Seybold Seminars New York/Publishing '98

Digital Photography: Morning Program (Part 2)

Thursday, March 19, 1998

John Henshall, Electronic Photo-Imaging, Moderator
Stephen Johnson, Stephen Johnson Photography
Cal Newby, QuadGraphics
Guy Shirm, Elinca
Audience Q&A

Mr. Henshall: Our next speaker I invited, not because he's a commercial and advertising photographer — he's not — but because he's somebody who when I first heard him speak, I was electrified. I thought this is the modern-day Ansel Adams. Now he's not going to thank me for saying he's the modern-day Ansel Adams but you know why? He went up Half Dome in Yosemite with a Dicomed scan back and he could record eight images. And that's what I think Ansel Adams did. He went up there with eight plates. He spoke in terms which explained everything brilliantly, how he saw digital imaging and how he saw it as an archival medium. So, ladies and gentlemen I would like to introduce, I think, one of the finest digital photographers that we've got at the moment, Stephen Johnson.


Stephen Johnson: I can't possibly live up to that introduction, John. How many of you are photographers? How many of you are using digital camera right now? Above ten-megabyte image size? Below one-megabyte image size? Above five-megabyte image size? Okay, that gives me a little bit of an idea. We're very lucky today to have so many fine cameras represented in the back. A quick glance around the room indicates to me quite clearly there's not a bad camera back there. So being a user of many of these cameras and not a user of a couple of them, I can say with enthusiasm that the afternoon ought to be interesting.

I have to also say that my interest in direct digital photography really was tempered by digital cameras' inability to rise to the quality of film. That went on for a number years. Back in about 1993, actually '92, when I saw the first Leaf DCB, it started to get challenged a little bit. Pretty soon I was seeing four-megabyte black and white files that seemed to have as much or more detail than a piece of 2 1/4 film. That just doesn't make sense on the surface of it but when you start to zoom in on these files and see the kind of detail that's there, I think you'll be rather astounded. Well that got enveloped a little bit more and the definition of what a digital original could be got stretched even further when Michael Colette, the inventor of the Dicomed scanning back, came and showed me his invention in September of '93.

At that point we had a 4 X 5 that I could or a scanner we could put into a 4 X 5 that was battery-powered that I could take any where. Suddenly the portability that I'd been getting with the Kodak DCS cameras was available in a view camera format. That became rather astounding because by January of '94, Michael had implemented this camera to the point that it could make a 6,000 X 7,520 pixel image. Which is basically 20 X 25 inches at 300 dpi. At that point the notion of how the quality of the digital original compares to the quality of film started getting redefined in a very surprising, if not shocking, way. I have one other question for you. How many people in the audience would still think of film as being a superior quality recording medium than digital? Okay, a few. I don't think you will in a few minutes.

I've been a photographer for 25 years. I got seduced into loving photography through the beauty of a silver-based image. I have no digital ax to grind other than my own experience. I classify myself as a photographer, not a digital photographer. I happen to use digital tools now as a photographer. I come from that West Coast landscape photography school of very large, beautiful black and white prints. I hope that mine rise to the quality of beauty on occasion and I also do a lot of color work as well. So I didn't come into the use of digital imaging with any sort of hopes that it would outrun film or any sort of thoughts that it even could. But things changed. One of the things I'd like to start off with this morning is a little bit of a discussion about where the promise of digital imaging has been made and where there's some very distinct realizations of that. As always, some of the things that I'm going to talk about are going to be a bit of a challenge to see on a computer-projected system. Because I think as we all know, the quality of a 35 millimeter slide projected from a normal $150 projector is still superior to most $10,000 video projectors. So there's clearly a disparity there between digital and analog. But I'll do my best to show you what I have in mind.

Now I'm going to run a rather antiquated software, Aldus Persuasion, you see I haven't even updated to the Adobe version of it. I'm going to run it in a non-presentation mode so I can bounce in and out of it when I want. First of all I would say that there's been a promise for digital imagery that there's a possibility to calibrate the sensor to a certain degree of color accuracy that goes beyond film. There's been a promise of a kind of dynamic range that might go beyond film. There's been a promise with these high-end scanner backs, at least, and some of the area array backs have quite a lot of detail. And for me, at least, there's been a whole new way of seeing that's been engendered by this process. I'm going to go through each of these rather quickly so that I save some time to be able to show you some more detailed examples offline from the presentation.

I think we ought to stop to consider a little bit about what's been happening when we've been shooting film because we've become so used to the process of it that we sometimes forget what's actually happening. We are taking electromagnetic energy of light or particles of light, we haven't determined which light is exactly, and turning it into a photo-chemical reaction with the light sensitivity of silver. We are also quite tired of a process of delayed gratification where we snap the shutter, we assume something has happened to the film. We hope that there's a latent image sitting there waiting to be developed. We hope that we've done it successfully. But you know the film doesn't feel any heavier once that light has struck it. We're taking it on faith that the batch of film we've got is not bad, that something hasn't happened in the shutter to create a light leak or there isn't a whole bunch of dust sitting somewhere. That delayed gratification is something we're used to, but I have to say, it's fundamentally unsatisfactory about the film based process.

But even more dissatisfying about film is its limited view of reality. Now to some degree, I have to say that I no longer fully appreciated just how limited that view of reality was until I started working with a medium that could see beyond what film could see. Then I started looking again at what I'd been limited with silver-based materials and I was shocked at the difference. For example, film makes shadows black. Is that a fair statement? You go out in the sunshine, you take a photograph. Even with using the zone system in a M minus 3 development, it's very hard to have open luminous shadows because the dynamic range of silver is simply too limited to encompass reality. You flip through any magazine, any photograph that isn't made with fill flash is going to have black shadows.

I would also argue that we've got now over 50 years of the introduction of a very harsh view of reality with film. Color film doesn't see light like our eye does. It doesn't see color like our eye does. In fact, it over-emphasizes it, over-dramatizes it to the point that now one of the most popular films, Fuji Velvia, is such a distorted view of reality that one of the reasons it's so popular is because it's so over-saturated. That's weird. I think that color photography has so influenced our view of what to expect of the world that we've actually gotten a very skewed view of what the world looks like.

Let me tell you a story I tell over and over again because it made such an impression on me. I was out at the Grand Canyon one day watching people come up to the edge and take a look. And I noticed this one couple getting out, taking a look and sort of shaking their heads and I nudged over closer to them so I could hear what they were saying. One person was saying to the other, "It just doesn't look like the postcards." They turned around disappointed because the real view of the real space didn't have that harsh over-saturated view of color that the color postcards did. What does that say about our state of relationship between reality and photography? I would say that it says that there's quite a distance between the two. If color film has helped to define our view of the world, it's a view of the world as seen with some sort of hallucinogenic drugs. [Laughter]

So I've got a few comparisons here and some of these will be easy to see on screen and some of them will be hard. One of the things I needed to do right off when Michael Colette and I decided to go out and shoot some film at the same time as his camera, was I wanted to see just how film stacked up. So we shot some Ektrachrome E 6100, we shot some Kodak VeriColor BPS, we shot T-max 100, I shot some Agfaplan 25. All 4 X 5. All at the same time, same camera, same lens as we shot with what later became the Dicomed digital insert which incidentally, just to give Kodak its due credit, also contains a Kodak tri-linear array. So in a sense, except for Agfa film, I was comparing Kodak to Kodak.

These overall views don't show much. When we start to go closer, we start to see some differences. For example, this is a view looking toward the Golden Gate bridge of San Francisco. Right in here is the intersection of Columbus and Bay Streets where there's a Tower Records. Well, that evening when I was starting to look at these photographs, I started to zoom in and look at the Tower Records on the digital files. Of course, we couldn't look at the film till the next day because it took us that long to process everything. Which do you suppose of these two is the 4 X 5 Ektrachrome and which is the Dicomed digital camera? Well, I'll take it a step further. I'll go out to PhotoShop here for a second. This is going to screw me up later because I've given PhotoShop so much memory but if things suddenly start not to function, remind me of the fact that I've got this open. What I built is a PhotoShop file with the same two photographs. One layer with the digital sensor, one layer with the film.

Audience: How was the film scanned?

Mr. Johnson: This one was scanned with the Leaf 45 and the next one I'm going to show is with the Tango from Linocolor. Okay. Get rid of all these other things. Let me zoom in a little bit so you see the, shall we say, granular structure of the image. Tower Records has record album covers painted on the back of its parking lot. I couldn't tell who they were. I could with the digital sensor. E6, the digital camera. Do you see a difference between the two? Any quantitative remarks about the difference in quality between 4 X 5 film, film and digital?

Audience: May I ask a question?

Mr. Johnson: Sure.

Audience: I'm not trying to be smart.

Mr. Johnson: No, please do be smart. It deserves it because I'm being provocative.

Audience: Obviously you took the film photograph and scanned it [Inaudible].

Mr. Johnson: That is true now, yes, as most any reproduction scenario would now be. Okay?

Audience: Are you saying that's a raw image?

Mr. Johnson: No, I did the best I could to make the film look okay, but that was a lot of work and this is the best I could come up with.

Audience: Was the digital raw? You didn't sharpen it or anything?

Mr. Johnson: Oh, no, it's not raw either. I did the normal sort of processing things on the digital file I would do. The attempt was to make both of them look the best they could possibly look, okay? The point is there's no way I can make the film-based file look anywhere near the quality of the digital file and I think that's perfectly apparent here. No more sharpening is going to help this image. In fact, it's going to make it worse because it's a film-based image with grain being the sub-structure of the image itself.

Audience: By comparison, how much time did you put into your film image versus the digital image?

Mr. Johnson: Ten full times more trying to recover something decent out of this almost blind material we call color film. Not that I have an attitude about it or anything. [Laughter] Keep in mind this comes from having seen it, not having an agenda. I've got nothing to sell you up here. This is a photograph from Baker Beach in San Francisco. In fact, let me get the whole image first so that you'll see it. Let's see. Well, any one of these will do. There's your raw photograph looking out toward the Golden Gate. Very difficult situation for film I'll grant you. Deep shadows, bright sunlight, okay? I'm going to zoom into these trees right in here. Here's the file. Let's bring it up so you can really see it. Which do you think is which? There's your film. There's the digital file.

Audience: What camera are you using here?

Mr. Johnson: This is a Sinar. Which do you think is a superior recording technology? This is the one scanned with the $90,000 Lino Tango PMT drum scanner. I did everything I could to try and hold detail in the film. It isn't there. I've got more than nine stops of dynamic range with this camera. Closer to 11 in the infra-red.

Okay, let me go on with my presentation here. So I think it's fair to say that I've got a lot more detail with the digital sensor than I do with film by a long shot.

What about this idea of color accuracy? We're used to a notion of daylight color film. Fair enough? It's packaged for and balanced for a certain expected color temperature. Well, we all know with video cameras nowadays that, in fact, you don't have to live with a certain color temperature to a particular device. You have something known as a white balance. Well with a digital camera you have it built-in that same basic potential. Here's a set of photographs I made in the shade of a waterfall on Maui where on the left I just used the basic daylight color balance that I had determined for sunlight with the Dicomed camera which is very akin to what I would have gotten if I'd shot film in this deep shade, at least daylight color film. Various shades of blue. On the right is when I custom balanced the sensor for that lighting condition with a grey card. Pretty simple device, a grey card. I put it out, scan the grey card, neutralize the colors so that equal RGB value come from that grey card. Suddenly my sensor is balanced to the lighting condition I'm in and the colors pretty much fall in place from there. I do almost no color editing on my files.

This is a little harder to see but this is pre-dawn at Arches National Park. The sun has not yet risen. It's behind some cliffs. What color would such a photograph be with daylight color film? Would it be fair to say that it would be various shades of blue? Well, that's what it would be, except not here because I custom balanced the sensor to that lighting condition. What about this issue of dynamic range? How many stops of exposure difference can film really see? I think, again, it would be fair to say that silver at best is going to see under optimal circumstances about seven stops of dynamic range. Certainly transparencies will be nowhere near that. Well, I've got more than nine stops with this Dicomed, now Better Light, digital camera. Both cameras I still use. Here's an example, the shadowed side of burnt trees in bright sun. I have detail on the shadowed side of burnt trees and in the white sky behind. After the session I'll have a portfolio that we can look at in the hall if anybody cares to see the original Iris prints involved. Or how about Half Dome in last light with detail all the way into the floor in the lower left of Yosemite Valley.

Audience: Can you zoom in?

Mr. Johnson: It wouldn't do much good on this particular one because of the fact that it's just a 640 X 480 image, but I will in a moment because I want to compare the two. Let's see. You asked. I'll respond. Wasn't going to at first but why don't I? Photoshop is open and so there's Yosemite Valley down to the side. As you see there's detail on both areas without any problem at all.

Audience: What was that captured with?

Mr. Johnson: The Dicomed digital camera. This happens to be an infra-red version. Actually this was made before Dicomed acquired rights to license it. This is prototype two of Michael Collette's original digital scanning camera. Okay? So dynamic range is clearly a whole other level of enterprise. Let's go on to this detail thing. There's that same photograph and you can see the one-to-one detail blown up to the right. Now Persuasion is doing a little bit of dithering here but I think you get the basic idea from the white box on the photograph on the left. And I'll take that one step further with this photograph of Half Dome. You see Cathedral Peak off in the background that I've drawn a white box around. Well, there it is. You get the idea? Tell me film can do that. Anybody tell me film can do that. No responses, huh?

Audience: Film can do that.

Mr. Johnson: Okay. [Laughter] Show me. There's an additional quality to the CCD that I think is very fascinating because I always loved black and white infra-red photography. Well the sensitivity of CCDs happen to be biased toward the infra-red anyway. In order to get a visual color photograph that has pleasing color balance, you have to strip away some of that infra-red. Some sort of blue-green cut-off filter either laminated to the CCD or in the light path. In the case of the Kodak tri-linear array that's in the Dicomed and Better Light cameras, that sensor has no IR cut-off filters, so if you want to make normal color photographs, you put a blue-green filter in the light path. Or if you want to shoot in the infra-red, you leave that filter out of the light path and you have an infra-red camera as well, except a grainless infra-red camera. Not like we're used to seeing black and white infra-red film that is various shades of sandpaper, all right? Also a fair statement I think.

For instance, here's a color infra-red of Crater Lake in southern Oregon. Still going through the RGB filters on the tri-linear array so the color that gets produced is very strange and although you probably can't see it in this projected image, this is Crater Lake in southern Oregon looking south toward northern California and Mt. Shasta is sticking up its head right here. Now I noticed Mt. Shasta on the PowerBook screen when I was sitting out there making the photograph. I could not see it with my eyes. The infra-red was cutting through the infra-red haze. This is a black and white infra-red taken from the red channel of the three filters that I have available to me. This is the Ho rainforest in Olympic National Park.

But I'm using a scanner camera. In fact, I'm trying to use a scanner camera in the landscape. What a weird decision to make, huh? Because originally it took me three minutes and 45 seconds to make a single exposure. Well now it's down to one minute, six seconds with the new Better Light camera, but nonetheless that's time for the world to move. For the most part, that's a bad combination, trying to make a photograph while the world moves. I was so overwhelmed by the quality of what I'd seen with this camera that I was determined to try and come up with a project that would really test it to see if it could hold up to the process. So I did and sometimes time gets in the way. Sometimes it doesn't work at all. Branches blow. The photograph gets ruined.

Sometimes things move interestingly. This is Bridal Veil Falls in Yosemite where you've got a waterfall coming down and blowing back and forth and the scanner slowly moving over the waterfall. Or Yosemite Falls from a few days later where we had a press conference announcing this project I'm doing on the National Parks called With a New Eye. Or the surf at Point Lobos which becomes this weird sort of glacial-like abstraction of surf. Keep in mind we've become accustomed to a certain rendition of time with conventional photography so that a five hundredth of a second is somehow or another seen as a natural way of looking at things. We don't see as a five hundredth of a second. Our brains and memories see a continuum of moments. It's very hard to even isolate a single image in our mind. We see motion. We see light. We see movement. Well you could think of this as yet another way of stretching our notion of photographic time and I think that's probably healthy. It's an accumulation of slices of time. Essentially a full-res photograph is 7,520 slices of time built up. It's a strange way of thinking about it but I think it does us well to break down some of our prejudices about how we record time as well as how we record light.

Audience: I bet when you saw that image you just thought it was like a flashback from the past.

Mr. Johnson: Well I was very pleased with that one and, of course, I was seeing it right there at the time.

Audience: Right.

Mr. Johnson: No allusion to hallucinogens withstanding, notwithstanding, one way or another. This is where lava is hitting the Pacific Ocean at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. You see the rather natural looking steam clouds. This was the eighteen second pre-scan. This is the full two and a half minute scan. So in some cases the transition from this... to this ... does something very interesting.

Then we started talking with Howard Barney who was the inventor of the desktop film scanner pretty much, the BarneyScan. He had a design for a panoramic head. So we built a panoramic head out of the Dicomed camera simply by mounting a motorized turret in between the camera and the tripod and we swing the whole 4 X 5 camera completely around during the exposure. One, continuous, very long, 6,000 element, high-digital scan. Here's what the unit looks like. It's just that little silver box in between. Here's me on the edge of a Chicago building making one. And this is the kind of file you can get out of it. Here's where I'll get in trouble if I don't go out and quit PhotoShop before I launch something.

[tape turn]

Views down to very small sizes. And the high country of Yosemite done with this digital scanning camera. Again, this is only the preview. This is the eighteen-second, or in this case about thirty-second, preview going all the way around. Now keep in mind as we move into digital photography's differences this could be done with many exposures of film as well. Not as color accurately but it could be done. That's what most VR photography actually is involved with.

Then there's another whole notion of this panoramic because I was at a Kilewauiki at Hawaii Volcanoes one day and I was trying to make this photograph of this dome but when I put the 300 millimeter lens on I was getting the top to bottom composition I wanted but it was cutting off so much of the left to right that I just couldn't stand the photograph. It suddenly dawned on me that I have this panoramic adapter here. I don't have to go through a whole circle but I do have the potential for a telephoto wide angle. For a telephoto wide angle! I can put on a long lens and pan it across any amount of the landscape that I happen to choose.

There's a lot of decisions we make as photographers. Sometimes clients dictate the choice between color or black and white, sometimes our esthetics, sometimes which amount of film we still have some left in the bag of. I no longer have to make that choice because every color photograph I make is essentially three black and white photographs that are being made simultaneously. So I no longer have to choose between this color photograph of this ice, and green ice just wasn't doing anything kind to my stomach as I kept looking at this photograph, so I decided ultimately that the black and white rendition of it was better and all I had to do was simply select the red channel. This is what the Better Light software looks like the runs the Dicomed and Better Light cameras. Dicomed also has its own scanning software. But basically what you've got here is a histogram, a digital densitometer built in, and various resolution controls, including the ability to do an interactive zone system curve on the photograph as you're making the image. And so one of the things that happens is I end up spending a lot more time in the field making the photograph but the photograph is essentially finished before I walk away from the scene. I see the image on the spot when I care the most about it, when I can do the most to try and make it right and when I really have a chance to explore and understand what it is I'm trying to communicate with the photograph and make sure I've actually done that.

And then, of course, there's another possibility. We could do digital stereo as well. Could we have the room lights up for a second. I need to pass out some stereo glasses here. That should be more than enough. If you can please give these back to me at the end by leaving them on the table on the outside it would be great. In the meantime, we're out of sequence a little bit.

Although you can't see the detail, this is one of my Iris prints from this camera. This is a contact print. Not in the literal sense that there is a negative sitting on top of the paper, but this is no interpolation whatsoever. 20 X 25 at 300 dpi. The red lens should go over your left eye. And then I'm going to show you two different things here. This was an experiment just moving the lens off axis from right to left and making two separate photographs, pasting the left-hand image into the red channel and the right-hand image into the red and green channels.

Can we get the lights back down? Okay. So if you just move your head left and right, back and forth, you'll get a good stereo effect. Boy, you should see yourselves. It looks great. But I was not content to merely do a single frame of this. But rather I had in mind to do a stereo panoramic. Now let me move into it here so that you can see it. Now this isn't the most imaginative subject matter. This happens to be my living room but, you know, it was convenient so we used it. So this is the stereo panoramic VR. Come on. I take it you're getting a bit of depth? Of course, at any point, we can zoom in and you'll see that the stereo effect maintains itself even as you get down to the pixel level of zoom. Now you also see why I'm moving out of my living room into a commercial studio space. [Laughter] We have overwhelmed my poor house with equipment.

Audience: [Inaudible]?

Mr. Johnson: That's with the Dicomed camera, yes, on a stereo panoramic rig.


Mr. Johnson: So let's see where else do I need to go with this. Participatory portraiture. This is Bruce Frasier, the writer. Some of you know his work. This is with the Leaf DCB. This is my assistant, Baron, also with the Leaf DCB; 14-bit files, beautiful black and white portraiture. This whole industry is moving quickly. We are now at a time when the resolution is continuing to increase. The cameras are getting better and better and better. It's getting to be an ever more exciting time to be involved in this imagery.

I have used over the last four years the Kodak DCS 460. I've carried it with me about every place I could go because it could freeze action that I could not freeze with the Dicomed scanning camera and allow me to continue shooting in situations where I couldn't shoot otherwise. Plus it's been the main documentary camera for the project because I wanted to keep the project entirely digital throughout. And so I've got a few more images to show you here but one of them is DCS 460 photograph, in this case of my kids at a Fourth of July picnic, and let's look as we go in. Okay, let's make sure we're at one-to-one and I'll turn these menus back off for a second and we'll look around.

Now I've generally said that the 460 has about equalled film resolution, even though it's more a transparency film in terms of its basic contrast but I don't know. I'm beginning to think that film grain would be interfering with the image at this level of magnification to the point that maybe this is out-resolving film a bit. Okay? Again, that's the Kodak DCS 460, their top-of-the-line camera. Then recently Dicomed's been working on their Big Shot camera which is a 4k X 4k camera in this case with a color matrix on it. Somebody did talk about the Dicomed Big Shot earlier. I think John did, with regards to the amount of pixels that are available to the camera with Hasselblad mask. That's one little quibble I have with Dicomed is they really shouldn't be advertising it as a 4k X 4k camera on the Hassleblad because it's really more like about a 3,700 square.

This is my daughter Sarah and what I though I would do is just step you in on her eyes and show you the kind of quality that the Big Shot is producing. It's absolutely extraordinary. This is sixteen megabytes per channel. Okay. Michael Colette has formed a new company. It's called Better Light. His highest resolution camera is now an 8,000 X 10,650 pixel photograph. In this case, I'm going to show you the preview file at two megabytes of one of these images. I can't do that because I need my menus here. Now I'm going to show you this area right here. That area right there blown up one-to-one. You get the basic idea? Let me turn those layers off again so that you see what we're looking at. We're looking at a statue on this spire of the church right here at 8k X 10k pixels in the whole image.

Now not to get too lost in CCDs because all of these are CCD cameras that we've been talking about. I did have a bit of a quibble with what was said earlier about CMOS because the same people that founded the Leaf have now formed a company called Sound Vision and what they're concentrating on is trying to get good image quality out of a CMOS sensor. This is the CMOS Pro camera. It's not very high resolution yet, it's 800 X 1,000 pixels but I think we could say that it's comparing fairly favorably in image quality. This happens to be a three-exposure camera for under $2,000. Again, it's not a lot of resolution but they're solving most of the dynamic range and color and noise issues out of CMOS and it's looking quite promising.

Let's have the lights back up for a second. Well, is film superior to digital? My own experience, at least, is that film has seen its day. I do not use film anymore. I still have 40,000 negatives in the trays or in the file cabinets. I will continue to keep a darkroom for quite some time. Although considering the fact that all of my color negative work and color slide work is fading as we speak, I'm more and more interested in digitizing it to freeze that deterioration. When you come to think about it the color that we've been shooting has been in a state of change from the moment we snapped the shutter and that's very disconcerting. How many of us actually take our time to freeze the negatives to try and minimize that deterioration? Not many. I'm making what could be the first archival color photographs of my career because the data does not change.

Now it brings up all sorts of very real and important questions about the stability of storage media and file formats and things along those lines that are very legitimate questions but I can tell you that as long as I'm alive — the primary person concerned with the care of my own work — I will maintain this data on contemporary storage materials. The National Parks project, for example, is on about 350 CD-ROM's right now. When I get a DVD writer, that'll go down to less than 75 DVD disks. And will I do that? You bet I will. At that point I've also got a backup copy of everything as well.

And so far, I have not been unable to read anything from as much as ten years ago. I can still open my floppies from ten years ago on the Macintosh no problem. Maybe another argument from Apple as an imaging platform since it's maintained that backwards compatibility for so long but that's another subject that we won't get into right here. You can tell that I'm enthusiastic about where things are going. It comes out of a long-term love affair with film that made me want to be a photographer to begin with, but like anything else the film was a tool, a means to an end, a way of trying to record the world and see it and understand it. And I've seen something that works better and I'm damn happy we're in this age where I can get at that kind of tool. Thanks very much.


Mr. Johnson: And I guess I'll be glad to take any questions.

Mr. Henshall: Well, ladies and gentlemen, before the questions, I just want to thank Steve. Wasn't I right to call him the modern-day Ansel Adams? Doesn't he continue that tradition? What would Ansel Adams think?


I really do think that Steve is going to go down in the annals of photographic history. What he does is actually think laterally about it. He explores every possibility and he takes the blinkers off, and that's one of the reasons why I wanted him to come along today.

Mr. Johnson: The digital stereo stuff was just that. I got curious. I figured I could do it so we tried it.

Mr. Henshall: Also, he's fun and he tells it like it is, straight from the hip. And that's what I want you to hear today because this afternoon we're going to hear some vendors and, you know, they're going to be promoting their products. But mind you I think we've done a pretty good job of promoting them ourselves and we're independents this morning. So, thanks a million there or many million pixels, Steve. Let's ask some questions. Yes, sir.

Audience: Hi. I have an investment in a couple of photo labs and when I get back on Monday, I should probably sell them then.

Mr. Johnson: No, I don't think so. [Laughter]

Audience: My real question is what do you see as the future for, if any, for someone like yourself or for a certain category of photographers. Let's forget about consumers for a moment but the higher end photographers?

Mr. Johnson: Well let me say, first of all, to put in context the way I'm working. I'm very lucky. I've gotten a lot of companies to donate or loan equipment to me to be able to do this project on the National Parks. And I have to say how grateful I am to companies like Apple and Adobe, Kodak, Leaf and Dicomed, people like that because the stuff is still just so expensive that someone not working in a commercial environment where they're paying bills back with every time they snap that shutter, simply would have a very hard time doing what I'm trying to do. And so I do feel fortunate and I also want to remind everybody that the high-end equipment is still very, very expensive. The Dicomed camera, I think, sells for, what is it now, about $18,000. A lot of the one-shot backs are $20,000 to $30,000 so we're talking expensive equipment here.

In terms of photo labs, film will not die completely in my judgment. It will just become part of the rarefied era that platinum printing is today. It's just a question of, I may have to make my own film if I want to use it at some point. I don't know. The little digital cameras are getting so damn good as compared to what we've been used to that, in fact, it looks like it's coming a little faster than I would have thought it would.

Pete Jameson was showing me some images from the 520, lower resolution than the 460 but those images are looking awfully promising. Even the little cameras like the Olympus D600L at $1,300 is producing an image that is startling in its image quality as long as you don't take it too big. Up to 8 X 10 is a little too big for it, but the 4 X 5 range is a very handsome image. So it's moving along. I think CMOS technology is one of those promises and that's why I wanted to show you that high quality is also possible with CMOS.

Audience: [Inaudible] in three to five years. You said it was very expensive which I agree right now. [Inaudible].

Mr. Johnson: Well the low-end is coming down very rapidly. That $1,300 Olympus for something of its quality will probably sell for under $500 in the next year and a half. It may come down much more quickly than I can imagine. I would have never imagined that I would have abandoned film in 1994. If you'd asked me in late 1993, I would never have imagined that. That one day did it for me. It was all over. The love affair was broken or I should say wounded and some other thing came along that was irresistible.

Audience: And if CMOS as a major breakthrough [Inaudible].

Mr. Johnson: It could potentially. We just don't know what that major breakthrough will take to get large sensors in CMOS. That's a big hill to climb but certainly the smaller ones are looking quite good.

Mr. Henshall: But a few years ago, the big hill to climb was to get big sensors in CCD.

Mr. Johnson: To get a big sensor at all.

Mr. Henshall: I did, by the way, invite Bob Caspey who is the man who was responsible for the Leaf back. He's now the CEO of Sound Vision. They're the ones who produced the CMOS sensor which Bob Slovsky's photograph of the hundred dollar bill was taken on. They have got a pro camera. It takes C-mount lenses which come from the cine film days, but it only produces images of two megs, two and a half megabytes. Nevertheless, if you look in brochures and so on that's the right amount for images. It's a pity he's not here today because we have really worked hard to get the right speakers here and I would have liked somebody from the CMOS side of things. But, Steve, thanks for covering CMOS as well.

Mr. Johnson: Yes, well it's clearly got far more potential than people understand that it's got. I was shocked that the quality had gotten so good so quickly. They have a new APS pro camera coming that promises to do some of the same.

Mr. Henshall: A year ago there was the Vivatar and it was not very good quality but it had to be there. You know, the first CCD sensors were pretty bad. I've got two of them on my lapel here, one from RCA, the other from Sony. The rejects were so high they gave them away as pins.

Mr. Johnson: We have a question? Is there time? Is it okay?

Audience: I commend you. I, too, am a photographer getting work published now using a digital camera. It's great to hear the enthusiasm. I share that with you. It's not that often you get to get that in the same room. And, I mean, you do this kind of work every day and when you know the change and you see what's happening with technology it's exciting. But I was amazed looking up there at the computer screen and seeing the file sizes. And then the resolution itself. That's attributed to the Dicomed then? That has —

Mr. Johnson: Scanning backs like the Phase One and Dicomed and scanning backs of that nature have the ability to squeeze a lot of information into a rather inexpensive chip because they're a tri-linear array. They've only got the height. They don't have to worry about the width. And so the highest resolution chip now that I know is being put into a scanning camera is the Kodak 8,000 element tri-linear array and that's what Michael Colette has built into his model 8,000. That's a 245 megabyte file, raw.

Audience: Do you contribute any of that — I noticed though they were all RGB.

Mr. Johnson: Yes.

Audience: Do you keep them that going to press, going to your printer? Do they stay at RGB? Or, obviously, going CMYK increases the file size at that time?

Mr. Johnson: It increases it by one-third larger anytime you convert a three channel file to four. RGB is the file format that photographers should be working in.

Audience: Right.

Mr. Johnson: One could make arguments about Lab, but nonetheless if you have your files converted to CMYK before you know what sort of printing press and paper and ink set you're going on, you're making a fundamental mistake. Do not convert or accept your files as CMYK as your only originals. You want RGB files because that's the way the images are scanned through RGB filters and that's the file you want out of it. Some people argue that Lab's an acceptable conversion in a somewhat independent color space. It at least has actual chromaticity values attached to those Lab values. But CMYK is the last thing you do before you're going to press, not the first thing you do before you start editing. I've taken a lot of jobs to press over the year including some big books and that's the point at which you do it. When you know the ink set, you know the press, you know the dot-gain, you know the paper. And then it's still no simple matter. I've been using Radius CMYK SWOP profiles that come with the Radius PressView Monitors for the last couple of years and it's been doing a very good job for me. There are a lot of solutions out there.

Audience: You had mentioned also file formats. The TIFF would be —

Mr. Johnson: TIFF is the most universal file format as nearly as I can tell at this point.

Audience: Okay.

Mr. Johnson: That's how I'm archiving my images, as raw TIFF files, RGB.

Audience: Can I just ask you this for conversation sake. One thing I noticed bowing, is the changing technology is killing somewhat of the art. Or I guess you could say that in some ways. I have a student actually, a fellow employee, that I'm teaching how to use this digital camera. He had no experience whatsoever with photography. And it's interesting, now you see this person shooting some products that are stainless steel and he's coming back and he's pulling in these black and white images that are beautiful. He has no idea why I'm excited about it. How do you feel about that as far as it becoming so user-friendly, so easy.

Mr. Johnson: I get your point.

Audience: People who do not know much about the technology at all end up with beautiful work. How do you feel about that?

Mr. Johnson: I have no worries that my eyes and esthetics are threatened by digital technology. I think a lot of photographers along this path have said, "Oh, I've got all of this experience built up with silver. What am I going to do if suddenly that's become out-of-date and digital is the way to go?" Well it was clear to me, although I had spent a great deal of time and effort finessing the failings of silver for twenty years, the fundamental thing that was there was the way I see the world. Whatever style I have or don't have or whatever sense of beauty I have and the ability to put a composition of lighting together. That's where my talent really lies and that's the esthetic that continues to be in place, if anything, with more freedom now than it was before.

Your student that may not have known anything about photography may still have a natural eye that indicates a level of talent. So although we are overwhelmed by tips and tricks and Kai's Power Tools and advertisements that imply that if you buy a filter set you'll make art, that's all a load of crap and I think we all know it. The esthetics that are necessary to make beauty come from the heart, not from a device, and that is as fundamental as it ever is and I don't see that ever changing.

Audience: Stephen, how can you say that when you have that wave shot and the camera did it for you?

Mr. Johnson: I think that in photography we've always seen accidents of time and light interact in some way that the technology makes possible that we've been very happy about. I would never claim that that photograph of the waves had to do with my compositional abilities. That had to do with being prepared and being at the right moment and trying something. We've all had photographs like that work over the years. That's part of what the accident of photography can be when the technology and light interact, but I don't think that negates what I just said. The esthetic that is fundamental of our heart and soul is what underlies the reason for picking up the camera to begin with and that's what will sustain us through this period.

Audience: Besides, you'll use that experience and marry it with your esthetics.

Mr. Johnson: Well, yes, essentially that's what's happened. I've seen and been delighted by these accidents and now I start to do things more purposefully connected with the potential of those accidents to broaden the esthetic.

Audience: I thought is was great.

Mr. Johnson: Well it was an accident, but I liked it and so I show it.

Mr. Henshall: But the skill is being able to evaluate that serendipity and build on it. That's where the creativity comes in. You know it's very interesting that a lot of photographers feel very threatened by digital imaging, and yet they're the last ones that should feel threatened by it. You know it's maybe the scanner operators that should. I run courses for service bureaus in digital imaging. That's what they want. That's what they ask me for. Give me a course in digital imaging. I'm not giving them a course in digital imaging because they're very familiar with Macs. They've got Indigo printers. They know about plugging up peripherals. And they've bought the digital camera.

One I just did before I came here got a DCS 460, a Kodak DCS 460. They couldn't understand why the pictures weren't any good. I didn't tell them in so many words but I'll share it with you. It's because they weren't photographers. And so I went down there. I didn't have to teach them anything about connecting up to the Mac using the plug-in in PhotoShop or anything. I taught them about photography, about the use of light. So photographers are the last ones who should feel threatened by this.

Mr. Johnson: Just as photography is not about writing with light onto silver, it really isn't about writing to light onto electronic sensors either. It's about writing with light processed through your heart and soul. That's what photography is.


Mr. Henshall: Steve, thanks.

Mr. Johnson: Thank you.

Mr. Henshall: Thanks very much. I'm worried about the time. There's no way I was going to stop —

Mr. Johnson: I'm going to take my portfolio outside after the last session if people want to see the Iris prints up close.

Mr. Henshall: Not till one o'clock, though, eh?

Mr. Johnson: No, not until the sessions are done.


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