white sands

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico. 2010. For a landscape workshop with Steve, check out Maine Media Workshops Landscape Class. Canon 1Ds Mark III.


Welcome to the June 2010 Edition of the Stephen Johnson Photography Newsletter.

In an effort to communicate more regularly without additionally burdening anyone with email, we have started a Facebook fan page and a Twitter feed where we are making an effort to post a new photograph each week and a technique, tutorial or technical feed. Become a fan of Stephen Johnson Photography on Facebook and follow our Tweets on Twitter to broaden or touch up on your digital techniques and see newly posted photographs. You can subscribe to each with the links above to keep up to date with the latest from the studio.

We are also starting a Blog as another alternative that will feature the monthly essay, the new photographs, techniques and other things as they come to mind.

This month's View From Here column Natural Wonders and Photography explores some thoughts in relation to my recent trip to White Sands National Monument. A short discussion of field color balance follows the essay.

June brings our attention back to printing with the Black and White Digital Printing workshop June 12-13. Technology now allows us to make prints of deep beauty in the fine tradition of classical black and white photography. Spend a weekend with us immersed in black and white printing, and come away empowered.

For those of you on the east coast or that want some time in beautiful Maine, don't miss our once a year sojourn to Maine with the Maine Media Workshops where I am doing a Digital Landscape class June 20-26 in a special limited-size, 6-person workshop this June along Maine's Central Coast. This extraordinary high teacher-to-student ratio gives each student extensive one-on-one instruction and attention. Hone your photographic field skills and image processing knowledge in this week-long workshop. The Fine Art Digital Printing course follows the Landscape course June 27-July 3, 2010.

The intensive once a year RAW to Print: Summer Digital Boot Camp is being offered July 12-16. This is an deep plunge into the making, editing and printing of photographs.

Many have asked for a Summer Fine Art Digital Printing course so we have scheduled one for August 21-24. Additionally, we have had numerous requests for shorter classes, particularly those dealing with more introductory material. So in keeping with such requests we are offering a one-day seminar Introduction to Digital Photography on Saturday August 28.

Our Summer Travel Adventure Workshops include our first ever Tuscany Workshop in September. I hope some of you can join us this spring and summer for some of these offerings.

maine class

Maine Media workshops Print Critique. 2008. Diane Cowling Franklin.

Workshop Testimonials

I sincerely appreciate Steve sharing his immense knowledge of the photographic process and his insight on my images. His talent as a photographer is matched by his skills as an instructor and I always felt welcome to ask a question or request help.

I sit through many courses both to meet the requirements of my licensing and for my continuing training.  I am rarely if ever impressed with the quality of the instruction.  That was certainly not the case with this workshop.  I looked forward to every day and to what I was going to learn.  Steve's candor, passion was refreshing and always on point.

-David Fox
from May 2010 Fine Art Printing Workshop

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Black and White Printing Last chance to Register!

Printers Available for Donation!

Intern and Scholarship Programs

Video of Steve's Maine Media Workshops Artist's Lecture. Thanks to Patrick Durante. Needs Apple QuickTime plug-in.

DVD: Matting and Framing

June 2010


Dune Abstract. White Sands New Mexico. 2010.
11x14 Pigment Inkjet Print on Cotton paper
$195 each

A few days of wandering the White Sands dunes in late May produced a huge variety of work, from last light soft-color, to intense sunlight with deep shadows and challenging light. As always on the dunes, the abstractions were irresistible. This one was made with the PhaseOne P65 and seemed a good fit for a silvery black and white print.

We're offering an 11x14 inch print, matted to 16x20 and ready to frame for $195, framed in silver for an additional $75, wood for $150. This print at this price is offered through June 30. We'll be taking orders until then, and shipping them out by July 15th.

About the Program
Each month we offer a signed, original print, at a special price. This is a great opportunity to own a very affordable fine-art photograph. Orders are taken for a 30-day period, then printed and shipped within two weeks after the close. When it's over, it's over, these prints won't be available again at this price.


Natural Wonders, Photography and Perception

I'm just back from a few days at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. I've been there twice before and will likely return many times. I've never planned a trip in the heat, but this was the time of year that presented itself this time.

It did get hot, and the sky was blank, but afternoon breezes kept the dunes in constant reformation. The heat, strong light and deep shadows were challenging, but ultimately revealing. Before sunrise and after sunset were the most magical. But the heat and intense light pulled me to see and hold the visual experiences in some ways that stretched me aesthetically The dynamic range of the Canon and PhaseOne cameras I was carrying helped hold the shadow detail. The wander certainly stimulated some thoughts on the photographic experience, here are a few.

Cottonwoods in Sun, White Sands. 2010.

Got to Wear Shades

My friends along on the trip wore sunglasses most of the time, prompting an occasional conversation on their sunglass view. Sunglasses often make it harder for us to see what we are exploring to photograph. We miss subtlety, expect enhanced more melodramatic views, and are often then tempted to alter our photographs to make them a closer match to the view through their shades, or as the cliché goes, seek a world seen through rose-colored glasses.

Obviously I am sympathetic to anyone with sensitive eyes that benefits from sunglasses, and in today's ozone-depleted atmosphere it may be a good idea in general anyway. But it is hard to notice what the camera can see, and be free of the sunglass view of the world.

Wind on Dune, White Sands. 2010

Color Balance

I have come to rely on photos of our spectrally neutral gray cards like my GrayCap and the X-rite ColorChecker to achieve remarkable color accuracy under most circumstances. But much as I had seen in Antarctica, here at White Sands they failed to provide a color balance that adequately matched our visual perception. In this case, the dunes appeared white to our eyes, but were consistently turned tan by white balancing photographs with the gray cards.

As it happened, some of the sand got carried back in my shoes, so I decided to measure the color back here in the lab. It did not measure anywhere near white (Lab a & b channels should be near zero but measured 1.3 and 8.3), making the gray card look like it might be spectrally accurate, but at deep variance with our visual experience of the place.

I am perplexed, even speculating that the gypsum sand may have refractive properties that could alter our perception of it's whiteness. I also considered the possibility that there was simply nothing else nearby that was as near white as the sand and our visual system adapted, as it always does, seeking to make a neutral. It was bright, and we, and as it's name implies, people in general, see these sands as white. Or is it that they are just whiter than other sands?

My friend Robin Myers (of Robin Myers Imaging, a color consulting firm) suggests that "it may be that the specular light reflectance is higher than the diffuse reflectance. The cause of this high specular component may be mirror reflections from the tiny crystal facets of the gypsum."

White Sands Sand (collected from sand-ladened shoes) Measure Tool Screen from X-Rite ProfileMaker Suite.

We know that white is not an absolute color in human experience. There are many flavors of white matt board for instance, different cultures seem to gravitate to yellow whites, others blue-whites. The powerful human brain seems to always be trying to neutralize to what it thinks is white.

So far, in the interpretation of the files, I've kind of split the difference on the two, tan and white, but leaned the balance toward my visual experience of white, with many days of asking the question, in the motel room looking over the files, and the next day out examining the question again.

Dusk, White Sands. 2010.

Sand Falls and Cliffs, White Sands. 2010.

Part of why I love this place is that scale and depth are constantly drifting to ambiguity out on the sand, as was constant change. At one stop, the dune face was collapsing before our eyes, evolving into a completely different form as we watched. A perfectly ordinary event, sand drifts form and reforming, happens all the time. It would have been mere curiosity if those forms had not been so beautiful. But they were, and there was no way to work fast enough to hold the range of beauty I was seeing. It became clear after a few minutes, that having tried, it was better to just watch and enjoy the scene.

Sand Ridge Reflections, White Sands. 2010

Another World

It is also true that almost anytime of day, being out on those dunes felt a bit like moving through another world. The almost blinding white of mid-day, to the ethereal orange blue mix of sunset adapted eyes and the seeming blue shade color cast of the dunes, now un-lit. The quiet was enchanting, the blue is just plain strange.

My companion Paul and I talked about it at the time. We knew the sand wasn't blue, but it looked blue in the shade of sunset. That is of course one of the magical properties of light and photography, color changes as the light changes, as adaptation slowly changes, as after image and belief challenge both.

Blue Dunes at Dusk, White Sands. 2010

As a photographer I want to photograph what I see, I have to–not what I know, but what I see. It is a constant message I try to deliver to my students, photography is not about objects, it is about light. Photography is also not about the limitations of a technology, it is about light and our visual perceptions, bizarre and wonderful that they may sometimes be.



Encoding Color Balance in RAW Files

Establishing the right color balance can be a difficult challenge. Most color casts can be detected by looking at the balance of what should be neutral grays in the image and checking their RGB balance. Neutral should be equal in RGB. The process can be aided by taking a photograph with a patch of spectrally neutral light gray card under the same light as the photograph you want to balance. This can then be used as a source point for the white/gray balance tool in Photoshop’s Camera Raw and other editing tools. This is not the same as a traditional 18% photographic gray card. It really does need to be spectrally neutral, so that using it to balance RGB values results in neutralizing the image, not the sometimes off-color old gray cards. Additionally, cameras and Photoshop work better with a brighter gray than the traditional gray card.

Excerpt from Chapter 7: Digital Camera Techniques. Stephen Johnson on Digital Photography (see below)

My Digital GrayCap
X-rite ColorChecker and ColorChecker Passport



Order Now for a signed copy!

Professional Photographers of America 2007 Hot One Awards

Stephen Johnson on Digital Photography

Book Reviews
Book Comments online

* Upcoming Workshops
We trust you find our selection of classes interesting and useful for your needs. We take the imparting of information and the empowerment of our students quite seriously. The digital age has considerably enhanced our ability to teach, and we believe, your ability to capture what you see. This program is designed to help you benefit from both of these advances.

We hope you can join us on a workshop.

Referral Discounts

As we are always trying to enlarge our reach out to people to let them know about the workshops, we have instituted a discount policy that can be earned by referring people to the program. It is simply, if they list you as having referred them, and they take a workshop, you get 10% off the next workshop you take from us within one year. These referrals are cumulative and can even bring a you a free workshop. Again, they do have to be redeemed within one year. Deal? Deal.

iCal Calendar of Our Workshop Program

-View our Workshop Calendar.
-Subscribe to our Workshop Calendar.
-Learn more about iCal or to download a copy.

Request a Workshop

We are also starting a new program of letting people request the workshops they want. Check out the Workshops Currently Building List and help us build a list of workshops and people so we can then determine dates. See the workshops page for a list of previously offered classes that we would be happy to teach when we have enough people.

Workshop Scholarship Program

We're restarting our photography workshop scholarship program. We will try to reserve a spot in every class we can, particularly field workshops. To start, we will be gathering applications from qualifying college photography students who would like to join us on a workshop.

We will be developing an application page, hold received applications, then choose awards as spots become available. Let people know who you think might be interested.

For applications, please email: info@sjphoto.com


sf pyramid

Black and White Digital Printing Hands-on
June 12-13, 2010

Black and white printing in the digital age with a classical landscape photographer who comes from the world of large-format black and white photography and years in the darkroom and has worked hard and early on for the development of high quality digital photography technology.

Explore the black and white possibilities of modern printers and their controls, linerarization, nuance of tonal and image tint, the glow of traditional looks and the subtlety of completely new ways of seeing black and white. 



From RAW to Print in One Week
Summer Digital Boot Camp
Studios of Stephen Johnson Photography, Pacifica, CA
July 12-16, 2010


An intense immersion into digital photography with one of its pioneers. In five days you will go from perhaps not even understanding what a RAW file is, to making well-crafted and thoughtful prints. Some fieldwork and extensive lecture and lab work will fill our time together. Every student will have full access to their own workstation in our lab. Topics include practical experience with digital exposure, RAW processing, image editing, color management and printing.

Included in the workshop is a copy of Stephen Johnson on Digital Photography, courtesy of O'Reilly Media.





Fine-Art Digital Printing Hands-On
August 21-24, 2010
Stephen Johnson Studios & Gallery
Pacifica, California.

This workshop focuses exclusively on improving your fine-art digital printing in our new Digital Lab, primarily using Epson inkjet printers. Concentration will be on inkjet printing with color pigments and black/gray ink combinations on coated and rag papers. Learn from the digital pioneer how he obtains his impressive results during four days of lectures, printing, and feedback in the studio.

We will cover workflow issues, color management, correcting color casts, adjustment layers, custom profile generation, editing and inspection. There being no magic bullet to making good prints, the workshop will also explore old fashioned testing, careful color judgments and interactive honing in on the best print possible.



Introduction to Digital Photography
August 28, 2010, 9am to 5pm
Stephen Johnson Studios & Gallery
Pacifica, California.

Photographer Stephen Johnson takes students through basic digital camera functionality, features, controls and working procedures. The morning is designed to de-mystify camera controls and offer insight into how these new devices can provide instant gratification and still be used to learn to make stronger photographs. It will examine the diversity of features available on various cameras, their use and influence on the resulting photographs and will include discussion on field work with digital cameras.

The afternoon section works through digital cameras in further detail, delves into editing software to help students make better photographs. The presentation is designed to help users assert more control over making, editing and then printing their photographs.

tuscany photo from Discover Tuscany.com

The Tuscan Landscape with Stephen Johnson
September 23-30, 2010

Spend a week in Italy with renowned landscape photographer/educator Stephen Johnson. Centered in a 12th Century Tuscan monastery, this photography workshop promises to be an extraordinary opportunity to explore the Tuscan landscape and learn from one of the most dynamic educators and talented photographers working today.

Workshop headquarters will be San Fedele, an ex-monastery dating back to the 12th century.  It is situated in the Chianti hills, 12 km north of Siena and 45 km south of Florence.  The nearest towns are the medieval city of Radda-in-Chianti and the village of Vagliagli. San Fedele was completely restored beginning in 2001 and today has 17 guest rooms and several classrooms and studios.

Video on Program
What to See in Tuscany
Tuscany Photos

dusk mono lake
Mono Lake and the Eastern Sierra
October 9-12, 2010

The stark and beautiful scenery of this legendary lake is unlike any other landscape in the world. Its alkaline water, desert vistas, volcanoes and unusual tufa towers make it a remarkable place. The presence of this huge lake in the eastern sierra desert is improbable at best, its out of place character is pervasive, at times seeming more lunar than terrestrial.

Mono Lake can change from a tranquil expanse of silver water to a blue-green stormy sea in minutes. It is a most intriguing place. It is both a challenge and a pleasure to photograph at Mono Lake. But Mono Lake's beauty does not necessarily make it easy to photograph here. The desert sun can be harsh, and the horizon can appear endless. It takes time and patience to catch the subtlety of Mono's moods. The autumn weather should provide some interesting cloud formations. The lake's strange landforms can easily become ordinary when photographed casually. Consequently this place demands a certain intensity to do it visual justice. A primary goal of our time spent together will be to slow down and understand the lake on a more intimate level than might normally be possible.

These four days will be a dynamic combination of a traditional landscape photography workshop while diving deep into the digital age. Technical and aesthetic considerations will be discussed in detail, while we explore this high desert lake and its strange environs.

Personal Workshops and Art Consulting

Arrangements can be made to work with Steve individually at his studio or at custom locations. Call for a discussion of the possibilities. 650 355-7507


Steve and Tom
Olympic Peninsula, 2002.

* Check out our workshop web page for information on all of our workshops, including both our field and studio workshops.

UPCOMING EVENTS with Stephen Johnson

mmw logo

Maine Media Workshops

The Digital Landscape. June 20-26, 2010

Explore Maine’s land and seascape with the power of the new tools for digital photography. Stephen Johnson Take digital imagemaking to new levels! The subjects of this course are the landscape, architecture, villages, and forests of the Maine coast. While in the field, students review selected images on camera lcds and discuss exposure, composition, lens selection, quality of light, and the limitations and advantages of digital imagemaking. The objective is to bring exciting and technically correct files into the digital lab.

 Fine Art Digital Printing. June 27-July 4, 2010

Learn the art of making fine art digital prints from one of today’s masters. Stephen Johnson Focusing exclusively on fine-art digital printing, Stephen explores the possibilities of printmaking using Epson inkjet printers. The concentration is on inkjet printing with color pigments and black/gray ink combinations on coated and rag papers. Learn from the digital pioneer how he obtains his impressive results during printing demonstrations in the digital lab. Stephen covers workflow issues, color management, correcting color casts, adjustment layers, custom profile generation, editing and inspection.

mmw logo

Acadia National Park 2009.Maine Media Workshops Landscape Class. Canon 1Ds Mark III.

Better Light Owners Conference
June 17-18, 2010
San Carlos, CA

A great opportunity to learn more about how to use your Better Light Scanning back, or what they can do if you are considering buying one.


Maine Media Workshops Union Hall Tuesday evening June 29, 2010 at 8pm.

Class Visits

Many of my fellow photography instructors have brought their classes by the gallery and studios for talks over the years. I realized I had never made this aspect of our activities here public, so here it is:

We welcome photography classes to visit our studios and galleries.

At The Studio Gallery

Galleries open by appointment. 650 355-7507.



Feature Story in the last issue of Studio and Location Photography. April 2009

7 Photography Questions
Interviews with top photographers to improve YOUR photographs

Podcast #37: Witnessing and Holding the Beauty in Landscape Photography -- An Interview with Stephen Johnson

Guest appearances on Bert Monroy's Pixel Perfect Web TV Series.
Episode 103

Episode 104

O'REILLY podcast
MacVoices Podcast
MacEdtion Radio
DIMA Podcast
Photoshop World Podcast

tsj interview pix

Photoshop World: March 2008 Interview


Parks Book Interview with Dianne Pitman. May 2008


Inside Digital Photo by Scott Sheppard: Stephen Johnson. Sept. 2008


Book Reviews

Barnes & Noble Review: From Our Editors
This is a passionate, deeply personal guide to digital photography by a true legend in the field. If you've been fortunate enough to participate in one of Stephen Johnson's seminars or to view his breathtaking national parks landscapes, you know his book has the potential to be truly extraordinary. And so it is.Johnson teaches sophisticated technique without ever losing track of art. You will learn powerfully important things about digital sensors and high dynamic range photography; about multi-exposure panoramas and scanning; about tone, layers, and Photoshop curves; about Camera RAW Workflow and honest restoration.He roots digital photography deeply in its historical context without ever losing sight of the present -- or the future. He also captures the deep importance of digital photography -- and its ethical implications -- without ever becoming pretentious. And the images? No words suffice.

-Bill Camarda, from the November 2006 Read Only

Book Comments online

"Steve Johnson, one of the true visionaries of the digital photography era, offers us a technical tour de force and passionate artistic overview of the possibilities inherent in this new medium. On Digital Photography should be required reading for every aspiring photographic artist."

-Ted Orland, photographer & writer

...As Johnson says at the books very beginning in a Note from the Author: “I have often also been frustrated at the concentration on the technical aspect of digital photography with so little discussion of the aesthetics and the heart behind the imagery.” Indeed and at the book’s end he uses this frustration to deliver hugely enlightening home run. The book itself is an artistic treasure with a very meaningful subtitle: Text, Photography and Design by Stephen Johnson. Johnson obviously demanded freedom to create. Tim O’Reilly did well when he granted Johnson’s wish. Quite simple the best photography book I have ever seen.

-Gordon Cook's Collaborative Edge
September 9, 2006


Printers I'm no longer using are being Donated to educational/charitable or government organizations. Send an email. All working when last used. Must pick up.

  • Epson 9000 (dye inks and Lyson grayscale set included)
  • Epson 9500
  • Epson 10000


Printers being replaced:

  • Epson 2200 $300
  • HP 5500 Color Laser $1500

Featured Products


GrayCapsTM Digital gray card. The Digital gray card you will always have with you, even among 10,000 penguins.

graycap penguin

Matting and Framing DVD

A one-hour video demonstrating how to prepare, measure, cut your matts, label and frame photographic prints.

To order

gray cap


gray acr

A Photographer's Journey DVD

A Photographer's Journey is an 8 minute mini-documentary on landscape photographer Stephen Johnson's ground-breaking all digital photography in America's National Parks, With a New Eye. Produced by Apple Computer in 1998.

Additional Features

  • Parks Project Gallery

More info

To order


Visit Our Online Store

We continue to offer a wide variety of Steve's posters, books, notecards and a video or two from our Products page.

There is also a new page devoted just to books and one devoted just to products from our national parks project, With a New Eye.

Please take a look and browse. There are many one of a kind items there, available nowhere else.


The Bookstore  

Stephen Johnson on Digital Photography

There is something for everyone in this beautiful and definitive guide for digital photography enthusiasts, from cutting edge camera and software techniques to engaging discourse on the history and future of digital photography. Published by O'Reilly, 2006. 320 pages, over 700 color and duotone illustrations.


Art and Fear
by Ted Orland and David Bayles
1993. $12.95

A terrific book. A must read for every artist who has struggled with working, creating, reaching out and hanging in there.


Ted Orland's New Photographic Truths Poster.
24x36 inches. $20.

An underground classic, gracing the walls of university darkrooms and professional studios alike. But now (finally!) it’s available again in a new edition — still illustrated with the same friendly picture of Ansel Adams, but with a text that now includes many newly-discovered and critical digital truths.


Advice for Photographers: The Next Step
by Al Weber
2007. $12

Based on decades of teaching, Weber has collected and organized ideas and suggestions to aid those who would be photographers. A 72-page field manual.


We are now offering rental time in our new lab on an hourly basis during our normal business hours.

By appointment only.
$25 per hour, plus a per print charge

Includes full access to calibrated monitors, fast G5 Macs, Epson pigment inkjet printers, 5000°k viewing lights and color profile creation hardware and software.

Appointments can be made by calling 650 355-7507.
Familiarity with Mac OSX and Photoshop CS4 or Adobe Lightroom 2 recommended. Staff tutorials available for additional charge.

A Great Opportunity!
  • Fully equipped lab
  • Make your own printer profiles
  • Finally have access to the equipment you need


Digital Portraits by
The Studios of Stephen Johnson Photography

  • Instant Feedback
  • Special prices
  • Satisfaction or no fees


Stephen Johnson Editions

  • Artwork Copying
  • Custom Printing
  • Custom Profiles




watercolor by Ralph Putzker



To purchase original prints, see:

11x14 pigment on rag paper $450 from existing prints

•Information on Stephen Johnson's Original Prints

With a New Eye: The Digital National Parks Project


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.

We're happy to mail you a copy of our product catalog, just send a note to michelle@sjphoto.com or call us.

We're located at:

Stephen Johnson Photography at the Pacifica Center for the Arts
1220-C Linda Mar Boulevard, Creekside Suites, 5-7
Pacifica, CA 94044
(650) 355-7507



Pacifica Center for the Arts from Linda Mar Boulevard


We're open by appointment. To find us, use our map online at:

Map to studio
Studio directions and site layout.


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Newsletter Archive

Last updated on June 5, 2010 . Mail comments to: info@sjphoto.com
Photographs and Text Copyright ©2010, Stephen Johnson. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.