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Mount Shasta, CA. 2015. Canon 5D III. Click to order a print. Next Workshop Raw to Print Summer Digital Bootcamp June 1-5, 2015

Welcome to the May 2015 Edition of the Photography Newsletter.

Whales washing up here in Pacifica the last few weeks have been very sad and led me to many questions about photography that disturbs, as well as what delights. It once again brings to the forefront questions about who I am as a photographer and what my role is, both in my heart and perceived calls of responsibility.

This month's View From Here column explores some whale stories in Witnessing Sadness, Still Looking for Beauty. We hope you find the column interesting and will consider sending us some comments. Our Tutorial Section discusses Printing Paper Qualities.


photo review

Steve in daily group discussion with his May Image Editing Workshop.
Photo by Fiona McDonnell.

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


ice mountain

Antarctica. 2009

Sunlit Glacier and Mountainside. Marguerite Bay. Antarctica. 2009.
Canon 1Ds III

11x14 Pigment Inkjet Print on Cotton paper
$195 each. Purchase this print.

Sunlit mountainside sailing in Marguerite Bay on my last trip to Antarctica in 2009.

2015 Workshop Schedule
Raw to Print Summer Digital Bootcamp June 1-5, 2015
The Golden Gate June 6-7, 2015
Fine Art Digital Printing Hands-on July 11-14, 2015
Highway One Coastal Journey. July 25-26, 2015
Acadia National Park. Maine August 29-30, 2015
Mono Lake and the Eastern Sierra October 10-13, 2015
New Zealand November, 2015

Death Valley in Winter January 23-26, 2016

printing class

March 2015 Black and White Class. Photo from demo video by Fiona McDonnell

Speaking Events (see below)

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Japanese Maple. Portland, OR. 2015.


New Photo Link

Japanese Maple. Portland, Oregon. 2015.
HDR Capture for dynamic range.
Canon 5D III.
Canon 5D III.

Click to order a print

After my Canon sponsored talk at Pro Photo Supply in Portland, Oregon, I spent some time wandering the Portland Japanese Garden.

This Japanese Maple was one of the many wonders there.



Female Humpback Whale. Pacifica. May 2015.

by Stephen Johnson

Witnessing Sadness, Still Looking for Beauty

Three dead whales have washed up here in Pacifica this last year. Two in the last three weeks. They are wonders, and their death and remains become spectacle. When I hear they are there, sadly on the beaches nearby, I have to go look. My wonder at these fellow mammals overcomes my sadness and I go.

I feel voyeuristic, but I also photograph. I don't know if I make anything meaningful, The sorrow at seeing the remains of the living being that they were dominates the experience. But still, I feel compelled to bring the camera and make what I can out of the scene.

I'm not entirely sure why I photograph in such a situation. Perhaps there is an instinct to document my experiences, even when I force myself into them. Maybe there is a pure documentarian in me as well. Certainly my instincts about the truth a photograph can contain leads me down that path.

But looking for design, and line, structure and intrinsic beauty within the form that remains of these fellow creatures also disturbs me. It is felt more strongly in mammals than other creatures. I feel a similar sense when coming across dead birds or a dried up frog. But these cetaceans are different.

I should explain a bit. I've been a vegetarian since I was 13 years old. The decision was purely moral, reflecting an emotionally deep connection to other living things, animals and plants. I grew up in a family of deer hunters. This was not a comfortable place to arrive, particularly at 13. My family did not understand. But that empathy has only deepened with time, the commitment of 47 years and a much greater awareness of our place on the earth and the consequences of what we do.


Sperm Whale near Mori Point. Pacifica. 2015.


Sperm Whale Fluke in Surf. 2015.

We clearly photograph things that seduce us, scenes that inspire us. But we also photograph things that disturb us. Those situations we stumble into, and those we seek, all become subject to an instinct, perhaps even a duty, to hold, share, make known.

I've always struggled to understand how some photojournalists can photograph scenes of great tragedy. Generally it seems clear that their conviction that stories must be told, that what they are seeing must be known, must be the driving force. That these instincts can override, or at least subsume revulsion or despair, is remarkable. But they clearly do, or we would not have so many of the important photographs that we do.

I don't know where this particular work of mine falls into that compulsion. It is certainly not war, nor poverty, or any of many of the social ills confronting us. But with whales, their health and survival is both globally, personally and symbolically important.


Young Humpback Whale. Half Moon Bay, CA. 2014.

There are the people that come to investigate these whales demise, in our case the Marine Mammal Center and the California Academy of Sciences. They come unwind what is sometimes a mystery. Their intentions are good. But what they leave behind is a tangled mess of flesh and bone, quicker to decay and seemingly disrespectful of the being it was. If we had the funds, no doubt they would come and bury the creature in the sand. There seems to be no set protocol. We know what to try to do, most of the government entities that might act, struggle to figure out jurisdiction and funding. The whale gets caught in our world yet again.


Autopsy Crew. Pacifica, CA. 2015.

Link to Remains. Graphic Image.


Whale, Poser, and Dog. Pacifica, CA. 2015.

But there are also people that come just to see. By far, most are respectful and sad. Many there, just like me, because they are drawn to understand and pay a kind of respect. There are also some that come to gawk, pose with the carcass, make it into a carnival where the camera is performed for. More than one person mounted the whale raising their hands in some pathetic macho conquering of the whales life force. I watched this, finding it very disturbing. I also continue to ask myself, am I doing anything that different?

We don't know exactly why these whales died. Whales do die naturally, just as we all do. But two in three weeks, right near my home, raises questions. One appears to have been hit by a ship. Their struggle for survival is constant. Natural predators alone present enormous challenges. Their man-made foes are something else entirely. We hunted many species to near extinction. Through treating the seas as a sewer, using sonar underwater, to sea traffic itself, whales struggle to survive our impact on their home. Of course, we also capture them and put them in aquatic amusement parks.

I've been to Whaling Stations in Antarctica and South Georgia Island. I've seen beaches where huge whale oil tanks still stand memorializing a slaughter only shut down in the 1960s. Of course the killing continues from Japan, Russian, Norway, Iceland in opposition to the International Whaling Commission's moratorium issued in 1982. Also still hunting are Indonesia, the Philippines, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and South Korea. The United States and Canada still allow native peoples small numbers of whales to be hunted.


Whale Oil Processing Station. Deception Island. Antarctica. 2005.

The loss of a whale from unnatural causes is significant on so many levels. Beyond the human and environmental factors that pose threats upon their lives, it is also important to realize that depending on the species, male and female whales do not mate until 5-10 years old. Female whales give birth every 2-3 years with an average gestation period of 10-18 months, followed by nursing their calves for up to two or more years.

On the clear upside, we see wonderful things all of the time too. They are not always great moments, but little wonders, where that same instinct to find design, line and organized beauty rises.

Here's a few groups involved in Whale Conservation Issues:

...continued top of right column of the essay


Iceberg and Cave. Errera Channel. Antarctica..2009.

Scenes from Antarctica

I'm considering returning to Antarctica this winter, and at the same time have a print purchase inquiry about work from there.

Naturally, I'm going back and looking through archives, and if just tackling my last trip in 2009, I am finding more than I can easily take in. The three trips combined has made the work very hard to asses because of the shear volume of photographs.

It's odd for me, I see so many photographs of Antarctica portraying it as a dark and mysterious place. It is that, but so much more. It can also be light filled almost without parallel. Even blindingly so.


Sunlit Berg and Mountains. Antarctica. 2009.

As I consider returning to Antarctica, I do try to think through how new photographs might be different than what I've made before. This is entirely healthy, though not exactly clear what might be different. Of course every moment in life and light is different. Seeing past the overwhelming ice, snow and separateness is not easy to do. I will try.

I've been to Antarctica three times, each trip different, each one the photographs as much about me as the place.


The Gullet. Antarctica. 2009.


Humpback Whale Mother and Calf. Grandidier Channel. Antarctica. 2009.


Humpback Whale Breach by David Gee, last one by Stephen Johnson. Antarctica. 2007.

Some New Work


Mount St. Helens. 2015.

New Developments at the Studio

Preparing for shows and some portfolio presentations has resulted in new prints from recent work and trips. I also going through my 2009 Antarctica trip and making some prints.

I continue to work on my Life Form Project, adding new work every chance I get. Each Flora workshop I teach, and the times I just stop by Shelldance Orchid Gardens, produces new seeing. Most every trip I plan now includes botanical gardens of one kind or another.


Orchid Petal and Water Droplets. Shelldance. Pacifica. 2015


Succulent. Shelldance. Pacifica. 2015

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 New York City at Photo Plus.

  • ATX. Irvine, CA. July 18, 2015
  • Ft. Worth, Texas. November 7, 2015
  • Phoenix, Arizona. November 2015
  • Pacifica: At the Gallery
    Come by and talk with Steve about his ongoing Exhibitions of work on display

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.

Custom Workshop Scheduling

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 three workshops to experiment:

Workshop Polls Homepage




Printing Paper Qualities

The characteristics of inkjet printing paper vary greatly. Some qualities are directly reminiscent of traditional darkroom papers, some confuse our traditional terminology and mistake our desires. Photographers without any darkroom experience often don't have many of those frames of reference.

I would always make sure there are no optical brighteners in the papers I print on. These agents glow in ultraviolet light and they are likely not stable over time. UV brighteners fading will allow the print appearance to fade back over time to its native warmer white which can cause a shift to yellow. A black light can help detect their presence since the packaging will almost never reveal their use.

Many papers seem made to imitate resin-coasted photo paper which was a plastic photo paper introduced about 1972 for quick photo processing. I've never cared for its appearance. There are many inkjet papers that look like it, including the popular Epson Luster. It is not a surface I care for but it is very practical for handling and consequently convenient for commercial work.

People often choose a cheap paper for testing, figuring they will move to a nicer paper for serious prints. I've found this to generally be a waste of time, as I believe any attempt to make a print should be with the finest materials available to render the beauty of your image with the most beautiful of materials. I have also found that some matt papers that use the term "Archival" test positive for acid with a ph testing pen.

100% Cotton paper: a printmaking or watercolor paper appearance. My favorite is the Hahnemuhle Museum Etching which I designed with Hahnemuhle.

  • Brands include: Hahnemuhle, Canson and others
  • Archival qualities should be quite good. Look for 100% cotton often called rag.
  • Texture that pleases you. I prefer a slight texture, a watercolor paper look
  • Dust building up in the printers can be a real problem with all cotton raw appearing papers.
  • Flaking of the coating off after printing can leave white spots behind that are very difficult to spot out.

Photo glossy/semi-gloss/satin: a traditional "N" surface of semi-gloss, not quite completely smooth, but almost. We've come to call it the look of air-dried gelatin-silver paper.

  • Deep blacks and carries saturation well.
  • Demanding in terms of image quality
  • Less desirable are the plastic looking versions of glossier papers.

Matt: a generic term, traditionally refers to surface reflectance often achieved with a matt spray. Nowadays used broadly to describe anything that is not glossy. A matt paper is generally the cheapest of all papers. Uninteresting surface, no character to the paper. These papers are generally not of interest to my photographic needs.

  • cheaper
  • somewhat forgiving in image quality requirements
  • check for acid content

Previous Tutorial and Technique Posts



The Stephen Johnson Photography Gift Shop

Featured Products

gift certificate

Gift Certificates for Prints and Workshops!

Emailed or shipped with beautiful gift notecard.

2015 Calendars

11" x 17"
Price $25.00

2015 Life Form Calendar
12 selections from Steve's Life Form work.

Life Form Calendar order


2015 Pacifica Calendar
12 selections from Steve's Pacifica, CA work.

Pacifica Calendar order.


Life Form Note cards
5x7 inches,

Click to Purchase

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

note card

National Park Color Note card 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 14, 2015 . Mail comments to:
Photographs and Text Copyright ©2015, Stephen Johnson. All Rights Reserved Worldwide