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Pt. Reyes National Seashore. 2010. Email to order a print. See the Pt. Reyes Workshop April 21-23, 2012

Welcome to the March 2012 Edition of the Photography Newsletter.

I've been immersed in printing for weeks now, first filling a print order, then teaching a four day workshop helping my students shape their photographs onto paper. It feels tangible, substantial, real, like prints in hand always do. A good winter activity as the calendar turns to spring outings...

This month's Newsletter's View From Here column discusses Staying With Making Art. 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 Processing.

The next session of our Evening Critique Program is coming up this week Thursday March 15 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 added a much requested Intermediate Fine Art Printing weekend for March 24-25 and have many great workshops throughout the Spring of 2012 such as Pt. Reyes National Seashore, and California's Highway One San Francisco South. Check them out!

A number of people wrote and asked for a Pt. Lobos Carmel workshop this spring. We love teaching workshops down there and are excited to have one scheduled for April 28-30, 2012.

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.

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 to our schedule: The Fine Print: A Week of Advanced Hands-on Printing Work with Steve July 23-27, 2012.

In August of 2012 we will journey back to the land of fire and ice for a 10 day Photographic Expedition to Iceland.  The Exquisite Earth show we have at the gallery has some very abstract landscape photographs from Iceland and we are excited to announce that we will be going back!

Keep in mind our Mentoring Program annouced 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.

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.

Workshop Testimonials

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Rock Wall. Pt. Lobos State Reserve, California. 2011.

Rock Wall. Pt. Lobos. 2011.
Canon 1Ds III
11x14 Pigment Inkjet Print on Cotton paper
$195 each. Purchase this print.

the rough and rocky cliffs of Pt. Lobos at surfline

Stephen Johnson Workshops and Event Calendar
Evening Photography Critique Session March 15, 2012
Intermediate Fine Art Printing Hands-on March 24-25, 2012
Pt. Reyes National Seashore April 21-23, 2012
Pt. Lobos and Carmel April 28-30, 2012
Fine Art Printing Hands-on May 5-8, 2012
California's Highway One: San Francisco South May 19-20, 2012
From RAW to Print July 16-21, 2012.
The Fine Print: A Week of Advanced Hands-on Printing Work with Steve
July 23-27, 2012

Iceland. August 24-September 2, 2012
Mono Lake and the Eastern Sierra October 13-16, 2012





March Printing Workshop Photos and Video

working on learning to print....with dedication, care and beauty.


I just completed a Print workshop with Stephen Johnson at his Pacifica California studio. The best workshop I have taken. He is a passionate advocate for striving to produce excellent images and gives you the tools to do so. An absolute must if you want to improve your photographic output. He is articulate extremely knowledgeable and patient

Roger Lieberman

Farallon Islands Mirage. Pacifica, California. 2012.

by Stephen Johnson

Staying With Making Art

I've been immersed in printing for weeks now, first filling an important print order, then teaching a four day printing workshop helping my students shape their photographs onto paper. It feels tangible, substantial, real, like prints in hand always do. It felt like a good winter indoor activity as the calendar turns to plans for for spring outings.

Years ago we started the Featured Print Program to make one of my photographs available every month at a very reasonable price. But there were some other internal reasons for the program. To put it simply, it forced finished work out of me. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the day to day, in these days of economic stress even more so. It is easy to loose our ways as artists, to forget the making of artworks at our core. I've found it important to construct internal imperatives that force the work, so that the making of art with all of its passion, does not get routinely buried in the must do tasks of business maintenance. Having to make a new, finished print every month has helped force the issue.

Some who work in the arts can simply follow their art making as a daily routine. Some live very simply, some start off well to do, some retire into a life in the arts, some make a good living from their art. But we all need push sometimes, and most have plenty that can get in the way.

Many of us involved in the love of landscape end up in a very different daily routine. It takes time and effort to go out and make work. Keeping up with the offloading and sampling, much like developing and proofing of days now gone, is a very separate process. It doesn't feel like making art. It feels like a task. It can be joyful if the work is breaking exotic ground, but good solid seeing with workman-like dedication is harder sometimes to push through entropy.

New projects, new ideas, new territories, all contribute, but the hard core discipline to go at it everyday is rare, and important. On the days when it comes easy it is precious. On those days when it seems there are a thousand things in the way, the tasks get exaggerated and the work enticement of the art gets romanced, then easily tarnished by the fact that it may be merely good, without necessarily being monumental. Not to mention the fact that making art is hard work.

A finished print in hand can help serving as a sense of accomplishment. Much like a potter's finished firing, a print is the thing, the tangible manifestation that allows us to move to the next piece, whether a print or a journey. Sometimes just the getting out is enough to stir up the pot, break the routine, and entice more to be done. The weight of the unfinished is the killer of the yet to be imagined. Somehow a balance must be struck, so that the enticement of seduction keeps producing more, and that realization of the finished image as print becomes the path to moving on to the next.

Culvert and Grass. Pacifica, California. 2012.

Dancing Flyers. Pacifica. 2012.

Fundamentally, it is simply important to continue to work, to make art, seek the experience, persevere through the doldrums. Just do it, even if its just effort and not necessarily inspiration. It can come to you.

In the middle of writing this column, I forced myself out into a chilly afternoon, brought my dog along for a walk, and was then unexpectedly rewarded with a sky full of paragliders. I would not have guessed they would have been out in the cold air. They were magical.


...continued top of right column

lobosNew Photograph: Seal and Rocks. Pt. Lobos State Reserve. California. 2011.

Process, Craft and Media Informing an Audience

Our viewers come to understand what they are seeing in our artwork in many ways. One of the traditional vehicles of some comprehension was to understand the media and materials used in constructing the art work, oil on wood, pastels on board, cast bronze, collage, silk-screen, etc.

In this digital photographic age, we seemed to have moved away from this tradition. There seems to be a reluctance to call an inkjet print what it is, coining words like "giclee." Many hold desires to continue to call an artwork a photograph long after it has been changed into something quite different than the word photograph implies.

This comes up again and again,as it just did in my Fine Art Printing class last weekend, and it likely will continue to as long as people show images that appear to be photographic, that are in fact heavily "altered realities" and seem to want to engage their viewers with a wink and a nod.

There is a long tradition of deriving all sorts of artwork from photographs, making absolutely wild and wonderful new media. That continues to be the case, where all sort of possibilities can flow from a photograph in this digital age. What has changed is the implied deception now possible with digital technology, allowing drastic changes to what could be captured with light and lens. Even with heavy fabrication, some image makers still want to imply that the construct is what they saw and recorded. There would be no objection to informing their audience of the nature of what they are seeing if it were not for enjoying the reality shift and taking credit for the image as though it was seen rather than constructed. I'd rather they took credit for their Photoshop skills and helped their audience understand.

This is all a little confusing, making remarkable scenes captured be suspected of fakery, and creating a world of unreal expectation that the lesser of us must just not be as talented because we aren't getting or seeing these remarkable scenes to photograph that never existed in the first place. It also creates a false expectation of what reality is, making the beautiful sunset before you somehow less, as it is not as wild as the one just seen on the "enhanced" postcards in the gift shop.

I believe this also breaks down a commitment to craft up front, in the camera. The old "fix it in post" adage comes to mind where an assumption is made that you'll make it good later. Instead of concentrating on holding a magical image, this line of thought encourages a view that the image can be cleaned-up and made magic in Photoshop. In lectures across the country, and various parts of the world, I continue to emphasize my conviction that the photograph is made in the camera, everything else is just trying to process it into revealing that magic.

Indulge yourself with any direction you please, but give the viewer a fair chance at understanding the context of what they are seeing. Photography does occupy a special place in our visual world in terms of its ability to hold a light scene. Inspiration runs deep, deception can be disturbing. Of course, part of art is, as Picasso once said "a lie that helps you see the truth." I'm deeply aware of the gray areas that abound here, the rich history of images derived from photographs, and that artistic freedom demands just that: freedom.

A Few Quotes

Of course, there will always be those who look only at technique, who ask ‘how’, while others of a more curious nature will ask ‘why’. Personally, I have always preferred inspiration to information.

Man Ray

The days you work are the best days.

Georgia O’Keeffe

My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.

Diane Arbus

This benefit of seeing... can come only if you pause a while, extricate yourself from the maddening mob of quick impressions ceaselessly battering our lives, and look thoughtfully at a quiet image... the viewer must be willing to pause, to look again, to meditate.

Dorothea Lange

The weight of the unfinished is a killer of the yet to be imagined.

Stephen Johnson, from this Newsletter


A few things I would like you to keep in mind...

Virtual Education: Our Virtual Consulting and Mentoring Program is working well. Readers of this Newsletter can still get a 20% discount by mentioning this reference when you enroll.

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 1

(excerpt from the book Stephen Johnson on Digital Photography unreleased revised electronic version)

Creating Black and White from Color

Deriving black and white photographs from color images has a long history, ranging from the straightforward to the strange. For instance, internegatives (film copies of negatives or slides) have been made from color film and copy negatives from color prints. At one point Kodak Panchromatic Black and White paper was developed in order to print color negatives, sensitive to all colors to accurately reproduce the encoded color tonal qualities. Of course it could not be used under normal black and white darkroom orange safelights, because of the paper’s broad color sensitivity.

In a sense, the proliferation of dedicated color cameras made the task of creating black and white images more difficult, or less direct at least. We could no longer simply put black and white film in the camera.

With a few exceptions, digital cameras come built to separate color into its primaries and make color photographs. Consequently, those lovers of black and white have to create color files and then transform them into black and white. Many cameras automate this process by allowing the user to select black and white as a final product for jpegs, often delivering an interpolated and processed RGB file with the saturation simply brought down to zero.

Today the digital darkroom makes these tasks simple, but you are still able to employ nuances of tonal translation beyond most of our darkroom imaginations.
A number of tools can create this transformation, from a simple RGB to Grayscale conversion, a Hue and Saturation change (–100 saturation), to Channel Mixer, to Duotones.

Fundamentally, I find the Photoshop Black and White Adjustment Layer to be the most powerful and simple method for black and white conversions from color. It is pretty straightforward to use, if you want a color to be a lighter gray in the conversion, drag it to the right. Do be careful of driving blue skies very dark as it can revel the inherent noise in the amplified Blue Channels or most digital cameras.


Matt, Pebble Beach.
Color photo converted with Photoshop Black and White Adjustment Layer with different settings.
Click to enlarge.



Additionally, some software packages like Nik Software’s Silver Efex allow for deriving black and white photographs from color images by modeling the processing after traditional black and white film/­filter combinations and visual characterization. A BW Wratten #25 processing “look” turned up in Kodak RAW software a few years ago, giving us the effect of black and white film taken through a dark red filter.




I discourage people from converting to BW in a RAW processor as it robs of us of the very unique and powerful new capability of transforming different areas of the photograph with different color content into different and custom BW conversions by use of the Black and White Adjustment Layer in conjunction with masks to enable the conversion only on the area you desire.

Some fairly simple principles apply, if you want an area of color to translate as lighter, you simply lighten its nearest color on the BW Adjustment Layer interface. If that action lightens areas you don't want lighter, mask it out in that Layer. And visa versa for darkening. With a matrix of Layers and Masks, your now processed BW photograph may show signs of some color coming through as Masks overlap and where color was not worked on, so a final Hue and Saturation Adjustment Layer taking the Saturation down can convert any remaining color.


Jordan Pond. Acadia National Park. Maine. 2011.


Jordan Pond. Acadia National Park. Maine. 2011.



Black and White Digital Printing

The introduction of gray inks into our inkjet printers was a dramatic step forward for black and white digital printing. This combined with ever-more gelatin-silver like inkjet paper has given us some beautiful black and white options for inkjet printing.

We will take that up next month.

Tutorial with Related Subjects:


International Workshops


Iceland: August 21-September 2, 2012

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.

Featured Posters  


Beautiful posters from Steve's National Parks work.

30x24 inches
Price $20.00

More Information

To order by credit card.



note card

National Park Color Notecard Set
Stephen Johnson
12 cards/envelopes $20 set

From "With a New Eye" Beautiful 300 line screen offset reproductions with envelopes in clear box. A great gift.




or call to order 650 355-7507



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 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

Studio Lab Rental

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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 650 355-7507

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Last updated on March 29, 2012 . Mail comments to:
Photographs and Text Copyright ©2012, Stephen Johnson. All Rights Reserved Worldwide