Fine Arts Photography Workshop
My Christmas present in 1998 from son Matthew was a Photographic
Composition Workshop. The two of us traveled about an hour and a half
from our home to Del Mar, California. The workshop was scheduled from
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and was to be limited to 8 participants. Matthew
and I are both on Michael's mailing list and we had signed up for the
workshop online. Michael, and wife Valerie have a Gallery in the Del
Mar Plaza where we'd seen his work on each previous trip to our
timeshare in nearby Wave Crest in Del Mar. I had purchased the
following signed notecard from the gallery and later, while attending
the Del Mar Fair, saw that Michael had won "Best of Show" with the
We met the other participants: Bonnie, a physician in Oceanside
who had recently been on a life-dream's wild animal safari to Africa,
Mark, Frank, Matthew and me. We walked to the Del Mar Plaza from the
gallery which is now across the street south of the plaza. We
positioned ourselves in the table and chairs on the plaza,
overlooking the Pacific. It was shirtsleeve weather and sunny.
Michael took about an hour telling us about his background in
photography, an art-photography major in college, and journalism
major in San Diego State. He originated the idea of prepaid
sponsorships for photos he would take on trips to such places and
China, Iceland, and Hawaii. He gets 12 sponsors who pay him $1,200
for a 24 by 30 picture, $1,600 for a 30 x 40, or $2,400 for a 40 x
50. He gives the sponsors their pick of 25 pictures a year after the
We eventually were asked to tell a little about ourselves and our
photo education background.
About 11:15 we started the Composition Rules:
- Don't put the significant subject in the middle of the
photograph. It becomes static and doesn't keep the viewer's eye in
the photo, but rather let's it escape rather than traveling around
within the photo's borders.
- Correct placement is either the 'Rule of Thirds' where you
mark off the frame into 3 vertical equal portions, then 3 equal
horizontal portions, and place the main point of interest at one
of the 4 resulting intersection points. This places the subject
not just off center anywhere and not on the edge.
- He always uses the tripod for each shot, and takes only one
shot a day. This may be a number of exposures, but only one
subject and resulting setup is done each day on a trip. The tripod
makes him slow down and think about composition since it takes
about a half-hour to set up. He checks all corners. He is a
Christian and said a common prayer is, "Lord help me see the great
shot among all the good ones."
- Since the camera sees in 2-D rather than 3-D, he suggests
closing one eye when viewing a scene. Then look for 'mergers'
which can kill a shot. Mergers may be 'line mergers' when
horizontal lines in the foreground blend with lines the background
killing depth in a shot. Without a zoom, use your hands to check
which lens to use, making the traditional rectangle or square with
your forefinger and thumb and view through. He uses 35mm for quick
shots and for checking scenes for making a picture with his
Hasselblad setup later.
- Exposure. He never takes a shot with a shutter speed of less
than 1 second and they may be up to 1 minute.. To get this slow
shutter speed, he shoots 160 speed film rated at 100 sec. or 400
film rated at 200. He often does hand dodging in front of the
camera while exposing. He usually shoots his Hasselblad at r/32 or
f/45 and his 35mm at f/22 for sharpness which he likes. It only
takes a 1/60 shot to make water look foggy, misty.
- He warns to watch for 'tension points' such as a petal on a
flower touching the edge of the frame, a lamp post touching the
edge of the frame...shoot wider than you want the picture to
finally be. He has, however used tension points on purpose when he
shot Santa Barbara oil rigs and used San Diego beach names on them
to promote drilling moratorium off San Diego.
- Depth of field will be great in these long, closed down
exposures. He says, when shooting people or animals, always have
the eye sharp. Get low to crop out bad middle ground. Vignett the
corners (burn) to stay focused on the subject.
- Design a circular photo to keep the eye in the photo.
- Horizontal shots give a feeling of completeness and
relaxation. Vertical shots give a feeling of movement and tension.
- His thoughts, therefore, when he is arranging a photo are
always on: Line, Light, Form, and Center of Interest.
We had been told to bring 6 photos each and as we had lunch
together, we looked at our photos and cropped them to better apply
the points he had mentioned.
Photos by Matthew:
Michael liked this photo Matthew had recently taken at
Thanksgiving while in Victoria, Canada, with Sue.
His suggested cropping resulted in the following photo:
Michael particularly liked Matthew's shot of peppers taken on the
He turned the photo (he says he even prints photos backwards
sometimes) and croped it as this:
Notice how the eye circles within the photo checking the
yellow elements for a few passes.
The first picture I brought out was one of Cattle Point, San Juan
Island, Washington, which I had taken at dusk in August, 1997:
A lot of my friends like this picture, but usually for
it's rich colors...gold and navy blue. No croping suggestions were
given and he felt the center of interest was thebeach along the right
edge of the photo.
When it was my turn again to pull out a picture to be judged, I
showed this and got a 'very good' from Michael:
Again, no cropping suggestions, but a positive comment
about the boat on the right. Friends and family will remember this as
one of my 6 notecards in the '96 collection.
We had taken the following photos with us to show but never got to
them. I offer suggestions as to cropping here for your approval or
further cropping suggestions:
Matthew and I had read in Michael's bio. that his favorite
time to photograph is dawn or soon thereafter, and dusk. Perhaps he
would have liked this photo, therefore. Michael also prefers cloudy
weather...even rain, to sunshine.
Because I have a zoom lense on my Minolta all the time with Michael's
requisite polorizing filter, I usually crop the picture in my view
finder as I take it. This must be why I have a little trouble croping
my resulting prints. What do you think?
Sometimes, when I take a shot, I know what I want to use the shot
for. In the following two shots taken on San Juan Island, Washington,
near Roche Harbor, I envisioned the resulting photos being used as
Do you think cropping helped any of these two?
Something Matthew had already done here, and Michael
mentioned doing when necessary, was to tilt the camera to keep lines
from creating tension.
I think cropping doesn't improve it, do you?
Matthew's other photos included these:
I do, however, feel cropping helped here in a photo taken between
Sequoia and Visalia on a cloudy, rainy day:
As well as here:
I'm sure by now you'd like to see Michael's photos.
Simply click his site to see some great art-photography.