Lemaire Channel at Dusk. Anatractica. 2015. Canon 5DSr. Click to order a print. Next Field Workshop Death Valley January 23-26, 2016.
Welcome to the January 2016 Edition of the Stephen Johnson Photography Newsletter.
This month's View From Here column travels with me to Antarctica and back. We hope you find the column interesting and will consider sending us some comments. Our Tutorial Section works through my color management in the field process.
Steve in daily group discussion with his December Image Editing Workshop.
Scholarships and Mentoring
As part of our ongoing commitment to photographic education, there is one student scholarship spot in many of our classes. Please pass the word along.
For discounted time studying with Steve, keep in mind our Mentoring Program.
With all of our busy schedules and limited budgets, destination workshops or classes become a challenge, but many of you still have questions you need answered, or 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.
We hope you can come by the gallery and see the new Panoramic Prints we've added to the National Parks Gallery, and the Exquisite Earth exhibition with its accompanying very special Exquisite Earth Portfolio 1. We invite you to 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. We value your input.
FEATURED PRINT January 2016
11x13 Pigment Inkjet Print on Cotton paper
These seals were sleeping on a small sheet of ice and barely noticed us in our quieted Zodiac. Their warm colored fur was such a color contrast with the blue all around it was almost a surprise. Ultimately it was the rise up to look around by one of the seals that made me expose a number of frames and later drew me to this photograph. Despite their name, they don't eat crabs.
Every trip to Antarctica brings me into an intense exploration of ice as abstraction. There is a challenging task of sorting out the best of the bergs from the trip. This berg and its icicles stood out in my memory–floating silently by in a drifting Zodiac. The click of my shutter rapid-firing was the only sound as the wonder of the form rotated through my frame. The vision stayed in my mind.
by Stephen Johnson
On my flight home from my 2015 Antarctica Journey. Miami 1/2/16.
I feel privileged.
It is remarkable to be alive and breathe this air, feel the sun, and be given life by this thin veil of biosphere hugging our earth. It is a wonderful gift this turn at life has given me, the will to live fully, whatever intellect I posses to make it happen, and the heart to care. So many who are just as capable as me never get to see what I've just experienced, yet another journey to the white world of Antarctica!!
Now, on my way home, many of the sights, now again so far away, are hovering in my consciousness, filling it actively, filling it with visions of endless white, rock and upheaval. Word-based descriptions fail to describe this land, even the light-based photographs fail to replicate the visual experience of being there.
In our narrow world, the Antarctic Peninsula looks topped by icing or whipped cream on almost black chocolate rock. But these quaint civilized human parallels are small and hugely insufficient. These mountains, cliffs and glaciers are beyond our normal experience, beyond metaphors, beyond words.
Leaving Palmer Station. Antarctica. 2015.
The ice is hard, cold, despite the flows–the freezing ice overwhelmed only by its own weight and the steep towering topography–the land itself and the force of gravity pulling all downward–flowing across valleys–tumbling into the sea–stretching the ice to the edge of cliff-side precipice till it snaps, breaking, fracturing, avalanching across these mountains of the Antarctic Range.
The evidence I see is of dynamism in surround. Other than the occasional landslide or calving, it is literally static, while simultaneously shouting massive forces in movement on a huge, yet ambiguous scale. How can ice flow and fold? Rivers of ice seem impossible, but here they are everywhere.
Sudden Ice Fall. Neko Harbor. Antarctica. 2015.
In the air over the Gulf of Mexico....
Now, here on my journey home, I am connecting my way back to San Francisco through five airports. The route seemed much worse than it has turned out to be. I slept from Buenos Aires to Miami, almost a full night, not being tempted by a dark landscape I couldn't see. The nighttime flight was a shame though, considering the route over Brazil and up through Cuba. I did get a glimpse of a dawning Jamaica with dim lights all across the island, and a bit of Cuba, mostly dark.
The many flight connections to get home had me a bit down. But there is so much in my head that it almost doesn't matter. Sometimes it isn't where I am physically that matters, but where my mind is and is not. Here I am in the real skies above the Gulf of Mexico, but still floating through the last two weeks in the frozen white world, trying to get my head around what I saw, where I was, and the huge distance crossed to get there.
It is a lot to sort out. Not to mention the photographs, all 6500 of them, all 450gb.
Mileage Sign. Palmer Station. Antarctica. 2015.
In Antarctica, you are very far away from most everything you know. This sign at the American research facility Palmer Station underscored that. Interestingly, because of the marine biology research going on there, one of the arrow points on the map is Moss Landing in Monterey Bay, only a hundred miles from my home in Pacifica, where the University of California has it's Marine Biology Program.
Tower. Neptune's Bellows. Deception Island. Antarctica. 2015
Our first view on this trip was a very wintery snow storm on Deception Island. The entry to the old caldera is a narrow channel that could easily have turned the ship away, and did cause pause.
At our landing, we got a taste of what this place could be like, right off the bat. As it turned out, it was the worst weather of the trip. In fact, we marveled at how calm the Drake Passage had been. A few days later, our sunny Christmas Day was stunning, almost crystalline in its sharp clarity.
Wild Clouds over Bergs. Antarctica. 2015.
The clouds along the way often rose to the beauty of the land below. More than once I saw lenticular clouds forming above the ice covered mountains. I love lenticular clouds, they hover over steep elevation changes like lenses focus our attention. I first saw them over the eastern Sierra at Mono Lake.
Looking Back on Departure. Antarctica. 2015.
Many times, along the way, nagging questions were not far from my mind. These were not new questions, but revisited as they have been on every trip. What was my carbon-footprint to get down here? How can I help this place survive as wilderness? No doubt like many of you, I am always looking for ways of making a difference. Unfortunately, Antarctica may turn out to be a natural resource exploitation bonanza, way beyond the power of the current treaty protecting it to be renewed or respected.
One of the wonders of every visit I've made to Antarctica is seeing Humpback Whales. This time we were treated to seeing the result of the bubble net feeding, where they circle underwater blowing bubbles in a reducing spiral, driving krill into the center of their circle. The humpbacks then swim upward with their giant mouths open, hitting the surface together, mouths closing and their baleen filtering out the krill from the salt water.
From our vantage point on the water, there were suddenly whales popping from the water together, tongues and baleen in view. It was amazing and very hard to photograph, particularly in the snow. My auto-focus kept trying to focus on the snow rather then the whales.
Our past relationship to whales in Antarctica is not pretty. A visit to the Whaling Station at Deception Island is a stark reminder of that history. Writing from the period describes a bay filled with blood, the stench of rotting flesh and the massive carnage. According to one history, in 1912, 10,760 whales were killed in the Antarctic waters.
Of course, most nations now revere these marine mammals and they are not a small part of the allure of any Antarctica trip. Seeing the bubble netting a few days after visiting the decaying Whaling Station, was an emotional leap filled with such deep regret as to what our species has done, the progress we've made, and haven't made. Some nations still hunt and kill whales, Japan, Iceland and Norway.
With the whale stories always looming large after a visit to Deception Island, I must say the life and joy in seeing flocks of seemingly flying penguins in the water take my heart in an entirely different direction. The penguins are a life wonder of this ice world.
Adelie Penguin and Chick. Petermann Island. Antarctica. 2015.
Watching Penguins is endlessly fascinating. They seem improbably adapted for land, evolving mostly for flying through water. But they are amazingly agile and well balanced, able to leap up rocky cliffs and iceberg edges while still able to almost fly through and over water in flocks dolphin-like fancy.
Steve and Icebergs. Antarctica. 2015.
I couldn't resist going out on deck every chance I got. The weather was often cold, and sometimes very windy, but the view, in all light, was something I couldn't resist. I often went up casually, and then quickly turned to go back below for my camera. Eventually I just kept the camera with me, sometimes even at meals. The parade of wonder required the camera nearby.
Dawn. Palmer Station. Antarctica. 2015.
Sunset and dawn deliciously take forever, and the long lingering transitional light can be glorious. Just past the summer solstice near Palmer Station, sunset and sunrise lasted more than two hours each. This icy land can bring whole new meaning to golden light. That is, when the weather allows the rising and falling of the sun to be seen at all.
The companionship of my friends and assistants David Gardner and Reid Elem were an important part of the journey for me. This may have been my fourth time down, but I did have to keep pinching myself to believe I was back, and being able to keep saying to Reid and Dave "unbelievable" somehow made it even more real.
Recently at SJ Photo
The new 2016 Pacifica Calendar shipped and seems to have provided a few Christmas presents.
You can order the calendar online.
Our One on One Program links you up with Steve at his bay area studio, or when he is on the road near you. Keep an eye on when Steve will be near your town.
Catch Steve Live: Steve will be speaking here and there over the next few months.
Canon Sponsors Steve to speak at Universities, Colleges, Photo Groups and various events around the country. If you would like more information on arranging for Steve to do a Canon sponsored event, go to: Canon SJ EOL talk
Steve Lecturing at Photo Plus. New York City. October 2014.
People often want to take workshops and the dates just don't match up with their schedules. Sometimes they watch the newsletter and webpage for years for their interest, free time and the workshop to all coincide. We've decided to be proactive in creating a forum for potential students to tell us what you need and when you can take a class. Please email us with workshop ideas and suggestions.
More formally, we are experimenting with a workshop poll to determine when interested people can make particular workshops they really want to take.
Currently we have up a few workshops to experiment:
On my recent trip to Antarctica, I passed out X-rite Color-Checker cards and explained how I handle color management in the field. It seemed appropriate to share what I had to say.
Basically, for field photography color matching, this is my procedure and evaluation process:
Photograph the Color Checker card in the same light as the photograph. Re-photograph it frequently during the day as the light changes. I usually let the camera take a guess at the ambient color temperature with Auto White Balance. I have not found an advantage to setting a custom white point in the camera except for video.
Offload and review the default color rendering coming in from however you have the camera set. That will be the "As Shot" color coming in with the raw file.
Where the color obviously seems incorrect, I call up my ColorChecker photo and open both my photo and the card photo simultaneously in Camera Raw. Using the White Balance tool click on the the white or lightest gray of the tone patches to apply the neutrality of the patch to the photograph. I will often click through the patches, "white balancing" as I move down from light to dark and look at RGB value differences when balanced. Often I find the middle values more consistent, which makes me conclude there is more linearity in the camera profile's color mapping there and will then use one of those values to balance. I do avoid the darker shadow values because of the noise that is always part of those signals. This often leads to using one of the two middle gray patches on the card as my white balance source.
That process can sometimes yield an instantly splendid result. It can also make a scene spectrally neutral and not at all what you remember.
Keep in mind, your eyes and brain are constantly in a state of color balance adaptation to your environment. If the scene is very blue, you will start to involuntarily adjust your interpretation of the signals from your eyes and try and subtract out that excessive blue. But you will only take that adjustment so far, as the blue ambient light can easily remain part of your memory. Your memory of the color may require adding some blue back into the Temperature to back off of an overly warm neutral.
As I believe in chasing my human experience of the scenes, that partial adaptation is what I really want to chase. Yes, I did say that, I want my photography to be faithful to what I saw, not just attempt spectral matching.
That result can often require use of the Color Checker to achieve that spectral match, but then, relying on your human memory to fine tune the photograph into a better interpretation of what you actually experienced.
This requires you to offload and examine your files close in time and with fresh memory of your experience. If being faithful is your goal, it can also require resisting the sometimes weird and possibly seductive misinterpretations the camera and raw processor can mis-create.
Of course, there are strange combinations of color that will not look right with a single point neutral white point. Some situations create a deeper mis-rendering of color from the Camera Profile that Adobe or others may make as your starting point in their Raw Processors like Camera Raw or Lightroom. That's where the software that comes with the Color Checker Passport can come in very handy. It can make a new "camera profile" for your camera based on the card, the scene lighting, and your lens.
The result will still need to be white balanced and possibly adjusted for your color adaptation at the time you made the photograph, but it can help.
Posing with Color Checker.
Gift Certificates for Prints and Workshops!
Life Form Note cards
12 image Note card set with envelopes featuring photographs from Steve's new Life Form work.
Printed by Steve in his studio in very limited numbers on a color laser digital press
National Park Note cards
National Park Color Note card Set
From "With a New Eye" Beautiful 300 line screen offset reproductions with envelopes in clear box. A great gift.
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