Islands off the Ring of Kerry. Ireland. 2016. Canon 5DSr. Click to order a print. Next Workshop: Fine Art Digital Printing Hands-on: September 24-27, 2016
Welcome to the September 2016 Edition of the Stephen Johnson Photography Newsletter.
This month's View From Here column features recent photographs and explorations from our trip to Ireland. We hope you find the column interesting and will consider sending us some comments. Our Tutorial Section features some Q&A transcripts and again offers to answer questions that are sent in.
Steve in daily group discussion with his December Image Editing Workshop.
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.
FEATURED PRINT September 2016
Trees near Delphi. Doolough, Connemara. Ireland. 2016.
Trees and Lake. Doolough Ireland. 2016.
11x13 Pigment Inkjet Print on Cotton paper
A scene I remembered from my first trip in 1996. I found it to be a beautiful arrangement of hills, lake, trees and sky.
Reeds and Fish Ring. Gouganebarra, Ireland. Canon 5DSr.
The reeds in the water struck such a beautiful rhythm, and with the occasional fish jump with its concentric rings it became magical.
THE VIEW FROM HERE
by Stephen Johnson
My partner Fiona is of Scottish and Irish descent, named for her paternal grandmother. With her birthday coming, she had her heart set on visiting her ancestral Ireland for the first time. So this August, our ten day journey to Ireland began. It started with some compilations.
After a delayed departure due to flight crews apparently having forgot to load luggage onto the aircraft, we started our long flight to London. We were flying counter to the earth's rotation, away from the sunset, but so far north across NE Canada that the sun never fully set. The sun just brightened back up for our morning the next day arrival as we landed in London.
Never quite Nighttime over Greenland. 2016.
After our delayed San Francisco departure, we barely made our connection through London to Dublin, our bags didn't. So we started our Irish experience with the ever more common travel experience of lost luggage. Other passengers were in the same boat, and the lines began building at the lost luggage counter, and were over an hour at the car rental.
This was my 4th trip to Ireland. Even so, it was a real challenge to drive on the opposite side of the road, from a steering wheel on the right side of the vehicle, in a tiny rented car, in unfamiliar territory. Roundabouts as highway design with maps where the GPS text, graphics, and street reality often were at odds, sometimes with three differs of version of reality.
My luggage arrived late the evening of the first day. We had to press on southward from the Dublin area to Dunmore East for our next hotel hoping Fiona's luggage would follow. The Strand Inn in Dunmore East near Waterford turned out to be a great choice of hotel and setting for Fiona's birthday. After a great late afternoon and evening, Fiona's luggage arrived and we settled into the new rhythm of the trip, rising to a beautiful sunrise on her birthday morning.
We spent Fiona's birthday just as we had hoped, basking in being in Ireland, wandering the beach, headlands and back roads, finding a great place for dinner and live music to cap the evening, She said it was just what she hoped for,r which made me feel great.
Balancing the photography was a little challenging. Fiona, as a fellow artist, is very patient with my photography, and constantly gathering images herself for potential paintings. It is hard to concentrate on the image making with a vacation agenda for the trip. But the tripod did come out, scenes were carefully put together, but many more were far more casual and I worried, inevitably travelogue–great for memories, often of unclear artistic value. It didn't matter though, the trip was about all of those things combined.
Photographing in Ireland has never been easy or me. Ireland certainly has vistas, and a rough west, which I find very appealing. But the repetition of hill and farmland, well-kept very similar homes and an almost monochrome green, present challenges for me. When I can concentrate on light and form, I am at my photographic happiest. The pretty landscapes almost have to wear you down, so you start to see beyond just that scenery. We'll see how I did with that challenge.
After the birthday, the next morning we made our way to see one of my best friends, Anthony Hobbs, at his country home near Kilkenny. Anthony and I met when I was lecturing in London in 1995. He was a professor of Photography at Dublin's National College of Art, and very involved in the Irish arts scene. He subsequently arranged for me to be the lead artist at the 1996 Kilkenny Arts Week for exhibition in the Kilkenny Castle. My ex-wife Mary and I brought our kids, then 6 and 4, and we stayed for a month, thanks to funding from the Arts Festival, a Dublin lecture and the Irish Tourist Board. It was my first trip to Ireland, and Anthony and I have been friends ever since. I have been back twice since, including our jointly taught Irish Landscape Workshop in 2008.
We spent a great afternoon with Anthony and his wife Margaret in their old schoolhouse home and their wonderful garden. Anthony took us over for a great walk in the Woodstock Estate Gardens, a strange but beautiful mixture of burned-out mansion and restored 19th. century gardens. Trees from around the world had been brought in and nurtured during the heyday of the aristocracy who built the estate. It was a bit strange to see California Redwoods in Inistioge Ireland. Afterward, libation and great conversation carried us into the wee hours of the morning, just as any reconnection with old Irish friends should.
Killarney National Park. County Kerry. Ireland. 2016.
From Inistioge we headed for the beginnings of our real journey, western Ireland, Kerry through Killarney National Park and the many lakes. It often seems to be raining there, and this trip lived up to that tradition for me. The silvery gray skies made for low contrast landforms, and were a real photographic challenge. I just kept checking my histogram, making sure the skies were not blown, the land as bright as possible underneath, and I knew there would be some real interpretation challenges. There were more enticing overlooks than we could easily get to, particularly as it was getting dark and our hotel was still many miles away into the hills at Gugannebarra.
Our hotel at Gugannebarra turned out to be a beautiful setting, on a lake with a small chapel and some stone ruins. Sunrise the next morning was lovely on the water.
We met an American traveler there whose wife and he had just quit there jobs and were traveling the world with 4 million air miles saved each pursing different passions, on separate journeys then rejoining each other. I found his plan inspirational.
The Ring of Kerry and Dingle Peninsulas filled the next day. We strategized that Kerry or Dingle could each take a whole day, so we arranged to stay at Tralee, which is easy to get from the top of either of these south jutting wonders.
Driving Kerry soon took us from the stone fenced hills and farms that seem to be most of Ireland, to the dramatic vistas of rock, cliffs, mountains and sea that is so much of west Ireland. For some miles, it seemed every curve or rise in the road would bring yet more complex and dramatic views.
Beach at Glenbeg. Kenmare Bay. Kerry. 2016.
The Ring Road around Kerry is stunning. Following near sea roads up to dramatic cliffs, the views of farms, villages, sea and mountains kept pulling us to almost every wide spot in the road where we could pull over. Many views were simply impossible to stop at, at other times we ran into people just stopped in the middle of the road blocking our way because they felt compelled to stop. Sometimes we joined them. Wide road margins in Ireland are rare, and pull-off parking needs serious expansion. We stopped many times just to stare at the mix of landform natural drama, decaying rocks fences and well-kept Irish farmhouses.
Kenmare Bay on the east of the Kerry Peninsula treated us to a almost schizophrenic view of Ireland, with silvery skies and hills of heather, to turquoise water that seemed more Mediterranean than Irish. We were feeling the fatigue of just taking in so much.
We kept on driving and ended up doing both Kerry and Dingle during the long day still happening at these northern latitudes. After Tralee, the plan was to head to head on to the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher. We took the ferry across the Shannon River, skipping Limerick and headed toward the 300 million year old rocks of Moher.
As we expected, the Cliffs of Moher were very busy, with cars and tourist buses making for a wait to even get into the large parking area that has been added to the site. On the way in, I noticed an additional parking sign before we got the the traffic, then turned around, took the little side road and wandered through the hills and farms to the south end of the cliffs near Moher Tower, for a great view with far fewer people. If we had wanted to spend the day, our walk could have included "Moher Central" but we were quite content to enjoy the spectacular cliffs and tower on the south and move on to the expanses of The Burren on which we were now on the edge.
The rocky Burren region is a great and strange blend of the often stark expanse of the American west, blended with an overlay of Irish fecundity. The most famous site is the Poulnabrone Dolmen, a 5000 year old burial site, but the landscape itself is what draws me there. Walking around the now roped off dolmen site, I did start to imagine the scene 5000 years ago, and it did make more real the sense of antiquity I feel wandering Ireland. With a short trip in front of us, we didn't wander the Burren quite as much as I would have liked, but I always enjoy exploring it. We did do a too quick drive by of the Burren College of Art, which continues to intrigue me.
Lake and Hills. Connemara. Ireland.2016.
Our route from The Burren into Connemara wandered through lakes and mountains, castles and big skies. In many ways it is the home of classic Ireland views. Some were still irresistible, even though they may be a little too photographically familiar. At times, the view of the local castle got subsumed by wind patterns and reed on a lake with a rising mountain behind. The iconic castle with the tour buses were behind me on the other side of road splitting the lake. I could simply do more with the landscape, than I thought I could with the castle.
Each little village we passed thorough gave us a small glimpse of life and community there. Visiting more than one pub along the way certainly did as well. But even along the roadside, characters were to be found, me with my camera no doubt, but also celebration of music and culture. The imprint on the land of an island shaped by human activity is everywhere.
Accordion Player near Ashleigh Falls. County Mayo, Ireland. 2016.
Some of our music experience in Ireland, Ireland. 2016.
Sky Road out of Clifden was again a very special experience for me, this time hitting on a very pretty sunset. Although we had trouble finding our B&B that night, we did finally find the old estate. It was a bit spooky as we were the only guests and it was somewhat isolated, but turned out to be very charming.
Connemara is one of my favorite areas of Ireland. We took a long loop around through mountains and lakes. The journey filled our entire next day.
I've visited many place is my life where pivotal events in human history have occurred. From Ground Zero in Manhattan, to Dachau near Munich, the Apollo 1 launch pad, Dealy Plaza in Dallas. One such place is Doolough in Connemara Ireland.
Doolough is the site of a tragedy from the Great Irish Famine in March of 1849 where many died of exposure to a storm on a trek seeking food. I didn't fully remember the significance of the scene when I photographer in in 1996. These trees are next to the Delphi Lodge at Doolough. The blizzard deaths of starving Irish Famine victims came shortly after attempting to meet government workers here to apply for continued relief.
The site is also now remembered for the remarkable contributions made by native American Choctaw people raising money to send to Irish Famine Relief in 1847. The Choctaw people's own 1830 "Trail of Tears" was to be replayed in Doolough just a year after their donation. There is an annual Famine Relief Walk held at Doolough commemorating the tragedy, the Choctaw contribution, and the continued need to work to end world hunger.
The panoramic photograph I made at Doolough in 1996 proved to be a pivotal photograph for me. It was the rare instance where a panoramic composition seemed to really work, a beautiful example of sitting up in the rain in the faith that it would clear enough, and then capturing a magical light the was in place just long enough to make the photograph. I hoped that the photograph carried enough sensitivity about the place, that something of the sacredness of the site came through.
The photograph was so well received that I was selling prints of it before I had stable, long lasting inks and as 40 inch prints that I had to piece together. I only sold them with the promise that I would be able to replace the print with more stable inks, which I was certain were coming. It proved hard to replace them all, as the fading magenta ink of the Iris prints, only made the print seem greener still and was often unnoticed by the owner.
The most northerly point of this trip was our excursion out to Achill Island. It is a place that always feels remote, but the in the rain we encountered, it seemed even more so. As we approached the island a stone jetty caught my attention, which led us down a side road that we decided to stay on as it wandered around the Corraun Peninsula. The road turned-out to be one of the highlights of the trip.
Hills, Fog and Stone Fence. Achill Island. Ireland. 2016.
The rain had saturated the island, causing torrents of water to be pouring down the streams. It treated us to the sound and power of water coming down the hills, while the Atlantic hit the rocks below.
Rushing Stream near Achill Island. Ireland. 2016.
The road took us through some lonely landscapes, all wet with rain and hugging the seaside cliffs. At one point we were surrounded by heather and browning ferns all wet with mist and rain.
Heather and Ferns. Achill Island. Ireland.. 2016.
Stone Wall near Caisleán Ghráinne. Achill Island. Ireland. 2016.
Stone, Road and Sea. Achill Island. Ireland.. 2016.
Beach. Keem, Achill Island. Ireland. 2016.
As my fourth trip to Ireland, and a keen reminder of the challenges and opportunities of photographing there, we are exploring another Stephen Johnson/Anthony Hobbs workshop there next summer.
Check out Ireland's Spectacular West Coast workshop tentatively set for July 2017.
Recently at SJ Photo
I've had a little trouble adjusting back to California time, but had to quickly as my Photoshop Straight and True class was the weekend after our return. It was a good class and many of the students were greeted, as were we, to yet more humpback whales off the shore of Pacifica. It was a good homecoming.
As it happens, just in the last few weeks we've had two orders for my first digital 4x5 photograph that I was proud of, the Trees, Fitzgerald Reserve photograph from 1994.
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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..
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.
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:
What follows is a question and answer session we taped with my staff and a few guests some time ago. I hope it is useful for my readers here as well. It is also meant to be a means by which people can email additional questions that we can answer in future sessions.
Can you talk about tripod use and when you find it necessary to bring one out in the field even if you're shooting in broad daylight where you don't necessarily need to have the tripod.
Good question. Tripod use. When? Where? Why? Even with a small camera...?
The the times I use a tripod are the times my photographs get better. Almost universally. The images get more carefully considered, the sharpness of the photographs increase, I slow down and when I slow down I'm more careful. The photographs just improve all the way around.
There is not necessarily a singular circumstances that I use a tripod, most possible scenarios benefit. Certainly when I've got a long exposure, or when I'm having the trade-off between a high ISO and greater camera steadiness, are tripod aided. But as I said a moment ago, it's often even under the most pristine and easy conditions, where I might be able to get away with a hand-held shutter, that the photographs almost always improve when I use the tripod. So I really encourage people use a tripod in any circumstance that the care can be exercised.
There are some times when its ridiculous to try and use a tripod. If you're on a moving boat or flying in an airplane.
I try million encourage people use a tripod on all of my workshops. I often don't carry one because my purpose is to be out there helping people make progress not be trying to make my photographs better. I sacrifice some of the sturdiness and care that I might be able to exercise on my own photographs for the ability to work with people as quickly and as flexibly as possible.
When is it really necessary to change white balance to some sort of custom settings because I just normally shooting auto and I figured the camera does a good enough job, but wondering what your thoughts are on when to really change the white balance?
Many people struggle with what to do about white balance, or whether to do anything about it at all.
I do leave the camera on auto white balance (AWB) to try to give the camera a chance to make a good guess at what the color of the ambient light (white balance) is. It's very rarely actually right. The camera is not a spectrophotometer, but no matter what you do in camera, there's a degree of error involved because as I just said, the camera is not a spectrophotometer. it's not taking spectral readings of the light, enabling you to get the color just right.
There are a couple of strategies: allowing the camera to stay on Auto White Balance, then when you open the photo in the Raw processor, the photo will come in using that guess, marking it As Shot. Any white balance you do the camera will come is As Shot, auto or not. Sometimes the auto white balance gets it right. You can also do a Custom White Balance where you photograph a white or spectrally neutral light gray in the field, and dial that into your camera to make a custom white balance. It also won't be right most of the time, but it will be a guide also coming in As Shot with the raw file for something you can use in the raw processing if you want.
What I do more than anything else is, take a photograph of a spectrally neutral gray card, using the Color Checker Passport or one of the little digital gray caps that I used to sell, and that gives me essentially encoded in the raw file, a spectrally neutral gray I can then decode in the Raw processor, by clicking the white balance tool on it. It then makes that spectrally neutral gray, gray in the interpretation, in other words, neutral in the interpretation in the Raw processor. In the process of doing that, you have the gray being gray and you've got the color balance neutered for that lighting condition. That doesn't necessarily mean it's what you want the color to look like, but at least gives you that starting point for the gray is gray and you can make a decision from there if you want to warm it up or cool it down.
Remember, we are not just chasing scientifically accurate color to measuring devices, we are trying to render the scene that we saw. That means your current state of color adaptation is also playing a role in what you saw when you made the photograph. Your memory of the scene, is critical to fulfilling a desire to capture your human visual experience. Look at your raw file,s in your raw processor, aided by whatever color balance method you used, and make a judgment about how closely it matches what you visually experienced, and try to skew any customization to that memory. That also suggests you make that judgment as soon as possible after you make the photograph, while your visual memory is still fresh and not skewed by raw processor mis-interpretations of the photograph.
Color Matching and Memory Tutorial
Steve with his Canon 70-200mm lens, a tripod helps image quality.
Unlikely Tripod Situation.
Color Checker Passprot in Antarctica. 2016.
The Stephen Johnson Photography Gift Shop
Gift Certificates for Prints and Workshops!
Life Form Note cards
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
National Park Color Note card Set
From "With a New Eye" Beautiful 300 line screen offset reproductions with envelopes in clear box. A great gift.
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