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Fountain. WWII Memorial. Washington DC. 2011. See our next workshop: Professional Image Editing November 12-15, 2011

Welcome to the November 2011 Edition of the Stephen Johnson Photography Newsletter.

Back now from a week on the east coast, at the PhotoPlus Expo, a few days knocking around New York, then on to Washington DC and a talk in Maryland.

This month's Newsletter's View From Here column explores printing, editing and craft. We hope you enjoy reading it and perhaps will send us some comments. Our Tutorial this month works through Depth of Field in concept and practice.

First up is the the critical Image Editing Hands-on class on November 12-14, 2011. Many of you have asked when we will offer this class again, so come and join us for this vital dive into thoughtful and realistic image editing.

Later this month you can show your own work, receive feedback and see others photographs during our  November 17 Critique Session on the 17th from 7 to 10pm.

The Death Valley in Winter Workshop running January 7-10, 2012 has filled and we are exploring a second session January 12-15. Four days of exploring this remarkable national park with great photographic instruction and field work. Death Valley is a place you must go, so why not now?

Our next Fine Art Printing Hands-on class is January 21-24, 2012.

Many new workshops have been added to our schedule for the Spring of 2012, Yosemite in Winter, Joshua Tree National Park, Pt. Reyes National Seashore, and California's Highway One San Francisco South. Check them out!

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.

New: We are also initiating a Friends and Couples workshop discount where two enrollments coming in at the same time get a 10% discount on the second enrollment and a referral discount on a future class. That combined with shared expenses can cut the cost of a workshop significantly.

Don't miss the international trips we have coming up in 2012 to the Galapagos and Iceland.

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!

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


FEATURED PRINT November 2011

sleeping bear dunes

Clouds at Dawn. 2011
Canon 1Ds III
11x14 Pigment Inkjet Print on Cotton paper
$195 each. Purchase this print.

Flying east from San Francisco over an overcast bay area led me to a sunrise on the edge of the San Joaquin Valley near the slopes of Mt. Diablo.

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2011 Stephen Johnson Workshops and Event Calendar
Critique Session November 17, 2011
Professional Image Editing November 12-14, 2011
Pt. Lobos and Carmel. A Canon Workshop. December 3-5, 2011 (now full)
Holiday Open House at Stephen Johnson Photography Studios and Gallery.
Saturday December 10, noon to 5pm
Death Valley in Winter January 7-10, 2012 (now full)
Fine Art Digital Printing January 21-24, 2012
Yosemite in Winter February 4-6, 2012
Joshua Tree March 10-12, 2012
Pt. Reyes National Seashore April 21-23, 2012
California's Highway One: San Francisco South May 19-20, 2012
Iceland. August 24-September 2, 2012








Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Washington DC. 2011

New Photo Link

tears, with so many layers of images and memories as we walked along the black stone wall and 58,000 names...



US Capitol. Washington DC. 2011

My head and heart always get pulled into so many places when I go to Washington. I've lobbied here for Mono Lake, carrying portfolios of prints from office to office. I grew up in awe of what we've made in this country. I still feel a deep commitment to help us fulfill our promise.

cloudsAutumn Snow on Trees. Central Park. New York City. 2011

by Stephen Johnson

Some discussions at a Ted Orland/David Bayles lecture this past weekend at the Center for Photographic Art in Carmel got me thinking about printing and editing. Combined with our upcoming Image Editing class next weekend, it seemed a good point of departure for this months essay...

Images, Prints, Process and Craft

We've been writing with light onto our retina since vision evolved in our species. Memory is our storage media. Some of these images in our minds are precious, some necessary, some we would rather forget.

The impulse to make photographic images comes from those same instincts of valued memory. Photography is the conscious act of selectively committing images to external mechanical memory, imbued with a real desire to react and remember. Expressive or record, the ability to hold an image is as old as we are as a species and as instinctive. It just that for the last 170 years, we've had photography as a means.

Making and holding the external physical manifestation of those images, the print, is something else entirely. As photographers, we deal with the ephemeral, the changing light, the shutter tripped, the notion of the latent image, even the photographic negative to some degree. In so many ways, it has been the print that satisfies our notion of the image fixed in time and space.

Although these notions of a print as the final manifestation may change with new technology, and may have even already generationally changed, most of us still think of the print in our hands as the final version of the photographic image.

It is no wonder that the changing nature of making prints is simultaneously causing consternation and liberation. The labor and craft of a darkroom experience seems to have been supplanted by the mere pushing of a few buttons on a computer keyboard. Of course, if that were really the case, an explosion of unparalleled photographic beauty and inspiration would be overwhelming us all. And although outstanding work is being done, sadly no such explosion seems to be taking place.

Just as many of us know that exposing a piece of paper and timing it through a series of chemical-filled trays did not in and of itself make for a beautiful print, pushing Command P on the keyboard does not either. There is so much more to it than that.

The Command P Fallacy

Pushing the print button is a purely mechanical act commencing a sequence of actions between the software, the computer, and the printer. Carefully managed, this can produce consistent and predictable results. Much the same as feeding film into a processing machine with automatic prints coming out the other end.

More often than not however, the process is not carefully managed. That process and workflow can be taught and brought under control. But there is more to it than that. Just as pushing the saturation slider to the right does not result in automatic beauty, producing a piece of paper with ink on it does not make for automatic beauty. Judgment and skill is critical way before a print is executed and in examining and refining initial results.

Changing Metaphors and Control Points

The careful print was once an interaction between a photographer, a negative, an enlarger, a certain waving of hands, a timer, fresh chemical solutions, consistent tray rocking and lots of water. The pivot point of where the image is realized has now evolved.

The fixing of the moment in a camera onto a holding material, silver or silicon, remains the primary act. The development is now an interaction of a number of processes starting with a RAW interpreter, then is handed off to a pixel editor like Photoshop where the act of developing is now actually completed with careful tone, color and design balancing into a finely tuned light-based rendition of the original scene.

The printing process has largely become a set of software steps with a real mechanical/electrical device at the end, the printer. As has always been the case, the first prints in hand are further steps in a process that now doubles back into the editing software for the evaluation of the real print that then becomes a plan for fine tuning it further into a work of art. This iterative process has always been present in photographic printmaking and it still should be considered core to the process. Anything less accepts the initial result as final, even though rote, and translated into an entirely different form.

Image editing is now a combination of what was once film development and the front end of printmaking under the enlarger. The evaluation of the success of the print and the modification of the file now replaces different dodge and burn patterns and perhaps altered chemistry of development. There is much that is the same even though the tools have evolved considerably.

Learning How Beautiful a Print Can Be

The pity of it is that many people new to the photographic printmaking process do not have experience with traditional processes and often fail to recognize this iterative and evolutionary process as a natural part of the printing process. Furthermore, it seems few have real first-hand experience seeing absolutely gorgeous prints.

The seduction of the viewer is not just the image, it is the delivery. As a print on the wall, the sheer beauty of the print itself is no small part of the wonderful evocative reaction a truly beautiful print can illicit.

Go to galleries, see work. Find work you truly admire, learn from the image maker if you can, or someone who clearly has the craft and sensitivity to know what a print can be. Seek out mentors and educators who can truly communicate, not just the steps, but the passion. Ralph Putzker was one such person for me. Be satisfied with nothing less than the most beautiful print that you can imagine.

Perfectionism has its place in printmaking.


Our Professional Image Editing class this next weekend November 12-15 could be of real help, as would the next Fine Art Printing Hands-on class January 21-25, 2012. We also offer a Mentoring program to work with people individually in person or virtually.

email any essay comments


Steve Lecturing in the Canon Booth at PhotoPlus New York. 2011. (screen images stripped-in)

New Workshop Program

We are initiating a Friends and Couples workshop discount where two enrollments coming in at the same time get a 10% discount on the second enrollment and a referral discount on a future class. That combined with shared expenses can cut the cost of a workshop significantly. Email for discount

Information on the addiitonall Referral Credit on future workshops.


...continued top of right column

duskOccupy Wall Street Camp in the Snow. New York City. 2011.

Photo Journeys

While in New York last week, I wanted to visit the Occupy Wall Street camp and the Ground Zero Memorial across the street. The weather didn't cooperate, so the photographs I had in mind chatting with people didn't work out. However, the camp itself in the unseasonably early snow carried its own sense of determination.

The Ground Zero Memorial was also effected by bad weather and was closed due to falling ice by the time we got down there. Although disappointing, the cold wet weather had a way of punctuating both the plans and real experiences.

Warming up in a nearby cafe, many of the people from the camp were doing the same. The conversations, normal human interactions and controversies, sense of purpose and common frustration I hear most everywhere I go, made its own small sense of America at work, working things through, even on my very brief visit. This was deepened by my visit the next day to the National Archives in Washington DC and the chills I get looking at the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution.

Man with Sign. Occupy Wall Street Camp. New York City. 2011.



NEW PRODUCT: Mono Lake Folio

We are bundling a vintage copy of the original paperback edition of the At Mono Lake exhibition catalog from 1983 with a new illustrated and expanded copy of my Masters Thesis documenting the creation of the exhibition together with an original 8x10 print that I consider pivotal in my aesthetic evolution, Dusk, Mono Lake 1979.

book coverbook cover

This set comes bundled in a folio and is available for purchase now at $250. Email to order or call 650 355-7507.

Mono Lake Folio Link

Revised and Updated version of "Stephen Johnson On Digital Photography"

I am updating and revising my last book, the 2006 Stephen Johnson On Digital Photography,

I would appreciate having my reader's feedback on topics they would like to see added, errors they might have noticed and in general how to make it an even more useful work.

Please email us your suggestions.

book cover



Holiday Gifts!

If you've been thinking about a workshop, an original print or portfolio, give us a call. The gift of a workshop or the treasure of a beautiful print can be a great idea for the holidays coming up. Our National Park Notecard set has proved very popular during the holidays.

We'll be doing gift card discounts, a holiday Open House, and perhaps even a new exhibition before the end of the year.

Holiday Open House

Saturday December 10 from 12 noon to 5pm. Mark your calendars. Details to follow.



Depth of Field

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

Controlling what is in focus or out of focus is a fundamental aspect of photographic interpretation, design and content. Our eyes constantly refocus as we glance around the world making this decision making about focus in photography very different than our human visual experience. Controlling that difference is important.

Depth of Field is the range of distance from the camera that is in acceptable focus. It is controlled by the point in space where the lens is focused in conjunction with the aperture setting in the lens. Generally speaking, wider angle lenses have inherently greater depth of field while longer lenses have shallower depth of field characteristics.

General Concepts
Aperture opening size is the primary control over the depth of focus in the photograph. The smaller the aperture such f16, f22, f32 have greater depth of focus than wider apertures such as f5.6, or f8. As the lens aperture is stopped down (made smaller), the depth of focus will increase in front of and behind the focusing point. A truism is that it increases one unit forward for every two units behind the primary focusing point and although this can be true under some circumstances in others the increase is more symmetrical.

In a carefully controlled depth of field scenario, autofocus is generally not used as you are normally focusing behind the nearest object you need sharp. Instead you count on the inherent depth gained from the aperture you've chosen to bring into focus what you would normally autofocus on.

Sharpness and Depth of Field are Different Qualities
Generally speaking, a lens is sharpest at a few stops down from wide open, as in a 2.8 lens stopped down to 5.6. Even though depth of field increases with very small apertures, these small openings actually soften the image somewhat from diffraction and drop in lens sharpness as you close down the opening. Consequently you should only stop the lens down as far as is needed for the desired depth and avoid knee jerk stopping down to the the smallest aperture hoping for adequate depth. Hope should be replaced with careful calculation of need and aperture characteristics..

Depth of Field Preview Button
For maximum brightness, the camera lens is always kept wide open for your viewing regardless of the aperture you have dialed in. It is only shut down to your chosen aperture during the exposure.

To preview what the actual depth of field characteristics of the scene will be, use the depth of field preview button on your camera to manually stop down the lens to see the focus change from wide open to your chosen aperture. The image will also get dark, so can be hard to see. A technique that works on Canon dSLRs is to press the depth of field button, then stop down or open up the lens until you see the desired focus achieved. This changes the sudden darkening into a more gradual change that can be easier to see.


from Wikipedia. Licensed under the GFDL by the author;
Released under the GNU Free Documentation License.

Lens Depth Scales
Most modern lenses are now made without the essential depth of field scale printed on the lens barrel, and so we have to go through some improvisation to determine the ideal focusing point and the needed aperture to achieve the depth you have in mind.

Many miss having a depth of field scale on our lenses, and truly do want a more manual and precise way of working, leaving autofocus behind, and the optical compromises of zoom lenses as well. Some have turned to a series of fixed focal length lenses from Zeiss, manual focus very well made optics with depth of field scales.



from Wikipedia. Licensed under the GFDL by the author;
Released under the GNU Free Documentation License.

A Manual, Step by Step Process with No Lens Depth Scale
  • Focus on the nearest object you need sharp, read the distance on the lens.
  • Focus on the most distant point you need sharp, read the distance on the lens.
  • Rack the focus to the mid-point between those two points on the lens distance scale. On lenses with a depth of field scale, merely move the focus until the needed range is within the marked f number needed to achieve the depth required.
  • Stop down the lens aperture to the smallest number you judge might be needed. This can be guessed at, derived from a depth table for the lens or by using the depth of field preview button.
  • Check the new focus characteristic of the composition by stopping down the aperture with the Depth of Field preview button.
  • Zoom in on the image preview on the camera LCD screen to inspect the success of your effort.

Hyperfocal Distance
The hyperfocal distance of a lens is the focusing point which will bring into focus the nearest point possible at a given aperture when a sharp infinity focus is also needed. This can be derived from a lens chart, or lens performance calculators whether by smart phone App such as DOF Master or other online or manual tools.

For example, my Canon f4 70-200mm zoomed to 100mm at f11 when focused at its hyperfocal distance of 97 feet will be sharp from 48 to infinity, while at f16 will  be in focus from 34 feet to infinity when focused at its hyperfocal distance of 68 feet.

Any lens with a depth of field scale can instantly be set to its hyperfocal distance by aligning the infinity symbol with the desired aperture.


Digital depth of field expansion is discussed in another of my tutorials.



We have a few of international workshops coming up in the next 12 months! For basic information please see below.  The links attached will have all details and ways to register.


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. email for preliminary info

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 perfect Christmas 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 November 16, 2011 . Mail comments to:
Photographs and Text Copyright ©2011, Stephen Johnson. All Rights Reserved Worldwide