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Triptych in One: Lightning over Pacifica. 2013. Canon 1Ds III composite from 3 layered files. Click to order a print. Next Workshop Raw to Print: Summer Digital Bootcamp June 2-6, 2014.


Welcome to the May 2014 Edition of the Photography Newsletter.

Last week I was back east mulling on the surround of city and history, artifact and battlefields. always interesting for a boy of the west. I'm looking forward to being in Maine in early July for my Maine Media Workshop classes.

This month's View From Here column discusses the strange things we find along the road, symbols and photographic projects. We hope you find the column interesting and will consider sending us some comments. Our Tutorial Section goes through the assembly of the Lightning composite above.


  • Coming Up: Flora and Form: from Orchid Gardens to Digital Lab. May 15-17, 2014.
  • Don't miss our Southwest Journey 12 Day Sojourn through some of America's desert wonderlands September 7-18, 2014.


Bryce Canyon National Park. 1995. BetterLight Scanning Back.
and Anasazi White House. Canyon de Chelly. 1977. 4x5 Kodak Plus-X film.

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.


Workshop Testimonials



Afternoon Sky from Big Sur. 2014
Canon 5D III

Afternoon Sky from Big Sur. 2014.
Canon 5D III

9x14 Pigment Inkjet Print on Cotton paper
$195 each. Purchase this print.

A dramatic sky broke out after rainbows, sun and wind had been stirring things up most of the afternoon.

2014 Workshop Schedule
Flora and Form: from Orchid Gardens to Digital Lab May 15-17, 2014

Photoshop Editing for Tone and Color using Adjustment Layers with Selections and Masks. May 31, 2014

Raw to Print: Summer Digital Bootcamp June 2-6, 2014
Beauty in Photography: Inspiration and Composition. June 14, 2014
Fine Art Digital Printing Hands-on June 19-22, 2014
Acadia National Park June 28-29, 2014
White Mountains and the Full Moon. August 8-11, 2014
Southwest Journey September 7-18, 2014
Mono Lake and the Eastern Sierra October 11-14, 2014
Death Valley in Winter January 10-13, 2015


March 2014 Printing Class. Photo by Fiona McDonnell

Speaking Events (see below)

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land sharks

Land Sharks near Trona, CA. 1986.
4x5 Kodak Vericolor Film.

by Stephen Johnson

The Unusual Roadside Attraction

We notice things that are out of our ordinary experience. Sometimes small nuances of uniqueness, sometimes major weird things that simply look strange. Occasionally objects just stand out because they are wonderfully symbolic, ironic, or push our notions of what we expected.

More than 25 years ago I started photographing long noticed iconic relics of the American West along roadsides. A Marlboro Man billboard, a giant truck stop sign, Roy Roger's Trigger made huge. I started exploring the possibilities and kept assembling photographs of these artifacts as I wandered around the west early in my landscape career. Initially, I had no real idea how pervasive some of these symbols had become. The act of making the photographs became an exploration of the symbology.



Truck Stop Sign. Winnemucca, NV. 1987
120mm Kodak Vericolor Film.

As with so many ideas that become de-facto projects, the curiosity gets tweaked, but then a bit of follow through is needled to see what the possibilities might be. If those two stages pan out, then a more intensive commitment is sitting in your lap.

And so it was for my Western Artifacts Project, a project stumbled into, that became ever more serious as I pushed it forward. I took it seriously enough at the time that much of the work is 4x5 color negative. I did not see it as a casual exercise. I have been digging out these photographs the last six months and starting to make digital inkjet pigment prints from the scanned color negatives and older prints.

In the late 1980s, I didn't feel as though I had enough material for a full fledged project. Over the years I have continued to keep my eyes open for more examples of these western symbols that inspired the idea. More have come along, and the work came to mind this past weekend when my good friend Steve Inglima took to me see the Big Duck on Long Island after a recent speaking tour for Canon.


big duck

Big Duck. NY. 2014.
Canon 5D III

The Big Duck was built in 1931 as a marketing tool to sell products from Martin and Jeule Mauret's duck farm. It has since been moved a few times and has gained fame as one of those roadside oddities of buildings or tourist structures vying for attention by passing drivers. Now a museum about itself, which is in itself ironic, the Big Duck reminded me of the Western Artifacts project and so both seemed to be worth ruminating on a bit in this month's column.

Earlier that same day in Long Island, another memory tweak came in the form of a big vicious looking shark on top of a seafood restaurant. It was not much of a stretch from the Western Artifacts project in that our symbolic use of animals played a big role in that work. Animal iconography is certainly revealing of our value systems.


color checker

Shark. Lindenhurst New York. 2014
Canon 5D III.

The  things I see, the things I remember, the things I choose to photograph, all are clearly related. So the projects themselves have a kind of life of their own inevitability.

All this led to more thinking about the nature of photographic projects and a body of related work. Some projects are exploration, some are accidents, some get carefully planned. For me it is often a serendipity that plays itself into noticing relationships and possibilities from which an actual idea creeps in. That idea has to be seductive, there have to be some strong photographs that make the idea real, then enough curiosity to pour some real labor and time into seeing what might be.

Project ideas are easier to pursue if the subject can be visited, and revisited with planning and variety. It is much harder when the idea relies on discovery. Some projects become back-burner agendas, that once recognized might become decades long accumulations of photographs. Such endeavors seem to get us pondering over time what made us curious, and what the implications of those images might be.

In that pondering, the photographs that have stayed with me are those whose symbolism emotionally resonated. Images of manhood, our relationships to animals, our sense of villains and demons.


...continued top of right column

steve 2004

Marlboro Mans. Lone Pine, CA. 1987.
4x5 Kodak Vericolor Film.

The Marlboro Man billboard cut-out from Lone Pine was one such photograph.

Madison Avenue in big New York City made smoking a symbol of manhood. The symbols were scattered across the landscape. Did it matter that three of the TV commercial actors/smokers portraying the the Marlboro man died of lung cancer? According to the CDC, over 400,000 Americans still die each year from smoking. The ad campaign ran from 1954-1999 and apparently was the brainchild of ad agency legend Leo Burnett. Images are often far more powerful than simple truth.


blm devil

BLM Devil. Thunder Mountain, NV. 1987
4x5 Kodak Vericolor Film.

Vast tracks of the American west is governed by the US Bureau of Land Management. Much of that land used by people leasing it from all of us. Relationships with a far away Federal Government has often been strained and sparked controversy and revolt. This tension has been widespread across the west and very real for a 150 years. Controversy has been tied up in grazing fees, overgrazing, habitat destruction, or going far enough back in time to the Homestead Act which systematically took land from native Americans and gave it away to European immigrants,



Indians, Red Lake, AZ. 1987.
4x5 Kodak Vericolor Film.

So it is, without much surprise, that the Western Artifacts series has prompted much thought over the years as to the symbols and mythologies we connect to the West.

As a child of the west, symbols of the west have always intrigued me. Most had little to do with where I grew up or the world I knew. I recognized the artifacts, cowboy hats and boots, side-kick horses. Images more from Hollywood movies than real life. The cowboy-hated fellow in the doorway above with the "indian" mannequins was German, and spoke little English. It had often seemed like notions of the west were more a marketing scheme to sell movies and paraphernalia than about a lifestyle.

It's been a curious evolution, from singing cowboys in old-style spandex, to rugged individualists, now to gritty hyper reality strewn with real looking violence. All of this image creating cinematography made with modern actors pretending before big cameras and scores of people on a movie set.



Trigger Statue. Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum. Victorville, CA. January 1985.
The museum was moved from California to Branson, Missouri in 2003, but closed for good in 2009.
Even the stuffed real Trigger was sold at auction.
Mamiya RB67 on Kodak Vericolor film.


Working the land is a real profession, with real people pouring sweat and hard labor into products and income. It doesn't have a uniform. Faces do need protection from the sun of outdoor work, farmers or landscape photographers. Working the land does have struggle and often survives on cheap immigrant labor. I grew up with many of the children of those laborers. My uncles worked the fields to survive. Corporate agribusiness is another matter entirely.

We landscape photographer types know sweat, and small hints at the labor. But even after an exhausting day in the field with a camera, even heavy 4x5 equipment, it is often still only a hint of directly working the soil for income.

Visions of an independent pioneer living off the land has curious and powerful appeal from Thoreau to John Wayne. We landscape photographers might also fancy ourselves outdoor spirits living near the land. Of course, we return from our journeys carrying high tech cameras to our computer-filled enclaves (not so sure a darkroom is that different as far as technology separated from the natural world).

And so, mythologies build.

steve 2004

Horseshoe Buffalo. Wyoming. 1987.
120mm Kodak Vericolor Film.


please email your comments to us



Consulting Programs and Speaking Events

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

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, such as his up coming talks in Long Island, NY, New York City and Rockville, MD and Rockport, Maine.

  • Pacifica: At the Gallery
    Come by and talk with Steve about his ongoing Exhibitions of work on display
  • Rockport Maine: July 1, 2014 7pm
    Artists Talk at the Maine Media Workshop

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 talks


Steve Lecturing at the George Eastman House Museum of Photography. June 2012.


Lightning Triptych, A Simple Composite



In reviewing photographs from 2013, I ran across the lightning storm here in the San Francisco Bay Area from last August. The initial photographs I made of it were from my front porch and all shared the same horizon as the camera was on a tripod and just kept recording bursts.

Three of those stood out and seemed to be symmetrically related as well. So I decided to experiment with a little composite of the three.

The process was very simple, I selected the images in Adobe's wonderful and powerful browser Bridge, then instructed Bridge Tools/Photoshop to open the three into a single file by selecting Load Files into Photoshop Layers as one image stacked on top of another as Layers. It was then a simple matter to blend the Layers together via the Lighten Blend Mode for the top two images sitting above the bottom image which essentially becomes the background base file.

The result was a simple composite of the light lightning coming through from all of the photographs and the darker ground being ignored in the images sitting on top of the bottom image.


Previous Tutorial and Technique Posts

The Stephen Johnson Photography Gift Shop

Featured Product

2014 Life Form Notecards
5x7 inches,

Click to Purchase

12 image Notecard 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 Notecards

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

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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 May 18, 2014 . Mail comments to:
Photographs and Text Copyright ©2014, Stephen Johnson. All Rights Reserved Worldwide