sj news logoptlobos

Pt. Lobos Fog Bank. CA 2009. Canon 1Ds MarkIII. From the Pt. Lobos and Carmel Workshop

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

We have been busy in the studio the past month and are looking forward to the upcoming workshops and the spring weather that has arrived here in California. 

This month's View From Here essay "Digital Archives and Archiving the Real World" discusses the importance of backing up your archives, the misfortunes of failed hardware and photographically rendering spring. 

In our Gallery One, the new exhibit Exquisite Earth has been extended through the spring.
Most of the summer and some of the fall workshop schedule is now up, with the Fine Art Printing Hands-on workshop just around the corner from April 16-19.

Last month we re-initiated the evening Critique Sessions and our April monthly Photography Critique Session is on Thursday evening April 28.

We couldn't resist adding a  Pt. Lobos and Carmel Workshop  this spring running from from April 30-May 2, 2011.

Also in May, we are offering a new one-day course Intro to Digital Day: Exposure, Composition & RAW May 15, 2011

Our San Francisco Digitally is being held June 4-5, the new Photoshop Straight workshops comes in mid-June.

The summer is filling up with our RAW to Print Summer Digital Bootcamp, and the new Fine Art Print Hands-on printing refinement class both in July.

There is one scholarship spot in each of these classes.

My summer sessions at the Maine Media Workshops are the last two weeks of June and we are doing a Santa Fe workshop in October.

We have also added our exciting new workshop exploring southern China, Guangxi Landforms for mid-November.

This month's Tutorial is on Simple File Tracking.

We hope you can come by the gallery and see the show, join us on a workshop, or just say hello and let us know what you are up to photographically and what you might like to see us offer.

Workshop Testimonials

2011 Workshops and Event Calendar
Fine Art Digital Printing Hands on
April 16-19, 2011
Photography Critique Session
April 28, 2011
Intro to Digital Day: Exposure, Composition & RAW
May 15, 2011
Pt. Lobos and Carmel
April 30-May 2, 2011
San Francisco Digitally
June 4-5, 2011
Photoshop Straight and True
June 11--12, 2011
RAW to Print: Summer Digital Bootcamp
July 11-15, 2011
The Fine Art Print
July 18-22, 2011
Mono Lake and the Eastern Sierra
October 8-11, 2011

Guangxi China
November 7-19, 2011

FEATURED PRINT for April 2011

niagara falls

Ererra Channel. Antarctica 2009.
Canon 1Ds III
11x14 Pigment Inkjet Print on Cotton paper
$195 each. Purchase this print.

One of the endless amazing scenes from the 2009 Antarctica trip discussed in this month's essay. The parade of wonder that so clearly filled our eyes and hearts on this trip became almost visually overwhelming. It's hard to know where to start with such a large body of work. This particular scene off the Errerra Channel included a variety of the form we kept encountering, mountain, ice slope, glacier, iceberg and sparkling sky.

This photograph, along with hundreds of others, were among those on the damaged hard drive discussed in this months essay.



House Candy. San Francisco, CA 2011.
check out the San Francisco Workshop. June 4-5, 2011

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Antarctica 2009.


Digital Archives and Archiving the Real World

Two thoughts came to mind this month, as they were both issues which I had to sort through, some missing files and sunlit springtime images riding the edge of black and life.

A Missing Archive

As I was curating my exhibition Exquisite Earth last fall, I ran into a wall on a photograph I wanted to use for the exhibition, the full res edited version and the RAW file was missing. As I looked further, it became clear that my entire Antarctica trip from 2009 was missing. Few hard drive files, no DVDs, no index, other than some jpeg excerpts, no evidence that the archive ever existed.

For years my normal offload and back-up process was to offload to two hard drives on initial downloading of my photographs from the camera memory card, re-naming the files and imposing my normal metadata simultaneously. On return home one of those drives is then back-up to two gold DVDs.

In this instance, this procedure seems to have gone awry.

It soon became clear to me what must have happened. When I went to mount one of my terabyte hard drives, it wouldn't mount, nor could Apple's Disk Repair Utility fix the drive and mount it. As it happened, it was a drive I had carried with me on the Antarctica trip which I had also been using for Apple's Time Machine back-ups. The 500gb portable drive I had used simultaneously for offloading the photographs in the field had long since been cleared and overwritten with new data.  It didn't make sense to me that the only copy could possibly be the files that must be on that now problematic Time Machine drive.

As I investigated the matter, it did seem that some people were reporting errors with Time Machine leading to directories getting corrupted and drives not mounting. I knew at the time that putting precious data and back-ups on the same drive was problematic, but as they were my secondary back up, I didn't worry too much about it.

On my return from Antarctica, with catching up from weeks away, inattention to detail of file management and archiving led me to end up with only one copy, on what now seemed to be a corrupted drive. I was devastated, but had to move on and print the show, keeping faith in the back of my mind that the data was there, and I would manage to get it off. It wasn't until March that I had a window of time to try a disk recover.

A good friend recommended Alsoft's Disk Warrior as the software to try for disk recovery, and as I had used it successfully in the past, I ordered an update.  Disk Warrior rebuilt the directory and the files suddenly appeared in a temporary "preview" directory that I could mount and copy from, but could not repair as the drive was now also reporting a hardware error, which may have been the problem all along.


I now have two duplicate hard drives of the trip, that are indexed with a little disk indexing utilitiy I've been using for years, Disk Tracker, and I will start writing the Blu-ray disks tomorrow. Even at the standard 25 gigabytes, it will take 9 disks for the 2009 Antarctica trip. The sheer volume of data it is now possible to produce is one of the challenges facing us. It can contribute to what happened to me here, where the task of good backup simply requires a lot of time and effort.

...continued top of right column

big sur

San Joaquin River. 2011.

Bright Sun, Deep Shadows, Light Everywhere

The rain of the last few months have swelled the rivers here. The sun is out and California seems draped in spring. I am itching to wander this month, and believe I will. Meanwhile, I use every chance I get knocking around to see what's going on with the water and life bursting out.

In this abundance of light and life, the photographs can often seem contrasty, harsh and dead of that very life. I work hard on the RAW processing files and with careful edits in Photoshop to preserve the luminously and delicacy I see. It is not easy to do or to translate onto paper.


San Joaquin River. 2011.

I remember working so hard to get my beginning black and white students to print so that blacks were possible in their silver prints. Adequate exposure under the enlarger, long development time in the paper developer and appropriate contrast of paper–were all ingredients to a rich print result.

This very chasing of black has imposed a world view pervasive in photography.  And that very blackness and darkness at the bottom end of the tonal scale is exactly what I try to very carefully watch for in processing these light-filled spring flood photographs of the San Joaquin River.

It is also a challenging area as there were no blacks present, but there were very dark values. We tend to truncate those into blacks in most photography, and in these cases it is very easy for anything less than a black at the bottom end to make the image look flat.


San Joaquin River. 2011.

A combination of very restrained contrast in the RAW processor, being careful to keep detail in the shadows by not imposing black, using the shadow Fill slider, the curve editor, and then in Photoshop carefully editing the curve again to keep shadows open and contrast sill not noticeably flat and dull. It is a difficult edge to ride. An additional tool now in our palette of options is the HDR Toning Editor in Photoshop CS5 Adjustments menu. Careful use of HDR Toning was explained in our September 2010 Newsletter Tutorial.

Of course this all fits in nicely with my general contention that most photographs unduly truncate the delicate nuance of the real world into over-simplified exaggerations that result in contrasty saturated hyperbole. And now that you know what I really think.... It is also riding an edge where it is not at all clear what do, even with plently of attitiude and a subtle aganda. It is new tonal territory, and every image has its own potential and challenges, which I will somtimes rise to, often struggle with, and occasionally move on as I won't know what to do. Sometimes it just needs to be black and white.



Simple File Indexing

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

For many years I've been tracking my digital files with a simple little utility called Disk Tracker.

It is just a simple file name and basic info tracker, that indexes disks automatically or manually and lets you search for files at will. There are many file tracking utilities out there, for both the Mac and the PC. I would strongly suggest you use one of them, even if you are using Lightroom or Aperture with their built-in databases.

Finding precious files is of course made much easier by careful file naming to begin with, particularly for photographs. Which is why I always custom name my photographs on download into a sequence that helps me identify and find the images later.


Date as start of file name:

Custom location name:

Then numbered sequence within the set:

Resulting in a stream like this:


note card

National Park Color Notecard Set
Stephen Johnson
12 cards/envelopes $20 set

From "With a New Eye" Beautiful 300 line screen offset reproductions with envelopes in clear box. A perfect Christmas gift.




or call to order 650 355-7507



Please come visit us at our gallery and see our original prints in person. The subtle detail of the prints and the beautiful texture of the fine art paper have to be seen to be understood. And while you're here, browse through our books, cards, posters, and specially priced prints.

We're happy to mail you a copy of our product catalog, just send a note to or call us.

We're located at:

Stephen Johnson Photography at the Pacifica Center for the Arts
1220-C Linda Mar Boulevard, Creekside Suites, 5-7
Pacifica, CA 94044
(650) 355-7507



Pacifica Center for the Arts from Linda Mar Boulevard


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