BOOK REVIEW: Rick Sammon’s Face to Face Has Great Pictures With A Little Copy

Face to Face

Rick Sammon gets around, and I’m not talking about all the exotic locales he has visited and photographed, including Mongolia, Kenya and Papua New Guinea. Rick has a whopping 27 books to his credit, several DVDs and workshops and can also be seen online at xtrain.com and Kelbytraining.com. Rick is a textbook example of a world photographer, one who shoots anywhere and everywhere and ends up with the kind of images found in National Geographic.

Imagine my delight when I was given the chance to review Rick’s new book, Face to Face: Rick Sammon’s Complete Guide to Photographing People! I am always thrilled to read books from those considered to be the “masters,” such as Joe McNally whose book The Moment It Clicks was a treat to read. Face to Face is an exciting book because it smartly focuses on a critical aspect of photography when some other books try to cover everything about digital photography and end up covering nothing exceptionally well. Unfortunately, I feel Face to Face suffers from a similar problem and I’ll explain why later in this review.

Rick’s voice

Face to Face is cleanly designed, with plenty of white space and a focus on the photography and text. Rick does a great job of writing and illustrating his ideas with images: his writing style is clean, accessible to beginners and experts alike, and it has a real person’s voice behind it. It doesn’t read like a textbook as much as it sounds like Rick talking to you in a workshop setting. He shares anecdotes, recalls stories from past workshops and photo shoots and isn’t afraid to show some photos that fall flat in order to teach you how to overcome easy pitfalls. The more I review books in this industry, the more pleased I am to see good photographers who are also good writers. Rick Sammon continues that tradition.

Why people photography?

Most of the books I read about digital photography cover Camera Raw, lighting, Photoshop and other technical aspects of photography. So when I saw this book was about “photographing people,” I assumed it would cover things such as how to light portraits and groups of people, unique composition for people pictures, and so on. Much of this is true but there’s also an underlying current of information pertaining to just how to handle people during photo shoots—how to make people feel more comfortable and look more relaxed during shoots, how to judge people and know when the right shot will happen, how to convince foreigners to pose for a great picture when they hardly know what a camera is, let alone know English.

Sometimes this kind of information makes Face to Face feel like a weaker book, because knowing how to work with people is not necessarily a photography skill. There’s a story on page 64 about how Rick paid a Hong Kong man a dollar to take his photo, and when he tried to take another the man motioned for a dollar more. Rick’s lesson from this anecdote is to pay subjects, since you’re getting something out of the photograph and they should be compensated as well. I think this goes without saying, though it’s also true that many tourists and amateur photographers out there have no trouble taking photos of people in foreign lands because they’re considered part of the scenery, which is troubling. Still, is this information that will improve your people photography? Perhaps, but it has nothing to do with the camera or capturing the light in the best possible way.

Perhaps this focus on handling people and their needs is what makes Face to Face unique—it’s a skill that landscape photographers certainly don’t have to worry about. If you are looking to improve your people photographs and find yourself not knowing how to handle people or request a photo from them then this book may be a lifesaver.

Lack of content

Usually a digital photography book is full of text, images and a lot of content in general. Some of these books can’t even fit all the information in the book, and have to rely on CD-ROMs or Web sites to deliver added content. Face to Face is one of the very rare books to have far more white space in its pages than actual writing, and I wish there was more to it. In the first chapter each page has one or two photos and a sentence or two:

  • “Compose carefully. Consider all the elements around a subject before you take the shot.”
  • “Think color. Look to see how colors can complement each other in a scene.”
  • “Have fun! What more can I say?”

From there we do get much more content for each page, but there are still many pages throughout the book with only a few sentences. It’s relatively rare to find more than four or five paragraphs on a page and the norm is two or three. Rick usually presents a single idea, story or technique per page, writes a couple paragraphs about the photo (every page has a photo or two) and caps it with a statement that captures the technique.

Compared to other books on the market, there is simply not that much information in Face to Face, and some of it is not exclusive to people photography (see the quoted statements above). I think there was more information about lighting people in The Moment It Clicks than in this book. To be fair, Face to Face is something of a unique book and it has information about people that I simply haven’t seen in any other book, but sometimes the lack of content made me wish Rick would spend some more words on each technique and really show how it’s done.

Hands-on

I got a lot out of Rick’s sections on outdoor and indoor photography—here there were more concrete techniques and proven approaches to getting the perfect shot. There were also some of that much-desired detailed content on topics such as reflectors, flash, handling cameras’ exposure settings, lighting kits and more. There is a little section called “Practice Makes Perfect” that you’ll find on pages 184–186, that is a great little tutorial about using flash units to achieve great portrait lighting. It walks the reader through a few different setups and also shows what poor lighting can do. This is the kind of thing the book lacks, and unfortunately “Practice Makes Perfect” is the only multi-page tutorial of its kind in the book, though some Photoshop tutorials can be found near the end of the book. The Photoshop tutorials covers a few different fundamental photograph techniques such as converting to black and white, coloring gray photos and retouching blemishes.

Conclusion

Face to Face has its niche and it does a good job of covering it. If you’ve seen Rick in the past at workshops or online, or have read his material in the past and got a lot out of it, then this book will not disappoint you. If you have a hard time photographing people or feel jittery asking people for their photo, then this book may help put you at ease and improve your people photos. But compared to other books on digital photography, I was disappointed by the relative lack of text and nuts-and-bolts techniques and skills, and I think there are better books out there for some topics. Fortunately, Face to Face is about people and in that regard it provides some unique content.

Face to Face: Rick Sammon’s Complete Guide to Photographing People
Rick Sammon
Rating: 7/10
Published by O’Reilly
US $34.99