Macro Photography Workshop

The stars have aligned somewhat perfectly in the photo world recently in terms of workshops. While Anne and I aren’t really photo workshop junkies by any stretch of the imagination, we’ve been to 3 in roughly the past month. Two weeks ago, Rick Sammon was in town and we managed to grab free tickets to see him talk. OK, it wasn’t really a workshop, more of a lecture.

Today, we were lucky to be able to secure access to a workshop Charles Needle was giving on macro photography for the day. We’ve seen a lecture from Charles before, about 8 months ago. Charles works primarily in garden style macro photography and often his photographs involve the rich colors of flowers combined with an artistic style that Anne and I both have interest in. Given that macro photography is new to both Anne and me so it’s a natural new area for growth. Combined with the new macro lens I gave Anne for Christmas, it was a perfect chance to learn more about seeing in new ways.

The class had a short lecture in the morning but was primarily dedicated to shooting. Students were highly encouraged to bring macro lenses and tripods. Stations were set up around the room, and Charles brought what must have been a literal truckload of props ranging from live flowers to cut glass and stands. We all fanned out to stations and quickly lost ourselves trying to see in new ways, using the props to create new realities for the camera to capture.
This style of shooting was all new to me. When you look at the work Charles has put together, you can see the strong sense of complementary colors he chooses to help highlight his subjects. Since Anne and I shoot primarily in natural landscapes, I felt somewhat out of my depth needing to create my surroundings and having creating control over the subject, background, colors and textures my images would include.

There were several techniques that both of us experimented with that we’d really wanted to try for a while…

The Orton Effect

This is an effect where by taking one image in focus and stacking it with another that’s slightly out of focus, you can create a slight halo or softness to the image. I was able to do this in camera, using the image stacking feature to achieve a nice halo. It took some practice to try and realize the right amount of softness in the focus as well as the correct depth of field, but I was happy with my results.



Water Drops

Anne was able to spend time perfecting taking photos of water drops. Images like these are often seen on the internet, and they are especially captivating because of the way they render small portals to the subject. While it looks easy, it’s certainly an art to line up the water drops in a way that not only leads the eyes through the image, but in making sure they are large enough to adequately render the subject below them.


(photo by Anne Archambault)


Charles isn’t afraid to use sheets of glass to add creative effects to his images. Anne and I set up panes of glass to help capture otherwise normal subjects in new ways. This also provided an opportunity to creatively use flash photography techniques as well.



(photo by Anne Archambault)

Shallow Depth of Field

This is a classic but it’s always fun to use a super shallow depth of field to play with the reality of the subject being photographed.


In all, it was a great day of creative growth. Anne and I both learned some new techniques to try and I think we both came away with an increased desire to spend more time working in the macro world.

Eyes Wide Open

Anne and I did a workshop with Eddie Soloway recently at the Pacific Northwest Art School. The school is located in beautiful Coupeville on Whidbey Island and hosts some pretty famous photographers such as Sam Abell. Eddie’s workshop was all about learning to see the world in front of you, opening your eyes to reflections, new angles, color, and patterns. Having never taken a workshop before, I was really impressed with the balance struck between the range of skills in the room and the topics covered in the short two days we had.

Primarily, the workshop was mostly lecture format, with two shooting assignments that helped reinforce the concepts discussed. We spent the majority of the first day covering the core material through a combination of simple exercises, slides, and lecture. This culminated in the first nights assignment, “Find your Mt. Fuji.”


For those not familiar, this refers to a series of 36 prints done of Mt Fuji by Katsushika Hokusai (Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji). In each, Mt. Fuji is depicted in a completely different scene illustrating the variance you can achieve even when you pick a single subject. For me, my Mt. Fuji was leaves (and I suppose some petals). It was a pretty simple topic, but I quickly found myself pushing normal boundaries by playing with focus and composition in ways that I’d never really tried before.


Quite literally, I spent 30 minutes focused on the branch of a particular tree, looking up at the sky and framing my images more carefully. Most of the time I was in manual focus, which allowed me to roll the focus in an out to help me see abstractions that I wouldn’t normally have bothered with. Anne and I closed out shooting around dusk, and hurried back towards Coupeville to grab dinner.


Next day, we spent the majority of the morning walking over 6 images each from the previous evening’s assignment in a critique session and moved to lunch with another assignment. This time, each of us was given a short phrase that we needed to interpret via photography. Mine had to do with the abstraction reminding me of Japanese print and Anne had something to do with reflections. The point was rather simple, and Eddie did a good job referring to it in his lectures the day before. By looking at other forms of art, both written and visual, you can help illuminate feelings that can turn into new creative ideas.


Anne and I ran around Coupeville, both working to try and find something that would help to illustrate the concept we’d been given. We didn’t have a lot of time, and we needed to cram lunch in too, which made the whole thing harder than it should have been. Plus, the Victoria Clipper was in town, cramming all the local eateries full of people.


Eddie closed out the day talking about some other topics of interest around the room, including how best to put together portfolios and another round robin of work that people had on their own web sites and such.

All up, it was a great workshop that helped me expand just a little past where I normally find comfort. And that’s really the point. If you live around Seattle, you should really check out the classes at the Pacific Northwest Arts School. It’s close by and they do manage to bring in some good talent!


Snowy Owls

Today we took a short trip to Vancouver to see, and take pictures of, the recent influx of snowy owls. The story was covered in the Seattle Times, and after checking the weather forecast and double checking the location of the local sightings, we were on our way.


Our destination was Boundary Bay, just south of Vancouver and the hub of the most sightings. We got an early start, caffeinated up in Marysville, and made good time to the border (yes Mr. Border Security man, we’re here to shoot the owls…). Despite the weather reports optimistic forecast of 30% rain, we found ourselves driving in minor precipitation most of the way to Delta. We almost went directly to Vancouver to grab lunch (figuring we’d come back later in the day, meet a friend and take pictures of the owls in better conditions) but made a last minute decision to stop by Boundary Bay and assess the situation.

The area around Boundary Bay is incredible for the density of birds and is, by any measure, a birder’s dream. There were easily 20 bald eagles in the short couple miles from the highway to the bay, and countless waterfowl swirled around the car and meandered around adjacent fields. We donned our packs in a light mist and walked to the gravel path that runs the length of the bay.

There, not even 100 yards from the car, we got our first look at the owls. There must have been 25 or 30 scattered along the driftwood piles, some no further away from the gravel path than 30 feet. It was incredible.


As an exploratory mission, we only intended to stay 20 minutes. We quickly made some images, waiting each time for the owls to look at us with their piercing yellow eyes. Almost as soon as we arrived, the weather started to deteriorate and soon we were defending our gear from real rain. We decided to pack up, head to lunch, and come back afterwards.

It was a return that wasn’t meant to be. While we thoroughly enjoyed our lunch of Montreal smoked meat at Siegel’s Bagels the weather continued to deteriorate. Not only was it raining harder but it was also darker, rendering photography difficult if not impossible.

In the end we came directly home. We were both inspired by what we saw, and excited to visit again (with longer lenses)!