Edinburgh Castle
Face to Face : Rick Sammon's Complete Guide to Photographing People
AuthorsRick Sammon
DateMay 2008
ReviewerRoger Spooner
Cover image for Face to Face

Capturing people on film is a somewhat elusive topic, but Rick Sammon's new book makes his point about it well. Taking a good portrait involves two key things: planning, and attitude. The expertise of the author, his skill in communicating, and his excellent example images, make this book an important step towards better DSLR photography.

"Face to Face" is easy to read because of its friendly, chatty style, and is packed with examples of good photographs, and a fair number of contrasting ones to illustrate points. It is structured, after some excellent introductory topics, as a series of short "lessons", each asking you to do, or think about, a particular aspect of the image as you prepare to take photographs.

Rick Sammon has a lot of professional experience of photographing people around the world, and teaching others to do so, but he wisely assumes that his readers are amateurs, with digital SLR cameras, often taking pictures at family events.

Most of the "lessons" are on setting up the composition of your shot, some about technicalities of the camera or lighting, and a few about dealing with the people themselves. A recurring topic is the background of the scene, and how it must both tell a story about the environment of the person, and must provide a good visual surface against which to see the subject. Often, this means asking a person to pose in a place away from where they started. Lighting is also important, controlled by a choice of location or equipment. Never leave home without a reflector or diffuser, he says, but he also has an assistant on hand whenever he wants to use those items!

A few of the topics are about the social aspects of taking portraits of strangers. He sometimes starts by performing magic tricks. He spends many minutes with each subject, getting to know them, asking them to pose carefully, and taking lots of different pictures of them. But most of all, he is energetic and enthusiastic about his work, because, as he reminds us, the camera looks both ways. People will share your mood, so if you want to take a picture of a happy person, be happy.

He goes on to describe some post-processing you can do in Adobe Photoshop. Sometimes this is to fix errors such as over exposure, sometimes to achieve otherwise impossible results such as partially black-and-white scenes, and sometimes just to make pictures look strange!

The book is well laid out, printed to a high quality, and enjoyabe to read. It has many illustrations (including a fair number of duplicates), but perhaps the best are the side-by-side comparisons of images with and without the technique under discussion. While it could perhaps have had more about dealing with personalities in the situations that arise, or less about familiar topics like exposure, it is well balanced and worthwhile. Learning and applying its lessons will make you a better photographer.


Part 1. Cameras Don't Take Pictures, People Do
Part 2. Photo Philosophies
Part 3. Outdoor Photography
Part 4. Indoor Photography
Part 5. Enhancing Your Pictures in Photoshop
Epilog  Your Assignment: On-Location Portraiture

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