-day shoot at “Kelby World” was wrapped up, Scott took me to Dunedin, where we had some Mexican food (totally awesome) before heading off to the Fat Tuesday parade (a dud, photographically). As soon as we got on site, Scott said, “I hope you don’t mind, but I’d like to shoot for a while and then split so that I can get home and put my kid to bed.” That was not the first time I had heard Scott talk about his kids. He had previously told me that he plays video games with his son every night, as I try to do (Mario Golf) with my son, Marco. Scott is a cool dad. He even wrote a book on the subject: The Book for Guys Who Don’t Want Kids.

Being a dad is my most important job. Over the past 17 years, my wife, Susan, and I have taken our son, Marco, named after Marco Polo, all over the world on my photo assignments – giving him a well-rounded education, especially when it comes to learning about different cultures and customs. Like Scott and Matt, I am a proud dad – super proud lately, because Marco was named (after working incredibly hard) the Valedictorian of his 2009 high school class.

Go to the Bio page of my website to see just how proud I am.

When I teach a workshop or seminar, participants come up to me and say stuff like this: “It’s been fun to watch Marco grow up in your books and magazine articles, and to see pictures of him in your slide shows, but don’t you find that taking a kid around with you to exotic locations hinders you photographically, logistically and creatively?”

My answer: “Quite the opposite! When we travel together, I have more fun. Plus, I don’t have to worry about my not being there to help Marco if he needs me. What’s more, he has ‘opened doors’ for me, especially when I am working with cultures in exotic places, like the Brazilian Rainforest or Kuna Yala, Panama – where the local tribes love kids (he was younger than 12 during both trips).

So my purpose in this guest blog is to hopefully inspire all those dads (and moms) out there who think that traveling with a child might slow them down in their quest for great pictures. It is also for couples who might be planning on having a child, and who might think that their photographic lives will be “over” if they have a kid. I’ve heard that, too!

To illustrate my philosophy, check out the following pairs of images from a few of my books – one a family snapshot, the other a pro shot. And for those of you who are accustomed to getting photo info in Scott’s blog, I’ve included a bit of that, too.

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Brazilian Rainforest
The snapshot of Marco feeding some monkeys at our rainforest lodge is a wonderful and fun memory. Some of these monkeys actually ended up in our room one night. They “broke in!”

The image of the Tariano woman is one of my favorite people pictures. It might be my most published photograph. I set my 28-105mm lens to 105mm and chose an f-stop of f/4.5 to blur the background. I moved the subject into the shade for soft and flattering lighting. This picture illustrates my favorite photo philosophy: The camera looks both ways; in picturing the subject, you are also picturing a part of yourself.

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Fossil Rim
While on safari in Africa . . . Hey, I am only kidding. I took these shots at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose Texas. What fun for Marco to pet a giraffe.

The shot of the cheetah illustrates an important aspect of wildlife photography: If the eyes are not in focus and well lit, you’ve missed the shot. I took this photograph with my 100-400mm IS lens set at around 400mm to blur the background. I set my camera on rapid frame advance to capture the big cat licking its lips. Notice the nice light? My tip here: You snooze you loose. Get up early and stay out late to capture the light of the “golden hours.”

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Costa Rica
Here’s a snapshot of Marco enjoying a close encounter with a sloth. I took the picture at Aviarios Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica.

The photograph of the sloth hanging out (literally) is my favorite “serious” shot from our stay at Aviarios. I used an accessory flash to add a bit of catch light to the animal’s eyes. When I take a flash picture, I don’t want it to look like a flash shot. So, I balance the light from the flash to the available light – setting my camera to Manual, dialing in the correct exposure, and then adjusting the power output of my Canon 580 EX II flash.

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Kuna Yala, Panama
Well, this photo did not make our holiday greeting card, but it does show our family on-location in a remote island in Kuna Yala, Panama.

I photographed this woman making a mola on the same island. To get everything in the scene in sharp focus, I shot with my 17-40mm lens set at 24mm, set the aperture to f/11, locked the focus one-third into the scene, then I recomposed my the scene and shot.

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Alaska
Here’s a shot of Susan and Marco in the back of a small plane that we chartered for an aerial tour while we were exploring Alaska.

The monochromatic landscape image captures the beauty and awe of Alaska. I used my 100-400mm lens set at 400mm to compress the elements in the scene. Try using a telephoto lens for landscape photography. Not only does it compress the elements in a scene, but it also helps to isolates objects and areas of a landscape.

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San Diego, CA
Here you see Marco demonstrating the correct method for photographing wildlife – as my buddy Moose Peterson knows. Marco is keeping both eyes open, so that if something is about to enter the frame, he’s ready to make a framing adjustment.

The shot of a flamingo is perhaps one of the few artistic shots I have taken of an animal. The tip here: Look for art in nature.

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Croton-on-Hudson, NY
The image on the left is the first known photograph of the Sammon&Sammon Snow Plow XL7000 in action. This is what my son and I used to do after it snowed.

On the right is a shot of the Croton Reservoir, taken early the next morning while Marco and I were driving around. I used a polarizing filter to darken the water and sky and to reduce reflections on the ice and water.

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Closing Shots and Thoughts
Well, my guest blog has come to an end. I had a blast putting it together, and I gotta thank Scott for the opportunity. Yo Scott, we all know you play keyboards and guitar! Maybe you can jam with Marco someday. Or, if your band needs an accordion player…

Throughout this blog post you saw a few of my “Rick Tips,” as they are known around the Kelby Training studio: You Snooze… The Name of the Game… See Art in Nature… and so on. Well, here is my favorite saying: Ultimately, we will be judged by how we raised our children.

Okay, enough sentimental stuff. Hope you can check out my classes at kelbytraining.com – but be sure to tuck in your kids first.

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P.S. Quick question: Looking at the photographs in this blog post, which do you think are my favorites: the family shots or the end-result shots? My point: don’t get so serious about your photography that you miss taking the most important shots. And of course, remember to always envision the end-result when you take a picture. Here is a before-and-after example of how Photoshop helped to transform a snapshot of Marco/me sitting in the cockpit of a biplane on a runway at the Key Largo, Florida Airport into an image with high-flying fun! That’s the image I envisioned when the pilot took the shot.

For more on Rick, check out his website and blog.

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Also, for photo tips from Rick, check out his latest book, Digital Photography Secrets.