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Silhouetted Cyprus. Big Sur. April 2014. Canon 5D III from 4 stitched files. Click to order a print. Next Workshop Raw Photo Processing Day. April 19, 2014.

Welcome to the April 2014 Edition of the Photography Newsletter.

Just attended the opening of the great new cliff-side Devil's
Slide trail here on the San Mateo Coast. It was a true celebration of sun, sea, cliffs and spectacular views. What a privilege to be on this earth.

This month's View From Here column explores trees as photographic subject and natural world connection. We hope you find the column interesting and will consider sending us some comments. Our Tutorial Section features a video tutorial from a recent Fine Art Printing class on repairing a strange color fringe.



Bryce Canyon National Park. 1995. BetterLight Scanning Back.
and Anasazi White House. Canyon de Chelly. 1977. 4x5 Kodak Plus-X film.

Scholarships and Mentoring

As part of our ongoing commitment to photographic education, there is one student scholarship spot in many of our classes. Please pass the word along.

For discounted time studying with Steve, keep in mind our Mentoring Program.

With all of our busy schedules and limited budgets, destination workshops or classes become a challenge, but many of you still have questions you need answered, or feedback on some new work. We want to remind you of our Virtual Online Consulting Program. This service allows all of you out there around the globe to consult online live with Steve on technical, aesthetic and workflow issues using Skype and your webcam.

Our Essays and Tutorials from the past couple of years can now be found on Google Blogger.

We hope you can come by the gallery and see the new Panoramic Prints we've added to the National Parks Gallery, and the Exquisite Earth exhibition with its accompanying very special Exquisite Earth Portfolio 1. We invite you to join us on a workshop, rent lab space, or just say hello and let us know what you are up to photographically and what you might like to see us offer. We value your input.


Workshop Testimonials



Morning Mist. Yosemite. 2014
Canon 5D III

Morning Mist. Yosemite National Park.. 2014
Canon 5D III

9x14 Pigment Inkjet Print on Cotton paper
$195 each. Purchase this print.

A virtually snowless Yosemite in Winter workshop was very strange, although still very beautiful. We didn't know what to expect as we went out for our dawn session. As typically happens, what we didn't know was that extraordinary beauty awaited us with the morning mist on Yosemite Meadows.

2014 Workshop Schedule
Digital Photography Series: Raw Photo Processing Day. April 19, 2014.
Digital Photo Image Editing May 10-13, 2014
Flora and Form: from Orchid Gardens to Digital Lab May 15-17, 2014

Digital Photography Series:
Photoshop Editing for tone and Color using Adjustment Layers with Selections and Masks.
May 31, 2014

Raw to Print: Summer Digital Bootcamp June 2-6, 2014
Digital Photography Series: Beauty in Photography: Inspiration and Composition. June 14, 2014
Fine Art Digital Printing Hands-on June 19-22, 2014
Acadia National Park June 28-29, 2014
White Mountains and the Full Moon. August 8-11, 2014
Southwest Journey September 7-18, 2014
Mono Lake and the Eastern Sierra October 11-14, 2014


March 2014 Printing Class. Photo by Fiona McDonnell

Speaking Events (see below)

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Tenaya Creek. Yosemite. 2014


New Photo Link


Tenaya Creek. Yosemite. 2014.
Canon 5D Mark III


Tenaya Creek flowing over algae covered rocks with the sky reflecting from above made for a beautiful blend of design, color and sensuality. I hope the photograph conveys a bit of that to you.

Perhaps the video can convey even more...

digital path poster

Bark. Yosemite. 2014.
Canon 5D III

by Stephen Johnson

The Wonder of Trees

As I look through photographs for possible inclusion in this month's essay, and the themes they might drive. it seems trees keep coming up. From bark patterns and textures, to towers that stretch to the sky, they are forest and decoration, food and poetry source, and have held a special place in my imagination as far back as my memory can reach.

The word tree itself seems inadequate, they are grander and far more complex than such a simple word suggests. But there really is no other word. Perhaps that is well and good. When I let my mind drift a bit into memories of feeling most at home, the scent of pine or eucalyptus are pervasive in me. The fecund smell of a redwood forest is an inseparable part of the awe of those trees, their furry bark, fallen friends and life cycle filling our experience.

color checker

Aspen and Black Leaves. Yosemite Valley. 1977.
Mamiya RB67

These living sentinels occupy so much of our world and natural world view that we both cherish and take them for granted. We make our homes from them, and sit under them falling in love. They may be the oldest living beings, and the most massive (massively connected fungus left for another discussion). There are billions, perhaps trillions, more trees than people on this earth. Yet we are deeply dependent on them. With phytoplankton, trees are among the great contributors to the very air of life for us, oxygen.

color checker

Elm and Lichen. Pacifica. 2014
Canon 5D III

It seems almost strange to single out and talk about trees as one big subject. The name refers to so many different species, in so many different environments. Our ways of relating to these beings are almost as varied, from wonder to refuge, to blind exploitation.

Yet, there is something all encompassing about our notions of trees. They embody our notions of the natural world. To even single them out as unique individual entities is uncommon unless they are grand or diseased. But the individual tree you may be standing next to is a singular being, with a unique embedded history and decades of often amazing adaptation. We see them grow in the most difficult and improbable places, with a tenacity that seems truly difficult to imagine. Trees seem to have a determination to eke out a rooting foothold from the tiniest crack where soil and seed can hold water and seek sun.

Trees dance. They sway and squeak in wind driven ballets orchestrated by forces unseen and without end. Wind animates these multi-limbed creatures with a complexity and grace unique in our world of familiar motion. Tree sway is more likely to be alluded to by a van Gogh painting than any words that come to mind.

Trees fall. Regardless of our presence or not, the sound is loud. It can be very loud. The thunderous fall of a Sierran pine was one of the most sudden, sensual and frightening moments of my life. It was over in a few seconds, only the smell of dust and cracked wood now replacing the empty piece of sky where the almost unnoticed towering tree once stood

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

from When Great Trees Fall Maya Angelou.

steve 2004

Trees, Jasper Alberta. Canada. 1978.
4x5 film with Burke and James Field camera.

Landscape photography almost worships trees. They are at the heart and core of landscape. As a subject they are both graceful and stark. They can resemble humans reaching to the sky and the waves of the sea. As seasons turn, brilliant leaf color becomes an irresistible draw. Places are known for the fall color of their trees. In fog they loom mysterious, in snow becoming black skeletons. They are a critical home for birds, among the most magical creatures on earth.

steve 2004

Trees and Hills. Shenandoah National Park. Virginia. 1996.
BetterLight Scanning Back on Sinar X View Camera.

Forests are the core of our romantic notions of the natural world. These massive stands of tree dominated ecosystems are essentially tree cities, with very complex interdependencies and evolved organization. They are also community for all the creatures within. The trees stand as companions for themselves, habitat for countless animals and shelter for the life below. We too feel this community, sense a belonging among them, and gain a feeling of peace and connection. We have been one of those protected species.

As John Muir once penciled in a margin of his copy of Emerson's Prose Works, "Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life."

But, as we all know, there is a darker side to our relationship with trees and forests. Even as we enjoy forest and wilderness made of trees, we also make our homes from them. Our use of trees as lumber and wood-pulp as paper have created huge industries and great profit. We burn trees just to use the land they occupy for ourselves. Whatever use we derive is usually short-term, lumber for profit soon gone or burned rainforest for marginal agriculture on soon exhausted soil.

Clear-cutting and burning has threatened the very survival of many dependent species. We call the process deforestation, causing collapsing ecosystems, massive soil erosion, and the loss of oxygen production. We talk of the rainforest going, climate change, the denuding of landscapes like Iceland and now Honduras, Nigeria and The Philippines. Deforestation is now becoming a planetary concern, perhaps putting life itself as we know it in jeopardy.


Giant Sequoia in Mariposa Grove. Yosemite. 2007.
Canon 1Ds I


And we saw the seed,
The minuscule Sequoia seed
In the museum by the tremendous slab
Of the tree. And imagined the seed
In soil and the growth quickened
So that we saw the seed reach out, forcing
Earth thru itself into bark, wood, the green
Needles of a redwood until the tree
Stood in the room without soil—
How much of the earth's
Crust has lived
The seed’s violence!
The shock is metaphysical.

From "Return" by George Oppen. 1962.


...continued top of right column

steve 2004

Fallen Tree in Tenaya Creek. Yosemite California. 2014.
Canon 5D III

As with all living things, trees have life spans that constantly leave us with their dead being drawn back into the earth. Decaying wood often drives imagemaking as the sensuality and starkness of the tree can be ever more visually exaggerated. On the dry desert, desiccated wood becomes skeletal. In water, reflections and decay play all sorts of visual tricks with perception. The lines of the limbs themselves becoming defining compositional elements within our frame.

steve 2004

Blooming Orchard. Merced California. 2014.
Canon 5D III.

My own world view was shaped by the orchards of my youth in California's San Joaquin Valley. Bike rides from my home frequently headed for the countryside and its orchards. They may have been cultivated rather than wild, but they were full of spring flowers, of air that seemed rich, of scents of earth, wood and fecundity.

I came to be much more drawn to forests, but the orchards of my youth, the stands of strange eucalyptus where we built our childhood enclaves, these places shaped that draw. I may feel more native to the planet in a forest of trees than any other environment. In fact, I'm sure I do.

steve 2004

Swirled Wood. Yosemite. 2014.
Canon 5D III

My understanding of abstraction came from trees. It was easy to imagine all sorts of other form and beings in their branches and trunks. The wood itself, in revealed decay or the sheer beauty of it formed into objects we use, became synonymous with beauty, pattern, natural from and design. Line and curve in warm hues making furniture, sculpture and connection back to earth.

color checker

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. 1996.
Kodak DCS460.

Part of that connection needs to be an awareness that we cut those trees, kill them for our use, then romanticize their beauty. My own house was built long before I came along with beautiful dead redwood. As an author, my books have consumed enormous reams of paper. The irony is not lost on me.

My photography has gravitated toward woodlands. I've been drawn to the peace and serenity of the forest. Some of my best known work has celebrated forests. I know our experience is often superficial and brief, strolling in comfortable weather, not having to survive, not having to be prey or predator.

steve 2004

Trees. Fitzgerald Reserve. Moss Beach California. 1994.
BetterLight Scanning Back on Horseman View Camera.

This stand of cypress and pine at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in San Mateo County is one of the more beautiful views along our coastal cliffs. The scene and my photograph have been a gift to me, one of those signature images that iconicize our work. Made in March of 1994 with Michael Collette's hand built 4x5 scanning back camera,  it became the aesthetic and technical launching pad for my decade long project "With a New Eye: The Digital National Parks Project." It was the photograph that gave me the confidence that my idea for an all-digital large-format photographic project on the national parks was possible. It has also been my most published and collected photograph.

It is also a scene that may now be in jeopardy. All of these trees have now been tagged by an arborist who will determine which trees are dead or a possible danger to the visiting public walking the trails below.

I don't want my photograph to be a memorial to something now gone. I would much rather it be a call for the preservation of the exquisite beauty of the place.

There must be an alternative to cutting down many of these trees. 137 have already been identified as dead. Stay tuned to the arborist's report in June 2014, and contact Sam Herzberg San Mateo County Parks Department. There has already been some announced slowing down of the plan due to public reaction.


Grizzly Giant in Mariposa Grove with caretaker Galen Clark. Yosemite. 1863. Carleton Watkins.
from the stereocard. Library of Congress.

The places that give such nourishment to me have to be places I find a way of giving back to. It's not always clear how to do that, but by banding together, it's amazing what can be accomplished.

John Muir spoke of the task in a speech to the young Sierra Club in 1895: "The battle we have fought, and are still fighting, for the forests is a part of the eternal conflict between right and wrong, and we cannot expect to see the end of it. ... So we must count on watching and striving for these trees, and should always be glad to find anything so surely good and noble to strive for."

Trees are poems that earth writes upon the sky,
We fell them down and turn them into paper,
That we may record our emptiness.

Kahlil Gibran



Except as noted, Photographs and Text Copyright ©2014 by Stephen Johnson.
All Rights Reserved Worldwide


Tree Stories?
Writing this essay brought all sorts of possibilities to mind. Do you have a tree story to share? We may see if assembling stories into a single entity could create something very special. Email your story.


please email your comments to us




Consulting Programs and Speaking Events

Virtual Education: Our Virtual Consulting and Mentoring Program is working well. Readers of this Newsletter can still get a discount by mentioning this reference when you enroll.

Our One on One Program links you up with Steve at his bay area studio, or when he is on the road near you. Keep an eye on when Steve will be near your town.

Catch Steve Live: Steve will be speaking here and there over the next  few months, such as his up coming talks in Long Island, NY, New York City and Rockville, MD and Rockport, Maine.

  • Pacifica: At the Gallery
    Come by and talk with Steve about his ongoing Exhibitions of work on display
  • Rockport Maine: July 1, 2014 7pm
    Artists Talk at the Maine Media Workshop

Canon Sponsors Steve to speak at Universities, Colleges, Photo Groups and various events around the country. If you would like more information on arranging for Steve to do a Canon sponsored event, go to: Canon SJ EOL talks


Steve Lecturing at the George Eastman House Museum of Photography. June 2012.


Printing Class Demo: Red Fringe on Backlit Trees Against Sky


A student in a recent class was working on a very nice sunrise, when I noticed some of his tree tops seemed to be almost on fire. It could have been amazing, but in this case just plain looked odd. Although I tried a number of ideas in Raw to remove the problem, the artifact remained. It was likely some Bayer Pattern interpolation error, some light scattering around very bright to very dark detail on the sensor, or simply diffraction through the lens. It was strange looking, appeared to be an error in the file, which it was, and therefore I sought to repair it.

There are many ways to address problems with the power Photoshop can bring to image editing. In this case, I chose Color Range and a de-saturaton.

We hope you find the video of the exercise worthwhile.


Previous Tutorial and Technique Posts

Demo Recorded with ScreenFlow screen capture software.

The Stephen Johnson Photography Gift Shop

Featured Product

2014 Life Form Notecards
5x7 inches,

Click to Purchase

12 image Notecard set with envelopes featuring photographs from Steve's new Life Form work.

Printed by Steve in his studio in very limited numbers on a color laser digital press


National Park Notecards

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 great gift.




or call to order 650 355-7507



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

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

We're located at:

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



Pacifica Center for the Arts from Linda Mar Boulevard

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

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Last updated on April 16, 2014 . Mail comments to:
Photographs and Text Copyright ©2014, Stephen Johnson. All Rights Reserved Worldwide