Pt. Lobos State Reserve. 2011. Email to order a print. See the Pt. Lobos Workshop April 28-30, 2012
Welcome to the April 2012 Edition of the Stephen Johnson Photography Newsletter.
I've been working on some video editing projects in Photoshop CS6's new video editor, and now that I can talk about it in public and post some results it has been fun. Trying to stay casual about the videos, just using the iPhone and capturing a bit of the spirit of the interactions around the studio...
This month's Newsletter's View From Here column discusses photographic aspirations and challenges in Our Eyes, Our Hearts, Our Photographs, references the Sierra Club Exhibit Format book series and Photoshop CS6 Video and RAW Features. We hope you enjoy reading it and perhaps will send us some comments. Our Tutorial this month goes through some issues on Black and White Digital Printing.
For those of you in the greater Boston area, Steve will be lecturing in Plymouth at The Fine Art of Photography Event on Thursday April 12 at 7pm.
The next session of our Evening Critique Program is coming up in a few weeks Thursday April 19 at 7pm. If you can't be there in person, let us know if you want to register and participate virtually. We are working on alternative times in future programs for time zone differences around the world.
We have three great coastal workshops coming up this spring with the Pt. Reyes National Seashore starting the triad this month April 21-23. It is a wonderful mixture of vistas, beaches, cliffs and coastal forests. The classic California scenes that figured heavily in Edward Weston and Ansel Adams work is featured in our Pt. Lobos Carmel workshop April 28-30. This workshop features gallery visits and a special visit to longtime Carmel photographer and educator Al Weber. A roving workshop, in and out of our Pacifica studio and along the beautiful San Mateo Coast is the setting for our California's Highway One San Francisco South. Check them out!
Our next Fine Art Printing Hands-on class is May 5-8, 2012. We hope you can join us for these four intensive days of hands on printing. There are only a few of the 10% discounted seats left.
As part of our ongoing commitment to photographic education, there is one student scholarship spot in each of these classes. Please pass the word along.
The Summer Digital Bootcamp, From RAW to Print is now on the schedule for July 16-21, 2012 with an early enrollment $200 discount for the first 4 students.
The individual opportunity to study printing with Steve this summer has been added with our very intensive The Fine Print: A Week of Advanced Hands-on Printing Work with Steve July 23-27, 2012.
For discounted time studying with Steve, keep in mind our Mentoring Program announced last fall.
Our busy schedules and limited budgets often keep us from destination workshops or classes, but many of you still have questions you need answered, or need feedback on some new work. We want to remind you of our Virtual Online Consulting Program. This service allows all of you out there around the globe to consult online live with Steve on technical, aesthetic and workflow issues using Skype and your webcam.
Our Essays and Tutorials from the past couple of years can now be found on Google Blogger with thanks to the work of Alex Dziesinski and Sara Johnson.
We hope you can come by the gallery and see the Exquisite Earth exhibition, its accompanying very special Exquisite Earth Portfolio 1, join us on a workshop, rent lab space, or just say hello and let us know what you are up to photographically and what you might like to see us offer.
FEATURED PRINT April 2012
stormy day so many years ago as I was first getting acquainted with the wonder of Pt Lobos
playing with the PhaseOne Anchromatic+ medium format back, 5400x7200 pixels full resolution black and white back.
THE VIEW FROM HERE
Our Eyes, Our Hearts, Our Photographs
We photograph because we see something of beauty, irony, human emotion, and countless other specific scenes of wonder and curiosity. Our eyes take in the visuals, our ears and skin various levels of ambiance, and we pull camera to eye and try to hold an impression of the light.
We often want to imbue the photograph with far more than was literally, visually there, and that is not surprising as human aspirations know few limits. We also want the recorded image to capture not just the moment and the electro-optical capabilities we set in the camera, but also we want our memories held. Those memories are assembled from the many moments spent looking around, taking in the scene and stimulating our desire to hold it in some way.
There are a number of challenges along the way to this idea of bearing witness to what we see. Many of them are not specific photographic challenges, but tied deeper to all sorts of reasons we want to remember and share. Breaking some of those issues down a bit seemed worth a bit of effort for the essay this month.
For most of us, some level of beauty perceived and beauty rendered is at the core. Sometimes this is also the strange context of the word beauty as in something disturbing held and rendered with high craft and perception.
Whether color nuances or a myriad of other technical issues, and for all its pleasure, photography ties aspiration to product, experience to fixed rendition.
One challenge we face as photographers in love with the beauty of the natural world, is the depth and purity of a real world color. Seen color is often very different indeed from the photographic rendering. As unbelievable as the glacial blue I've managed to capture in some of my photographs, it pales in comparison to the real world experience of seeing that ice in reality.
There are many reasons for color misinterpretation, light sources and real-world nuance are some, the capacity of the cameras to hold the real light and color another.
Some color issues relate to the camera design, and its ability to process the color correctly. The silicon sensors in digital cameras are very sensitive to infrared, some IR cutoff filters on cameras are particularly aggressive and can render near IR visible color incorrectly, as in purple flowers being rendered cyanish blue. Other errors can be introduced with the JPG processing assumptions on-board. This needs to be noticed and corrected by editing the jpeg or watched through the RAW interpretation process to make sure the color is interpreted properly.
I always carry my Gray Caps, and my ColorChecker Passport so that I can photograph known colors, in the light that I am working in, with the same lens and exposure, to give me a reference point to process the color in the RAW file. This might be a simple white point adjustment by neutralizing the gray to identical RGB values, to making a new custom profile with the ColorChecker Passport software.
A Photoshop CS6 Video Edit of some color misrendering of purple flowers in Golden Gate Park. San Francisco. 2012.
There are other issues less related to photography and more to the totality of the experience, our being there, the smell, the being outdoors, the taste of the air, the exhilaration of being in the world, none of which is directly able to be photographed. It is an ambitious goal, meant for something far more than light capturing devices.
Memory and a Single Light Capture
We also have the element of our memory of the experience accumulating over a period of time, not a slice of a second of a camera's shutter. I call this experience the concatenation of memory. Photographically we end up wanting a single moment's image, based only on light to hold a stream of experience that we lived. Even without overtly thinking of motion or time passing that might suggest video, we assemble a mental image of memory from all of our glances around the scene, exploring the photographic possibilities, and want to hold them.
Memories of a place, even a specific scene, are built-up from dozens of glances. Our eyes refocusing, iris opening and closings, detail being noticed and mentally zoomed in upon, all of which ask the resulting photographs to encode these very diverse and wondrous memories into a single, two dimensional light-based captured moment. It is daunting.
Depth of Focus
For me, this dilemma suggests a number of approaches. One of which is to try to render the scene as much in focus as possible. I've never been a fan of selective focus. No matter what I glance at in the real world, it snaps into focus because that is how our eyes work. We focus on where we are looking. My own values regarding focus are much more closely linked with the heritage of Group f64. So my agenda is to always pay sufficient attention to discovering the ideal focus point and aperture to achieve the depth of field the image needs. As I've discussed elsewhere, this is rarely solved by just stopping down the lens and hoping, but rather through careful calculation and evaluation.
Shadows and highlights in the same photograph can sometimes look very strange in the rendered file. Your up front experience was able to experience both, remember both, but then you have to deal with overly blue or overly warm renditions of a whole. There are times when the rendered scene demands modifying one or the other to match your dominant memory or what you now judge to look realistic. As neither is completely wrong or right, this is a fascinating dilemma. Sometimes easing off on both extremes of color adjustment to find a middle ground can work. Most often the scene is balanced for the brightest light, and any out of the ordinary overly blue shadows can be de-saturated a bit if their realism becomes a question.
Implication and Hope
In order for photography to be a means of communication, the subject matter must be light, by definition. It is amazing how often we expect an image to convey our feelings, perhaps because we felt something so strongly at the time we made the photograph. And that meaning may always be re-conveyed to us as our memories are triggered. With an audience, it can be much trickier. As the language of the medium is light, and we often hope for word based ideas to come through, we often ask of the medium qualities it is simply not capable of carrying.
There are some images though, so unique in the power of their human appeal of emotion, with very strong visceral reactions, that can generate all sorts of responses. They may not be specific ideas, but deep emotion does seem to be at the heart of our photographic medium's capabilities.
I frequently tell students you can't photograph ideas, but you can capture emotion. Words and meanings like nostalgia are elusive, and that you cannot depend upon your words being in the photograph you make. On the other hand, photography is such a remarkable and challenging medium that you can record things that are not even literally there by most reality standards, like a shadow.
We hope to communicate with our photographs, but that is often through implication and allusion, rather than literal meaning, even while we may hope for far more. That hope can be limiting though, our own intent may contain less than someone else might take from and bring to it, even as the image may contain less literal meaning than we may hope for. It is curious.
One of the attributes of most visual art is the ability to make something visually strong, but simultaneously somewhat ambiguous, giving the viewer a wide range of possible emotional reactions. This can sometimes take our own creations into realms we never imagined. This might be the best of all worlds.
Sierra Club Exhibit-Format Series Photography Books
Browsing a used bookstore in Half Moon Bay, I came across one of the exhibit-format series books David Brower put together for the Sierra Club in the 1960s. This one, the 9th in the series, the 1964 "The Sierra Nevada Gentle Wilderness," was a first edition for $20. I've got too many books, but I bought it after a moment of thought and my friendship with Dave, a few people on the Club's Publishing Committee such as Ansel Adams and Martin Litton. Martin was still flying when I last saw him a couple of years ago, then about 85. He started wooden dory trips down the Colorado River in the 1970s, and I was lucky enough to be invited along on one of the last trips in 1989.
These books were deeply influential on the environmental movement, photography's role in conversation and my own commitment to the natural landscapes of the earth.
Shortly thereafter "In Wildness is the Preservation of the World" appeared featuring the work of Eliot Porter. It was a remarkable call for the preservation of the natural world.
I remember a time in the early 1980s at Friends of the Earth, Dave Brower showed me the original 3-ring binder containing Eliot's book proposal, with prints in sleeves and typed captions. I don't remember clearly how much text was in the binder, but I felt privileged to see and hold what I considered to be a treasure.
My friend Dave Bohn continued on with the 9th. installment of exhibit-format series in 1967 with the book "Glacier Bay: The Land and the Silence." It was a major influence on me years later. In 1979, I was introduced to Dave Brower who offered to help me with my "At Mono Lake" project through which we became friends. Dave Bohn also helped with the book, contributing a commentary, some photographs and some organizational finesse. A world started to open up for me that circled right back to some of the people who opened up my eyes to the power of photography to inspire people to save natural places.
Do you know these books? Which influenced you and how? Let us know.
Photoshop CS6: Better RAW and Video
With the release of the Photoshop CS6 Beta I can now talk about what I believe to be some of the significant new features.
Aggressive use of Recovery and Fill in the past could produce an unusable banding between the extreme values held and the rest of the image. These new controls seem to give much more flexibility and not produce the banding, which is a major step forward for the program.
Since this is very close to what I've been asking for for some time, I am very pleased with the progress. Although Eric Chan already no doubt had a good idea where he was going with this part of the RAW Processing engine, it does make me feel great that the result is almost a mirror of what he and I talked about at a party in New York next to a big picture window at sunset overlooking lower Manhattan in 2010. Thanks Eric. And of course, as always a special thanks to Thomas Knoll and Zalman Stern.
The View Out the Window NYC, RAW and Dynamic Range Discussion. iphone photos. 2010.
This doesn't eliminate the need for HDR exposures in some cases, but if the scene can be captured by the camera, it is now much easier to render out extremes of contrast into a smooth and human rendition.
A few things I would like you to keep in mind...
Catch Steve Live: Steve will be speaking here and there around the country over the next few months, April in MA, June in NY, late June in Maine, early August in MI.
Digital Black and White: Part 2
(excerpt from the book Stephen Johnson on Digital Photography unreleased revised electronic version)
I am enthralled with Iceland. It is one of the most beautiful places I've been and I feel a deep pull to continue to explore and share this place. This is a new trip customized for my photographic interests and curiosities, dedicated to a wonderful and deep photographic experience.
Beautiful posters from Steve's National Parks work.
National Park Color Notecard Set
From "With a New Eye" Beautiful 300 line screen offset reproductions with envelopes in clear box. A great gift.
PLEASE VISIT US!
Please come visit us at our gallery and see our original prints in person. The subtle detail of the prints and the beautiful texture of the fine art paper have to be seen to be understood. And while you're here, browse through our books, cards, posters, and specially priced prints.
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Stephen Johnson Photography at the Pacifica Center for the Arts
1220-C Linda Mar Boulevard, Creekside Suites, 5-7
Pacifica, CA 94044
Pacifica Center for the Arts from Linda Mar Boulevard
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