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Pt. Lobos, CA 2010. Canon 5D II. Click to order a print. Next Workshop: Highway One Coastal Journey: May 14-15, 2016 and Pt. Lobos and Carmel. A Canon Workshop May 21-24, 2016

Welcome to the May 2016 Edition of the Photography Newsletter.

My friend Al Weber's loss brought many of his friends together to help with his archives. I think we all were looking at our friend's life's work, feeling his loss, impressed with his productivity, but at the same time pondering our own work and what will become of it. Back at the studio, I have been printing for a show at the Cantor Musem at Stanford, working on a website for Al, on some video projects, and moving toward summer travel and workshops including Maine and Ireland.

This month's View From Here column discusses career archives and bodies of work. We hope you find the column interesting and will consider sending us some comments. Our Tutorial Section explores the classic photo Gray Card.


  • 2016 Spring Workshop Schedule has been posted with these and other great courses coming up. See what a great experience students have had on Steve's Workshops by exploring Workshop Testimonials.

    Highway One: May 14-15, 2016. The coastline south of San Francisco in San Mateo County is one of the most beautiful stretches of land and sea anywhere. From eroded, rocky shorelines, to cliffs, long beaches, redwood forests and small towns, this coast is complex and varied. We'll spend the day roaming the coast and mountain roads, stopping at state parks, county parks and checking out the lunch options along the way.

    Point Lobos, Carmel and Big Sur: A Landscape Photography Workshop. Canon EOS Destination Workshops. May 21-24, 2016. This is a Canon Destination Workshop, designed for Canon users and providing a unique level of specialized Canon support including camera and lens loans.

    Pt. Lobos is synonymous with west coast landscape photography. It is where so many of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston's photographs were made. It is where so many photographic pilgrimages have been made. It is where Friends of Photography and countless other workshops have concentrated their attention. It is a spectacular location and remains a place of great allure, with wonderful rock formations, floating kelp forests, and amazing color of surf and wave

    Raw to Print: Digital Bootcamp. June 6-10, 2016. A week long intensive plunge into digital photography starting from exposure, to raw processing, image editing, color management and printing.

photo review

Steve in daily group discussion with his December Image Editing Workshop.
Photos 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 our Newsletter Archive and some 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



San Francisco, Bay, Clouds and Ships. 2010
Canon 1Ds III

San Francisco Bay. 2010.
Canon 1DS III

11x13 Pigment Inkjet Print on Cotton paper
$195 each.

Taking off from SFO is so often a parade of bay area wonder. This morning was particularly nice with fog shrouding the city and the ships dotting the water.


2016 Workshop Schedule
Highway One Coastal Journey: May 14-15, 2016
Pt. Lobos and Carmel. A Canon Workshop May 21-24, 2016
RAW to Print Bootcamp: June 6-10, 2016
Golden Gate: June 25-26, 2016
Printing Photographic Beauty: July 10-16, 2016. Maine Media Workshops
Vision and Craft Bootcamp: October 2-8, 2016. Maine Media Workshops

printing class

Clouds over Paciifc from Big Sur. Pt. Lobos Carmel and Big Sur workshop.

Speaking and Exhibition Events (see below)

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Surf. Devil's Slide. 2016. Canon 5Dsr

There is endless fascination in breaking surf. When the afternoon breeze blows back the wave cap, combined with the back lighting, the effect can be stunning.


Purchase a print of this photograph


Ice Wall. Exit Glacier. Kenai Fjords National Park.. Alaska. 1996.
Betterlight 4x5 Scanning Back.

by Stephen Johnson

A friend's archives becomes a look through my own career...

Helping with the inventory and website of my friend Al Weber's work last week left me pondering my own work and the taking stock with some of the organizing I've been doing the last few months.

As we were going through Al's Studio we saw many memories, and 60 years worth of work. Beautiful places visited. Many friends made. A few lost. It seemed companions were everywhere and stories echoed off the walls. The stories were memories, a few some of us remember, some told on video .But the photos on the walls of so many friends became something even more real.

A photographer's life is likely to have a large amount of documentation and inferred travelogue. The photographs end up not only recording the photographer's desire to hold what they see, but a journey of exploration and discovery. The photographs are also a record of being in the world.

From what I knew of Al's work, it seemed to fall into a few groups, his aerial commercial work, the Rock Art work, Finnish architecture, and desert landscapes. Of course I am only beginning to understand the breadth of my friend's photography, but the process of looking brought my own life's work into examination, even scrutiny.

My Own Work

I suppose my early landscape work, so influenced by Adams and Weston is where I first felt some solid ground in my photography. Large-format black and white, deep blacks, glowing whites, the natural world in monochrome.

stage road

Stage Road. Highway One near San Gregorio. 1977.
4x5 Kodak Plus-X film.

The early color work was 35mm slides and as my mom once put it, were "the pretty ones" she always liked–old barns and oak trees in the foothills. The slides soon gave way to color negatives, expanding subject matter, my pursuit of pastels with my growing passion for light-filled photographs. The Mono Lake work started to ground these ideas about 1979. I suppose a style was being born.

I didn't then yet realize it, but my work was evolving into long-term photographic projects and the Mono Lake effort was just the beginning. Soon the exhibition At Mono Lake was born and a whole new world opened up to me. Al Weber and Don Worth co-curated At Mono Lake with me. Al introduced me to Ansel, who immediately agreed to help. I recruited Brett Weston to help. The world of western landscape photographers was opening to my efforts, and supportive. At Mono Lake also brought about my introduction to David Brower and Friends of the Earth, who also agreed to help.

In many ways, the shape of my career was born right there, working to record and draw attention to lands that I love, in hopes of inspiring others to care and make a difference. My method was the seduction of beauty, my tool was the truth of photography. It became a sacred pursuit.


Dusk Mono Lake.1979.
120mm Kodak Vericolor film.

It was about that same time that my travels around the west stimulated the Western Artifacts project. So many of the quirky things I was seeing around the west seemed to demand my camera's attention. By its very nature though, it is created from what I happen to see. Over the first few years of paying attention to the possibilities, I went a long way toward a set of prints. It is one of those projects that builds over time.


Truck Stop Sign. Winnemucca, NV 1982.
120mm Kodak Vericolor film.

My journey back to my homeland of the Great Central Valley was the greatest concentrated growth in my work. Of course that work was starting at the same time as I was finishing up on the Mono Lake project and finishing graduate school. Part of my degree program gave me the opportunity to work with a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) birthing yet another curiosity driven body of work. 1980-83 made clear that my interests were going to be pursuing multiple projects almost at the same time. What can I say? I'm a curious guy.

The Central Valley Project was about going home, trying understand where I came from. I have said many times, the Great Central Valley is place where the horizon is both limitless and confining. The surrounding mountains are now rarely visible, lost in the haze, connotating horizons without end. The winter fog limits the view and makes the very same place seem small. It stretched my sense of place, and redefined its limits.


Cattle and Sky. Merced County.1982.
4x5 Kodak Vericolor negative

I have heard, more than once in my life, that my photographic interests were too broad, that I really did need to settle on a style or subject. In my heart, I knew that was not who I was. I have always felt my curiosity led the seduction and that was the only way I wanted to work.

Those curiosities continued to range from realistic color to black and white design, always searching for the intrinsic beauty that I find wandering the earth.

jefferson memorial

Jefferson Memorial. Washington DC. 1984.
4x5 Kodak Plus-X film.

I have always tried to be attentive to where I could make a difference. I don't think I have made a political photograph of any artistic value. But I do have this notion that I have been making art that helps make people care, and drive home the value of a more intimate relationship with the natural world.



...continued top of right column of the essay

grass and sun

Travertine. Yellowstone. 1995.
Betterlight 4x5 Scanning Back.

Without even intending to plunge right into another project, just as the Central Valley book was hitting the stores, Michael Collette came into my life with his 4x5 scanning camera, 140 megapixel files, and my digital national parks project, With a New Eye was born.

But it doesn't stop, the continuum of exploration and seeing has been life-long for me and I hope it never stops. And a lifetime of work is way too much for this column. The parks project led to moving exclusively to digital work, which led to more aerial photography, travel all over and now to the Life Form work, the newest and least like my other photographs.

Although I do see the relationship to everything that has come before, a career can be a complex journey that weaves through life, technology and opportunity.

grass and sun

Aerial, Point Reyes National Seashore, CA. 2000.
Kodak DCS460.

So, when it's all said and done, what do you do with your work? It is a question I have faced with my friend Ralph Putzker's paintings. Al Weber worked the issue for many of his friends. Eventually he helped found the Foundation for Photographic Preservation. Maybe you would like to help?

Intersection of Friends

With my good friend Al Weber's passing, a lot of old memories have been crossing my mind. Last week, a number of us who worked with Al over the years met at his studio to start the slow process of going through photos and cameras.

weber studio

Rematting a print. Al Weber Studio. Adam Busch, Fernando Baptista, me and Peter LeGrand. Carmel. 2016. Photo by Karl Mondon.

vpp home

Al Weber and Ansel Adams. Photo by Dick Cobb. circa 1968.

My job was to find and scan photos for the website I am building for Al. I was looking for photographs of him, with his friends, many of whom I also knew, and greatly admired.

al and ralph

Al Weber and Ralph Putzker teaching in Lee Vining Canyon, circa 1972.


Al worked with his friend Ansel Adams for many years, helping to him run his Yosemite Workshops from 1962-1980. We came across a few of Al's portraits of Ansel Adams.


Ansel Adams and his platform Cadillac. Photo by Al Weber.



Victor School Classes Photo. 1978.

Al and Suzie Weber founded a photo school on Pikes Peak in Victor Colorado in 1977 which they ran though 2007. 103 instructors and thousands of students made their way there. I stopped by in the summer of 1983 and found it to be a vital energetic place that I wish I had planned to stay at for awhile.

Once upon a time in the high Rockies of Colorado there existed a magical place called Victor School, which was filled with a special fervor, respect, generosity, a lot of FUN, good people and love. Victor School had all the right stuff.

—Peter Robert Thompson, from Simple American Places. Portfolio #1.
from Al Weber's 2007 Newsletter


Recently at SJ Photo

Video from 2014. Highway One Coastal Journey workshop. The next session of this class is coming up next weekend, May 14-15.

Highway One Coastal Journey Workshop. 2014

A few field demos from our huge archive of workshop video footage.


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Consulting Programs, Speaking and Exhibition 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..

  • Rockport Maine. July 10-16, 2016.
  • Central Oregon Community College. Saturday November 12th.
  • Napa College. November 17th.
  • 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


California: The Art of Water
July 13–November 28, 2016.
Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University. Group Exhibition.


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 a few workshops to experiment:

Workshop Polls Homepage

The Gray Card


Exposure and gray balance have long been linked in color photography with the traditional gray card. As it happens, a rather pristine set of Kodak Neutral Test cards came into my hands some months ago and I decided to measure their "neutrality."

The gray cards measured in the LAB color-space:

Card #1

L 52.5
a .5
b 3

Card #2

L 53.3
a .8
b 3.5

The cards were different from each other, and neither of the two in the package were neutral. Neutral in the LAB color-space having "0" "a" and "b" values of which is hard to manufacture. In the days of silver-based film, our visual interpretation of what seemed neutral often didn't notice such variation. Sometimes I did, and I found it very frustrating. My old and well used Macbeth ColorChecker's similar gray (3rd in from black) measures much more neutral at L52.1, a0, b -0.4 which is much more to my liking. That old ColorChecker became my de facto gray balance source for my BetterLight Scanning back work in the national parks.

The gray cards were very useful. Their 18% reflectance gave a light meter exactly the brightness that the meter was calibrated to read. A quick gray card reading with my light meter gave me a good exposure to make the gray card look like a gray card. This avoided common metering mistakes such as under-exposed snow and over-exposed shadows.

It also became a quick visual reference point to the Zone System in photography as 18% gray also happens to be Zone 5 (Zone V), the middle of the 9 zone patches of one stop more or less exposure as you moved up or down the scale.

This became the visual guide as to how film rendered light, how shadows and highlights were mapped and led to an understanding of expanding or reducing contrast by varying exposure and development of a negative.

If the scene was too contrasty, where shadows are too deep and highlights too bright, you could give the shadows more exposure, placing them on the zone scale where you wanted, say Zone II or III. You could then calculate about where the highlights would then fall. If it seemed the highlights would be too bright, off the scale to the right, a specialized reduced development time could then be used to avoid the highlights building to their "too bright density." This was called a minus development. For low contrast subjects, shadow placement would still drive exposure, but development time would be extended to build more density on the highlight areas of the negative, a plus development.

The basic rule of thumb was, Expose for the Shadows, Develop for the Highlights. Nowadays in this digital world, I would say, expose for the Histogram, Process for Appearance.

At the heart of it the Zone System was the gray card (or Zone V), understanding it and making use of it as a exposure tool and reference.

A more detailed tutorial to follow in the future.

For more information on the Zone System in the digital age, see Chris Johnson's book: The Practical Zone System for Film and Digital Photography: Classic Tool, Universal Applications

Previous Tutorial and Technique Posts

gray card

Kodak Neutral Test card package with PDF link to the enclosed instructions.

gray card

A quickly made Zone Scale for illustration purposes. The brightness values are not accurate.

The Stephen Johnson Photography Gift Shop

Featured Products


gift certificate

Gift Certificates for Prints and Workshops!

Emailed or shipped with beautiful gift note card.


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


gift certificate

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.


gift certificate



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 12, 2016 . Mail comments to:
Photographs and Text Copyright ©2016, Stephen Johnson. All Rights Reserved Worldwide