Seybold San Francisco/Publishing '98
Special Interest Day
Digital Photography in the Real World
Part 4: Landscape Photography
Monday, August 31, 1998
John Henshall, Electronic Photo-Imaging, moderator
Stephen Johnson, Stephen Johnson Photography
John Henshall: We come to an interesting transition now. It's ten past one. That's normally the time we like to sit down and have a little bit of refreshment. But if you remember, I did say we'd go through the lunch break. There's a no-show from Kodak at the moment, and I don't know where Dicomed are. We're at an interesting transition stage here. Who we've heard so far are speakers from manufacturers. What we've got from now on is the bit that manufacturers don't like. We've got the guys who have to dig deep into their pockets to actually buy these products. This is digital imaging in the real world, and this is why we've gone to some considerable lengths to get a cross section of speakers from now on who can really tell us a story the way it is. What is their technical support like? What is the reliability of the products like? What do they use and why do they use it? So this is really interesting. This is where the manufacturers really discover what adrenaline is all about.
There is no one better to start this section than a photographer who has been referred to as the digital Ansel Adams. I know he doesn't like that, and really, he's the digital Steve Johnson. I don't know if he knew Ansel Adams, but I'm sure… You do? Yes. And I'm sure he'd have loved to have been around now.
He's got a long, wide experience of digital photography. He uses it in very special ways. He's also a very special person, I think. He's the only one who's got an Iris printer in his lounge that I know of. Maybe it's not his lounge. So I propose to continue with Steve's presentation, and then we'll take what will have to be a short lunch intermission, if we want all the other speakers, as I'm sure we do. But we'll catch up. I will shorten the session later this afternoon, Looking at the Future. It's down to an hour and a half. So thanks for bearing with us so far this morning with the time problems. I know I could certainly do without those pressures. And thank you for your forbearance.
Welcome back. If we could, I've already introduced Steve Johnson, so I'd like to go right ahead and ask Steve to give us his presentation, which he has graciously agreed to cut down a little bit. I think that's a great shame, actually. I'd rather stay late tonight to listen to Steve, but he was going to cut the stereo bit. I said, "No, don't cut the stereo bit. The stereo bit's great." So you should all have some red/green glasses handed out. If you could hand them in again at the end, because Steve's an independent like the rest of us this afternoon. Ladies and gentlemen, Steve Johnson. [applause]
Stephen Johnson: Thanks a lot for coming back after lunch. I'm sure it's been a tiring morning getting all that information. What I'm going to do is start off with a little report that ABC News did on me last year, because it puts the landscape photography into context. I can't really take you out there except through video, even though it seems a little bit weird to show a video about myself. I'm going to go ahead and risk the downside and do this. So this is a little three-minute piece that was aired on the Discovery Channel last December.
Presentation: [music] This week on Discovery News, "Lights, camera, hard drive." A photographer who uses computers to capture the American Landscape like it has never been seen before.
Mr. Johnson: These are the trailers. I couldn't resist putting them all together to see the hyperbole...
Presentation: From The Discovery Channel and ABC News, Discovery News with Steve Adison. The picture that's worth a thousand megabytes. Digital photography in the great outdoors. A modern-day postcard, using a new form of photography to make a virtual copy of the great outdoors. --- old with the new, using cameras and computers to photograph some of the world's most spectacular views.
For more than a century, photographers have required film and a camera to capture a beautiful image. But now, some photographers are throwing away their film to pioneer the art of computerized digital photography. Morton Dean reports.
For landscape photographer Stephen Johnson, it's a special day in a special place: the Grand Canyon. He is here to photograph this national park as it has never been photographed before.
Mr. Johnson: We've come to expect the world to look like film renders it. That's not what the world looks like.
Presentation: The world according to Johnson has exquisite subtleties and nuances that film rarely captures. So while he does use a film camera, preferred by many professionals for landscape work, he does not put film in the camera. Instead he attaches a digital sensor, which reads the image, the light, coming through the camera's lens and translates it into thousands of electrical signals. Those signals are swiftly transmitted to a laptop computer, which, in effect, is Johnson's portable darkroom. Soon the picture appears on the computer screen.
Mr. Johnson: There it is.
Presentation: Johnson stores his images on CD-ROM at his California workshop, which resembles an outpost in cyberspace more than a photographer's studio. It is here where digital photography's differences from film become even more impressive. Using the computer to zoom in on his photo of the Grand Canyon, the texture of the canyon cliffs is extraordinary.
Mr. Johnson: You start to see a world of detail that you never knew was there. So much more detail than with film.
Presentation: Amazing. The detailed images can also be made quite large. Look at this 360-degree panorama of the Golden Gate Bridge. Or this one, of the Grand Canyon. Amazingly, they have the same clarity as normal-size photographs. One reason, the digital sensor is significantly more sensitive to light than any film now available. And it captures a wider, more contrasting range of colors. The Grand Canyon joins a collection of splendid photographs he has taken of other national parks, including [Halaiakala], Hawaii.
Mr. Johnson: I can see into shadows and whole highlights.
Presentation: Mt. St. Helens.
Mr. Johnson: I can make the color very close to the color of the real scene. I can see it while I'm doing it.
Presentation: He says digital is truer to what the human eye can see and can be balanced for almost any light condition. Unlike film, which is manufactured with particular light conditions in mind. Blue Ridge Parkway.
Mr. Johnson: It's backlit trees at dawn. I would never get this sort of detail with film. It would essentially be a black silhouette instead.
Presentation: And his pioneering project, which he calls "With A New Eye," will allow Americans to see their national treasures the way they never could before. Morton Dean, ABC News, the Grand Canyon. [music] That's all for this edition of the program. I'm Steve Addison.
Mr. Johnson: Okay, we'll let their copyright roll, but I will cut the voice. You can imagine my kids giving me a terrible time about any dialogue or hyperbole in there. We can't show this piece to anyone without them totally ridiculing Dad, so it keeps me in proper humor about the piece.
I do want to correct one thing that Mort said, that I tried to get corrected in the story but didn't. I would never say that digital is more sensitive than film. It's just more sensitive in ways that we want it to be ultimately. We know that we can reach into shadows with very high ASA films a little bit better than current digital technology can, even though ultimately the promise is the other way around.
I have brought a couple of things that I want to show and talk about. As means of introduction, I should say that I'm using a scanning camera in the landscape, largely because I saw what the potential was a few years ago when my friend Michael Colette came and showed me his digital scanning camera that he had built as a 4x5 insert. We took it out in September 1993, and made a few photographs at the then-current limit of 32 megabytes of resolution. He said he could take it up to about 130. He came back four months later, he said, "I've got it." I said, "Let's shoot it." This was some of the shots with the first day out. Mike, you want to stand up so people see that you're here? Michael Colette, currently of Better Light, the inventor of the Dicomed and the Better Light cameras.
So again, what I'm doing is I'm using a linear ray in a 4x5 view camera. A Sinar view camera, by the way. Even though this first day out was using a [Horsmith]. We'll get to that a little bit later. So this is just a little slide show of some of the images around from those early shots. I'm using the PowerBook to control it. Let me slow this down a little bit. These are some of the different places that we've been with the camera. You'll see the backpack, a PowerBook, a little light shield for the PowerBook down there, and the cable going up to the 4x5 camera. This is the Valley of 10,000 Smokes at [Katmai] in Alaska. Here's the solar panels in place supplementing the battery power on the PowerBook, because it was not a place I wanted to run out of juice. The camera with the cable coming out. It goes in just like any other 4x5 film loader except for the extra weight involved. Here's up at the top looking down at the ice glacier. Many of you have seen the photograph that came from this day, but not many of you have seen the setup and all the gear we carried up there to do it.
One of the interesting things about taking a digital camera into the landscape is that yes, you do carry more weight, but you walk away with finished photographs. And that's never been the case for me before. I walked away with a latent image that hopefully would recover in the developing process in order to imitate the image that was in front of the camera. And that's a huge difference conceptually. I couldn't resist throwing that in because I was so proud to have gotten up there. It's about a five-hour walk. These are some photographs from Big Bend, which I'll skip rather quickly. They relate to part of the talk that I'm going to cut out. If I can figure out how to advance this.
There is a connotation that you can't do wildlife photography with a scanning camera because it takes a few minutes to make the exposure. Well, this photograph of a lizard proves that's not the case, especially because lizards come out, sun themselves on the rock, and they don't move. So he happened to be in a photograph of petroglyphs I was making. I saw him walk into the frame, and I just hoped he wouldn't move during the course of the exposure. And he didn't. So you can do wildlife with scanning cameras under certain conditions.
This is the climbing crew that went up to the top of Mt. St. Helens. I'm sorry it's a little small. It took six of us to get everything up there, and we carried a fair amount of redundancy because it took all day to get up there. Redundancy in terms of extra batteries and things of that nature. Of course, everything worked perfectly that day, so there was no need for backup. This is a photograph from Big Bend. And this is where I made a 360, not from Big Bend, but from Badlands National Park. It shows you the kinds of places I end up with this high-tech equipment. Sort of out in the middle of nowhere. And that was definitely the purpose at Badlands, to get out in the middle of nowhere, because I wanted the prairie to surround me for a 360-degree photograph.
This is a photograph by Jeff Shewe of me working in that area. From Yosemite, from a video that we'll show at the end of this talk, that Apple just produced for the new Wall Street. And that takes care of that little slide show. Sorry if I sound a little rushed. I'm just well-aware of time today.
One of the things that I try and do is talk to people about where we're at in relation to this technology and film and digital cameras, and how the whole process has evolved. For me, there was a great deal of promise in this whole birth of desktop digital imaging. The promise was clearly revealed by Binuscan XP, and then later Photoshop, that there could be all sorts of things we could do to the image, both negative and positive things. As well as the promise to really try and tweak a scan of a piece of film into the kind of image we wanted it to be. So it seemed like there was a great deal of promise here, but the promise of what original digital cameras could deliver was still unknown for a few years after a lot of this technology came along. The first camera that really made progress along those lines was the Leaf DCB, which was a very high-end camera. Only 2k-by-2k, in terms of resolution, but nonetheless extraordinary dynamic range. Very much like a digital zone system that interacts with the image and tries to use the greater bit depth that that camera has, the additional levels of gray to try and characterize and differentiate the data from the original scene.
And along with that, dynamic range that was potentially greater than film. As these sensors got higher and higher resolution, when Mike showed me this camera of his, this prototype scanning camera, we were talking about a 6000x7520 pixel camera, 130 megabytes per photograph. Now, that's not of a scan with film grain running interference on the image content. That's a pure digital data original, which means there's no such thing as film grain interfering with the light. We'll talk more about that. And it being a scanning camera, there were certainly things that came out of the way I have to interact with that that I hadn't anticipated.
Photography as we know it was really, is really, a fairly old-fashioned kind of process, where we're turning light energy into a photochemical reaction and hoping for the best, and seeing it sometime later. I've never been great at delayed gratification, but I've coped with it as a photographer because that was the only way we could make images. What I didn't fully realize is what a limited view of reality film was actually giving me. There are black shadows everywhere in silver-based photography. There are almost no black shadows in the real world. That alone would make the dynamic range possibilities of digital cameras on the high-end very seductive.
There's also another whole issue, and that is the way color film reproduces color. At best, it does it poorly. What we seem to be gravitating toward is film that overdramatizes and soups up reality so that it becomes like reality on steroids, like Fuji Velvia. It's popular because it is so distortive of reality that people love it, which is a little bit strange. But it's gotten to the point that we've come to want something out of photography that's unreal. I think it partially comes from the fact that we never could get anything very real to begin with, so we started looking for substitutes. If you can't find love in life, you find other sources of affection, I guess. Well, in this case, I think that the high-end digital imaging gives us a possibility of getting something far more accurate.
This is the Dicomed Bigshot chip, CCDs instead of film. And, of course, now with the CMOS Pro, you're also seeing some of the potential with CMOS as an imaging technology. So I'm going to zoom in on this a little bit, so we see the edge of the sensor, and then getting right into the sensors. So you see, we're definitely talking about a fairly orderly mechanical device that's making these images. On that first day up, Mike and I went to a bunch of tourist-type spots. In this case, Coit Tower, Telegraph Hill, looking back toward the Golden Gate Bridge. We shot E6, Vericolor [T-Max] 100, Agfaplan 25 black and white.
On the corner of Bay and Columbus Streets here, right in there on the mouse, is a Tower Records. There it is with film and with the Dicomed, as we get closer. Tell me, which one is which? Does anybody have any doubts what that granular random interference pattern is on the top frame and what that nice, crystal, pristine clean image without all of that interference is on the bottom? Not that I have any prejudices about which image looks better, but I don't think I fully realized just how much I was living with grain. Although, with things like black-and-white infrared, you actually decide to try and emphasize it, because it is so much the character of the image. Grain has nothing to do with photography. Grain has to do with this film stuff that we've been using to try and make photographs. Grain is ugly.
Color accuracy. If I was to use daylight color film on the shade of this canyon at Halaiakala in Maui, I would have gotten a photograph very much like the one on the left. Instead, I pulled out a gray card, did a gray balance on the sensor, and I exposed that with more compensating bluish light, so that the sensor was matched to the lighting condition. That is an extraordinary step forward for landscape photography. We are taking the sensor and we are tuning it for the light we happen to be standing in. What a unique idea! We've been trying to do it with color temperature meters and CC filters, but it is very, very hard to do. And you're still left with all the failings of film such as its inherent inability to record color the way the eye sees it.
This is pre-dawn at Arches National Park. We have time, I'll open a full-res file of this. Pre-dawn. It would be various shades of blue with film. In terms of dynamic range, here's a shadow side of burnt trees in midday sun, and I've got detail on the burned bark on the shadowed side. Again, I'll try and hold up a print if time allows. Or what about this, where you have the last light on Half-Dome, and we have light all the way into Yosemite Valley. That kind of dynamic range is unheard of in any sort of conventional-based film photography. It would take probably a minus six development with the zone system to achieve such a thing. And of course, there is no such thing as a minus six! It would be underdeveloping to the point that no developer ever reached the film.
The detail is quite extraordinary. Here's a blow-up 1-to-1 of that one photograph from Foresta in Yosemite. Here's a little circled area on the Half-Dome photograph. There it is at 1-to-1. Gives you a bit of an idea. Of course, CCDs are infrared-sensitive. I was very pleased to have Yoshi show me a few minutes ago on the new Leaf camera that you can pull the IR sensor on and off the camera at will, so you can turn it into an IR camera at any point. CCDs are so IR-sensitive that you can't shoot them with conventional color without trying to block some of the infrared from hitting the sensor. So most CCDs have an IR cut-off filter laminated onto the CCD. The Kodak tri-linear array in both the Dicomed and the Better Light cameras don't have any such IR sensor laminated to them. Nor, apparently, does the new Leaf camera. So that gives you a potential of taking that IR filter out of the light path. Suddenly you have infrared photographs. In this case, from Crater Lake in Oregon. From Olympic National Park in Washington. It's a scanning camera. What happens with time passing. I'm trying to take it on to the landscape. This is a waterfall, Bridal Veil Falls in Yosemite.
Needless to say, the fact that I'm trying to take a landscape photograph in a moving world with a scanning camera has caused some problems. In fact, I think while I'm showing a couple of these, I'll go ahead and read from a journal from Rocky Mountain National Park. Let's see. "Wind is everywhere. In gusts or long, snow-blowing stream, it defines the day. The valley is filled with a white-moving haze. The mountains loom forward and then disappear in a constant shift of space. The aspens do a dance of give, resist, and rock back again. And in constant motion. I am crazy to be taking a scanning camera into this living, breathing world. This doesn't work. This is a ridiculous thing to do." That's only a little aspect from a journal that I thought I would share with you. The wind can ruin a day because the world moves. A scanning camera needs a stable scene for at least a couple of minutes, or it can capture things as they evolve. Yosemite Falls blowing in the wind, two-and-a-half minute infrared exposures. Or the surf coming in at Point Lobos creating a very, very strange rendition of time and space moving.
Or in this case, the way the water and steam clouds move off of the hot lava hitting the Pacific Ocean at Volcanos National Park. The 18-second pre-scan which looked pretty much like it looked to my eye, or with a two-and-a-half minute full-resolution scan. And my lizard, just to prove that time does sit still for us in some cases.
There's another aspect of all of this you see evidenced by the panoramic on the back. It occurred to us that we could turn the whole camera into a 360-degree, or in this case 370-degree circle, which we did with this little motor that Howard Barney built for us. Michael Colette wrote the software, and we have digital panoramic cameras. Here I am on the edge of a roof in Chicago, merely being cold. And a friend of mine just sent me this one from New York City. Here I am huddled in the rain trying to protect the camera from getting completely drenched with a garbage bag, as it has on many occasions.
I thought I should show you one or two of these. This is from [Twalomey] Meadows in Yosemite, where we can just spin around the space. Now, these VR files are made from my previews that are about nine megabytes on these 360s. The full-res files can be up to 1.2 gigabytes. In this case, we've got a link down to a VR node in Twalomey Meadows that allows us to look back up on the dome we were just standing, move around down there, or jump back up to [Limberdome]. We have a slightly different point of view but the same scene.
It also occurred to me while I was making some of these that it might be nice to be able to do other things. In this particular case, I wanted this dome. I put a long lens on, but I lost the crater beside it. So it occurred to me, in the tradition of photographers trying to cope with the situation as they find it, that I really had a telephoto wide angle at any time that I wanted because I could pan across that landscape. And I could include things that I couldn't include from the static frame, yet have the same focal length of lens involved. It hadn't occurred to me that there could ever be such a thing as a telephoto wide angle, but that's essentially what you have when you can change lenses at will and still pan across the landscape.
Of course, we don't have to choose between color and black and white because we can shoot a color photograph, which is, in reality, made from three separate photographs, as in the tri-linear array, each scanning through a red, green and blue filter, all simultaneously, making up the color file. If I don't like the color later, I can simply look at any one of those color channels, and I've got a different image. In this case, the green ice just wasn't setting well with me, so I chose the red channel and ended up with a rather abstract black-and-white.
This is what the scanning interface looks like on the camera. This is Michael Colette's software to run both the Dicomed and his Better Light cameras. You see that you've got a preview. You've got a probe that gives you a digital densitometer, and you have a histogram along the bottom that gives you a constant readout of color values throughout the image as well as the contrast range essentially throughout the whole image and as displayed in the histogram.
--- which is essentially shutter speed. You can choose color, red, green or blue, as source files. You can adjust the color balance and film speed in the new Better Light camera up to about ASA 1600 and the Dicomed to a good solid 400. This processing curve is essentially a 12- or 14-bit to eight-bit converter that you can use to apply this contrast curve to the scene while you're out in the field to convert it to a conventional eight-bit space of 256 grays per channel, instead of holding on to the high-bit-depth data. However, you can also hold on to the high-bit-depth data, and that's very worthwhile to do for long-term editing possibilities.
Then we have digital stereo. If you want to put the glasses on, red on left, you'll see some of these little experiments I was doing with digital stereo last summer. It's really fun to see it on a PowerBook because you end up with the screen looking as though it's got some depth. I think that the panoramic is a little bit more interesting, though, so we'll pan around the old living room here and give you an idea of stereo virtual reality. Except not virtual reality. It's sort of a digital imitation of reality because this isn't constructed, it is real. In this case, my messy living room before I moved the studio out of the house.
One of the interesting things is that even as you get close, so that you can't see any more detail because this preview is so pixelated, you still have the stereo effect. This starts to show you where we might also be moving in terms of digital imaging: some sort of not flat, two-dimensional imaging, but either stereo imaging like we've known about for over 100 years, or maybe something a little more holographic in nature. Don't think that the two-dimensional realm is the only place we can go with digital files. So that's it on the stereo stuff.
I want to also touch on some of the other implications inherent in this process. And that is, if this imaging technology is so good, doesn't that mean that there are probably some very high-end applications other than studio portraiture or product shots or landscape photography? In fact, I would say that fine art reproduction is one of the most needed areas in this whole industry because of the fact that nothing has been harder to get onto film than artwork. To try and get an oil painting from the 19th century onto a piece of film accurately is virtually impossible. The color, the way film sees it, is so different from the way the eye sees it that all of the color crossovers and other sorts of failings really make for a difficult time.
This is a painting from the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco Collection, the Palace of Fine Arts by [Bergen Voe], from 1899.
I've got as the next two images the film and the digital file. This is the film file blown way up. This is from a piece of E6, and now I'll move to the digital file. You may say the difference is subtle, but the kinds of differences that are there have to do with grain, they have to do with shadow detail, they have to do with the delineation of detail. In fact, there's a little flaw in the painting right here, where I've got the mouse pointed. I don't know if that's coming through in the projector. You could say that film has an advantage in that it hides the flaws on the original painting. But I think the more clearly defined image is one of the evidences of where we are going here in terms of higher degree of accuracy in the reproduction. This one I've split diagonally. Along the bottom right is the digital image, and the upper left is the film-based image. Are those differences coming through on the projector so that you can see them?
Since it is on landscape, I'm going to skip the last two sections of this presentation and move on to the last thing that I think I've got time for today, which is to show you another movie that goes into a little bit more detail about how the images are made in the field and the kinds of options and considerations that are involved. This is a piece that Apple produced on me for the introduction of the PowerBook, so you'll have to excuse the PowerBook promo in there. I think, in general it'll be useful for you to see how the process is done in the field.
Presentation: "I think I'm a landscape photographer because I have to be. I have to have a reason in my life to be outdoors and move around the world and try and understand what this planet is about. It's something fundamental about who I am that forces me into these places. I've been a photographer now for over 25 years, and I did not fully realize how much time and energy I had spent trying to cope with the failings of silver as a means of recording light. With film, you're always thinking about how can this film manage to record what I'm seeing? How can I try and manipulate it into being able to see what my eyes are seeing? That's where the process has changed so dramatically. I now turn on my Macintosh, plug in my Better Light or my Dicomed camera, and do a prescan, and the image is sitting before my eyes.
When I first went out with the inventor of the Dicomed and Better Light cameras, Michael Colette, in January 1994, we shot a bunch of film, and we shot with his digital camera. That was the last day I bothered to shoot film. What I saw at the end of that day so completely amazed me in terms of color accuracy, resolution, detail and dynamic range, that I never wanted to shoot film again.
I had to respond to that. I had to come up with something that was appropriate for this new technology, something that was hard. So I dreamed up With A New Eye: The Digital National Parks Project. In this very valley, [Carlton Watkins] was making photographs in 1863 using a process called the wet-plate collodium process. He saw it on the spot. He got to do something I didn't get to do anymore because I'm using film that has to be processed sometime later, someplace separate from the experience of making a photograph.
And so, when this whole digital process came along, suddenly I could see my photograph as I was making it, wherever I happened to be. It was this inevitable reach back through time to remember what all of the early landscape photographers had been able to do, to see their photographs on the glass plates. Now I can see it as a finished photograph as I'm standing next to the Moosehead River, while I'm making a photograph. It's an astounding journey.
The difference in the printing is also rather phenomenal. The darkroom experience was always burdened by such a distance from the experience of making the photograph. A lot of that has been shifted up front. Much of what I would have done in the darkroom later, I'm now doing onsite when I care the most about the photograph. So the act of printing now is done in the light, not in the dark. I like that because the whole subject matter of photography is light, and I'm in the light when I'm printing now. That's the way it should be!" For my final prints, I'm using Iris Realist printer on watercolor paper. And I'm using an Apple Color technology Colorsync to color manage the transformation from my original red-green-blue files to the Iris on rag paper. I'm 95% of the way there with my first print. My portal on the end of my digital photography is Adobe Photoshop software and the Macintosh PowerBook. The more powerful the PowerBook, the more able I am to really understand what it is I've just done. Photography is always about a process of discovery for me. I never know exactly what I'm going to photograph. Sometimes something really wonderful comes out of that.
Mt. St. Helens was one of the hardest days of my life. We spent most of the day in gray ash and rock. When I got to the top, it was all worth it. I looked over the top of that crater and into a play of color and light that I could barely believe. It had oranges, reds, greens and yellows where I expected grays. It was an amazing sight. I knew I could capture with the digital camera so much more than I ever could have captured with film. To be up on top of a volcano looking into my color PowerBook and seeing the image on the screen, turning my head and seeing the real volcano, that's a treasured experience. And it made for better photographs.
We've grown to know the national parks through color landscape photography and postcard renditions, generally oversaturated, overcolorized, overly contrasting melodramatic visions of these places. I think there's something much more subtle and beautiful that goes on here, and being able to capture a lot more of those nuances is one of the underlying aesthetic goals I have with this whole project.
To quote a young Irish woman who was at a show of mine in Ireland, it's like putting eyeglasses on for the first time and seeing the world anew. When I started using the scanning camera, there was an implicit recognition that something in a panoramic sense was possible, because we're no longer limited to any sort of rectangular edge. We have the entire surround of the space. Suddenly we have digital panoramic photographs as long as you want, and we can do 360 degrees at absolutely stunning resolution. It has this wonderful immersive quality that puts you in a place like no other photographic experience I've ever seen. My interests are focused on this idea of trying to bring the photograph into the electronic darkroom, to try and make the photograph more accurate, more clear. I can look at deep shade and brightly lit objects nearby and be able to render both simultaneously. That's a wondrous freedom as a photographer, to be able to photograph in almost any kind of light, almost any kind of subject matter.
The magic of digital photography is not only about the high-end cameras. There's an amazing number of consumer-level cameras that are producing very interesting results and opening up the whole world of digital imaging to people that are not professionals, but have a love of imagery. It's nice to be able to see it while you're still standing here.
The PowerBooks have been the portable digital photography enabler, in digital video, in digital photography, it's been Apple, the PowerBook and the Macintoshes that have made a huge difference in the way we live our professional lives. There's something about color. There's something about pastel color and light and being able to see green like I've never been able to see it before. The gap is narrowing between what I'm seeing with my eyes and what I'm able to see as a recorded scene. It's narrowing because of the digital camera technology, it's narrowing because of the power that Apple continues to build into the PowerBooks." [music]
Mr. Johnson: Okay, on that note, if we can have the lights up as much as we can get them in a short period. Great. I promised I would hold up a print or two, and that's about all I have time to do. These are my Iris prints on rag paper. They give you a little bit of an idea of what I meant when I said the shadow detail was there, even in backlit, burnt trees and midday sun. It also gives you a little bit of an idea of the kind of print quality that I'm going for, of the very high in inkjet on rag paper. These inks are now outliving most photographic processes. In fact, all color photographic processes except one, which is the new Fuji Colorart paper that'll last for about 71 years.
Just to have the context correct on the Mt. St. Helens, so you see the image the way that it was supposed to look, I thought I would hold it up as well. I'll be glad to show some of these afterwards, but the afternoon session is so full of stuff that if you want to see, you'll probably want to stay on and listen to everyone else.
In summation, I want to say that the age of digital landscape photography is not in the future. It's here. Now, the huge caveat on most of this stuff is that it's heavy, it's expensive, and in order to justify paying for it, you've got to have some sort of, I'm not going to say return on investment strategy, but that hints of what it comes down to. The camera I'm using is an $18,000 camera. That's the insert. That's not the 4x5, that's not the Powerbook, that's not the computers back at the studio trying to manage all of this data. With Michael Colette's Better Light Model 8000, we're now taking the resolution up even to 8000x-by-10,000 pixels. We're getting huge amounts of data. We're getting a lot of bit depth. We're getting an image color quality that is better than we've ever known in the history of photography. These things are all very positive steps forward, but there's a lot of problems that come along. Colorsync solves some of those. It takes us a long way toward color management and being able to make our monitor and our prints look like we intend for them to. But there's still a long way to go. The more people that are involved asking the vendors the very hard questions about when can the costs come down, how can we get the quality up, how can we make this simpler to use and more like traditional photographic processes, the more we're going to respond and have the products that we need.
So thanks very much, and I guess we'll take some questions. Thanks. [applause]
Moderator: Thank you very much, Steve. A whole textbook there, I think. More than a textbook. A lifetime of experience shared in whistlestop time. Thank you. There must be questions, I'm sure. Could you move over to the microphone, please? If you could let us know who you are.
Audience: Matthew Feldon. I was interested to know why you choose the color balance at the scene, versus altering it later in Photoshop.
Mr. Johnson: The last thing I want to do is not get the best data I can right up front. I try not to use Photoshop as a correction for my own failings. I try and use it to support the things I can't do anywhere else. Photoshop is great for that, and it could correct to some degree my failings. But if you don't get it right to begin with, you're never going to recover it later on. If I can take the time, sometimes a couple of minutes, to get a good gray balance on the site, I've taken a photograph that I could never create in the electronic darkroom later. For all of the power of Photoshop, it is not God. It does not know what the scene was. It is my responsibility to bring to it the highest quality data that I can. Of course, even more profoundly, hopefully some emotional response to that land that's transmitted through my heart as well. Ultimately, this isn't about technology, it's about your feelings for the planet and however you react in your soul to those place. But for the most part, taking that extra time to make the image as accurate as possible on the spot has been of great benefit to me.
I almost never do any color correction after the fact. The image is nailed to begin with. Now, that doesn't mean that there isn't some possibilities for color management on these high-end cameras. They do not see exactly the way the eye sees, and there are some failings that they have in terms of color as well that can be made better. The problem is, and somebody alluded to it in a question they asked Eckhard earlier, how do you characterize these cameras? We do not have targets that are available to characterize a high-dynamic range device. The targets are made out of paint that doesn't necessarily have a great range, or, worse yet, photographic paper. What a difficult thing to try and characterize a high-end digital camera that can see so far beyond photographic paper, the gamut of the papers sitting here, the gamut of the cameras clear out here further than I can stretch my arms. It's not that people don't recognize it, it's just that we don't have a target yet developed. So that's the kind of pressure we need to bring color management into the high-end of what digital cameras can be as well.
Audience: Yes. Lawrence [Beckfan], fine art photographer, also from Pacifica. I've heard about you for a long time, Steve. I've got a question regarding how one goes about finding a good Iris printer. I've worked with a number of labs in town in the Bay Area, and I'm not working digitally with a camera yet, but I am having medium-format transparencies drum-scanned, 120+ megabytes, output on a 3047 Iris printer, which will make a print 37x48 inches. The problem I'm having into is that a number of the labs run into banding problems. They say that they're going to bill me for it, but they can't make the print without bands. So I end up getting charged for work that's not being done. Sometimes the image comes out, other times they get banding, a type of streaking across it. I'm looking for a lab that can do competent work. I'm wondering, how does one go about finding this, short of going from one to another to another and making the same mistake over and over? Do you have any suggestions?
Mr. Johnson: It's a complicated question. I could spend probably the next half hour trying to give you a good answer. I'll answer it as briefly as I can without totally not answering the question. First of all, ask for their Colorsync profiles of their paper and their printer. That will be very telling right off the bat. If their printer is uncharacterized, you're relying on their judgment and their custom-built tables. That may or may not be a very good idea. My experience has been that Colorsync can drive the Iris, like I said in the video, to 95% of the way there. And if you're that far on the first print, you can tweak it the rest of the way into exactly what you want it to be. The streaking issue is clogged heads, and they need to maintain their printers better. I've used the Digital Pond in San Francisco. We've had a long-term relationship, but I pretty much do all of my own printing out. I've used Nash Editions in L.A. I haven't used any other local suppliers.
I find that I get the best prints when I'm making them myself. I've also found, much to my surprise after years of struggling, that the Iris is not uncalibratable. It's not unmanageable. It's very consistent. It does almost exactly what you tell it to, even years later. I don't understand what the problem is. I've got problems in getting the kind of blacks I want and getting good Colorsync profiles of the ink on rag paper and things like that, but I don't understand the basic problem people are having with the Iris. It is imminently manageable with color management systems.
Audience: Can I ask one more question related to this? Most labs are working with Somerset Velvet, which is a very white-based material, although the Arches Cold Press is rated at ten years' longer by Wilhelm and Associates in terms of longevity. I've heard from John Cohn and Associates, who supplies a lot of the Iris printers out here, that the Arches Cold Press will break down in color. They're saying the reality is that even though they give it ten more years, the colors are going to change on the Cold Press paper before they will on the Somerset Velvet. I'm wondering if you have any experience there or can you corroborate ---
Mr. Johnson: I don't like the Arches paper because it's yellow. I don't use it. Firsthand, I've never seen anything from Henry Wilhelm that indicated that at all. They were indicating very similar life the last look I had at the chart, which was about three or four weeks ago. So unless I'm severely misinformed, what you said isn't accurate. But I will go back and make sure myself.
Audience: My report was three months old, from Darkroom and Creative Camera.
Mr. Johnson: They may have transposed some figures. I have Henry's PDF file on my PowerBook, we can look it up afterwards. As far as I know, they were coming in at similar life.
Moderator: Thanks. Any last questions? Well, Steve, I'd like to thank you particularly. Very inspiring, as always. Thank you very much, Steve Johnson. [applause]
Mr. Johnson: Thanks for coming.