Guest Blog: Photographer and Instructor Rick Sammon

Rick & Susan Sammon Hit the Road – The Mother Road
Route 66 has been called The Mother Road – because it offers one of the most awesome road trips, filled with endless photo opportunities, in the United States. Although Route 66 runs from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California, most of the iconic Route 66 photography locations are in Arizona and New Mexico.

Truth is, there is no more official Route 66. Rather, as you drive along Interstate 40, the super highway that basically caused Route 66 to be almost totally abandoned, you see brown signs indicating exits for towns along Historic Route 66.

In this guest blog post (thanks a ton Scott for having me back), Susan and I will share with you some of our favorite photographs from our two Arizona/New Mexico Route 66 road trips, each illustrating a photo tip. These tips are from our latest book, The Route 66 Road Trip – How to Eat, Sleep, Stay, Play and Shoot Like a Pro.

We hope these photographs, just a small sampling from our book, inspire you to make a road trip and photography pilgrimage on what we call “the prime cut” of Route 66.

Let’s go!

Hurray for HDR
When shooting into the sun (sunrise here), and when you want to see both the inside and outside of a building, HDR is a must. Sure, you can pull a lot out of the shadows and tone down the highlights in Adobe Camera Raw and in Lightroom, but in very high contrast scenes, it’s HDR to the rescue. Location: Blue Swallow Motel, Tucumcari, New Mexico.

Make Pictures; Don’t Just Take Pictures
Here’s another shot of the Blue Swallow Motel. I took this non-HDR image at sunset. I made the photograph by hosing down the area in front of the motel. My goal was to create an image with a nice reflection of the neon lights.

Here’s another example of making pictures. Susan drove our rental car past the front of the diner several times so I could get these cool red streaks from the taillights in my image. Location: 66 Diner, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

This image is a combination of making a picture (I rearranged the tables and chairs) and using HDR to capture the entire dynamic range of the scene. Location: 66 Diner, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Picture People
People pictures make slide shows, photo books and guest blog posts come alive. When it comes to people pictures, you basically have two choices: a portrait or an environmental portrait, that is, a picture of the person in his or her environment. Without the environment of the interior of Absolutely Neon, a portrait (a head shot) of owner Robert Randazzo could have been taken in my garage. Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Speaking of people pictures, here is a photograph of Angel Delgadillo – the angel of Route 66 and founder of the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona. Through his hard work, Angel has inspired many travelers to preserve Historic Route 66. This picture was taken in front of his barbershop. When I told his daughter that I was in town to see her dad, Angel rode his bicycle from his home to the store. Kind of cool for a 92 year-old! Many Route 66 travelers visit his barbershop and gift store in the hope of meeting this kind and gentle man. Location: Seligman, Arizona.

Foreground Elements are Essential
Foreground elements add a sense of depth to an image. When you don’t have a foreground element, use the ground as your foreground element. Location: A famous corner in Winslow, Arizona.

Seek Separation
We see the world in 3-D, while our cameras see in 2-D. To isolate objects in a scene, seek to separate them. This composition technique will add more depth to an image. Location: Wigwam Motel, Holbrook, Arizona.

Tell a Story
Pack a variety of lenses to help tell the story of your road trip. Here I used my Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens set at 15mm on my Canon 5D Mark IV to show the interior of this vintage car, as well as some of the outside surrounding area. Location: Route 66 Auto Museum, Santa Rosa, New Mexico.

Here’s another view of the Route 66 Auto Museum. It’s a hand-held panorama. The idea here: make panoramas indoors as well as outdoors – again to tell your story.

Use Border Patrol
Before you take a photograph, run your eye around the border of the frame to make sure what you want is in the frame, and what you don’t want is not in the frame. The same goes for when you are cropping a photograph. Location: Trading Post, Tucumcari, New Mexico.

Make a Plan
The Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico is famous for its “Miraculous Staircase,” a beautifully curved spiral that appears suspended without support.

We were first on line and, as the saying goes, “the early bird catches the worm.” We made pictures that capture the beauty of the amazing structure . . . before several people with Route 66 t-shirts would have been standing in the frame. So the tip here is to check the opening times, which vary throughout the year, so you are first in line. We arrived ½ hour before the church opened.

You can take a hand-held shot in chapel, but you’d need to boost your ISO to about 4000, so you may get some digital noise in your image. I used a tripod, which let me shoot at ISO 400 in the relatively dark church. I used my 16-35mm lens on my Canon 5D Mark IV to get as much of the chapel in the frame as possible. To enhance the beauty of the scene, I made a sepia tone image in Lightroom. Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Play with Plug-ins
Susan shot this photo with her iPhone, and then processed the image with Snapseed. It’s good fun to play with plug-ins. Trains and old cars are wonderful subjects for the grungy look. Location: Williams, Arizona.

Take the Fun Shots
Sure, work hard making great photographs on your road trip. But also take the fun shots! They will help bring back great memories of your time cruising down the “memory lane” of Route 66. Location: Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner, Kingman, Arizona.

You can see more of Rick’s work and see upcoming workshops at, check out his library of classes on KelbyOne, and connect with him on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

  1. Rick, these are mind-blowing images! Makes me want to travel to Winslow, AZ.

    Now, for some reason, I keep hearing an Eagle song in my head……

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