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Clouds on Pedro Point. Pacifica. 2014. Canon 5D III. Click to order a print. Next Workshop Flora and Form: from Orchid Gardens to Digital Lab August 21-23, 2014


Welcome to the August 2014 Edition of the Photography Newsletter.

Exploring new work, sorting through putting on a major exhibition, had a great time in beautiful Maine teaching at the Maine Media Workshops.

This month's View From Here column discusses black and white digital cameras. We hope you find the column interesting and will consider sending us some comments. Our Tutorial Section goes through hiding a blurry out of focus area in an image.


  • Coming Up: Flora and Form: from Orchid Gardens to Digital Lab. August 21-23, 2014.
  • Don't miss our Southwest Journey 12 Day Sojourn through some of America's desert wonderlands September 7-18, 2014.


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



Tenaya Creek. Yosemite. 2014
Canon 5D III

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

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

A bright new sparkling print from my new Canon 8400 printer led me to choose this New Photograph from our April Newsletter as the Featured Print for this month. The flow of soft water over complimentary color of orange and blue with sharp water sparkles made me keep walking back to the print today.

I couldn't resist making it available as this months Featured Print.

2014 Workshop Schedule
Flora and Form: from Orchid Gardens to Digital Lab August 21-23, 2014
Southwest Journey September 7-18, 2014
Fine Art Digital Printing Hands-on September 27-30, 2014
Mono Lake and the Eastern Sierra October 11-14, 2014
Pt. Lobos and Carmel December 6-8, 2014
Death Valley in Winter January 10-13, 2015


March 2014 Printing Class. Photo by Fiona McDonnell

Speaking Events (see below)

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Tenaya Creek. Yosemite. 2014


New Photo Link

Beached Young Humpback Whale. Half Moon Bay. 2014.
Canon 5D Mark III

A sad, and wondrous sight mixed together...

I had heard there was a a small whale beached in Half Moon Bay. I had to go see, feeling both empathetic and possibly voyeuristic. The body was not hard to find. People lined Highway One. Most were respectful and sad. Some were lining up to get pictures of their kids posing with big smiles with the dead baby beyond.

I photographed, but with an uncomfortable sense of seeing design in death, beauty in sadness. I wanted to celebrate this young mammal's form and wonder, but here it was, sadly pushing against the rocks with every wave, somewhat torn and starting to decay.

A local TV reporter asked me if I would talk for a moment on camera about what I was seeing and thinking. I continued to linger, staying as long as I could, but I had to go off to a meeting about a park cutting down tress. I knew I would come back afterward, at night.

The nighttime scene was eerie, no one gawking, cold, much silence and sadness. The fishing boats coming in for the night streaked across my photographs. The long exposures smoothed the rolling water. The body rolled.

land sharks

Sandy. 2014.
Kodak DCS 760m.

by Stephen Johnson

Shaking Things Up and Indulging in Whims
Digital Black and White Cameras

The creative process is somewhat fickle. Fascination can take hold from out of nowhere, inspiration can be fleeting, and hard work most always underlies any idea.

So it was with me in the Spring, when I moved back and forth between a new body of work, the Life Form series, and needing a break from it. A big project does induce a desire for space from it. This can engender procrastination on needed work to do, or another way of thinking about it might be, creative space for many ideas to work through your imagination at once.

For some combination of those reasons, I started feeling a need to simplify seeing and photographing, and an older digital black and white camera kept creeping into my mind. My last black and white digital camera was the 2002 Kodak DCS760m built around a sturdy Nikon F5 body. I hadn't had it out to play in years, but after ruminating on it for a few days, I dug out the camera, started charging batteries and getting reacquainted with its state of evolution.


Kodak 760.

So I started to play.

Even with my long term love of black and white photography, and decades of using black and white film, the first thing I felt was, "hold it, I have to look for just black and white scenes? That feels very constraining." I've grown so accustomed to making color photographs that can always be made into black and white, but are at their baseline, a recording of a color encoded world.

There are many reasons for a dedicated black and white digital camera. The primary reason being that the full resolution of the sensor can be dedicated to the single black and white image, without being split between red, green and blue filters laminated across the sensor. This split effectively shrinks the resolution to more or less half of the sensor's pixel resolution. Having a full resolution black and white image from a sensor essentially means that the pixel dimensions of the sensor are the real resolution of the image. This is very different from an interpolated composite made up of guesstimates of missing information, then converted to grayscale.


Matt at Split Rock. Joshua Tree. 1997.
Kodak DCS 460m.

I used my Kodak DCS 460m (m for monochrome) cameras as my higher resolution portable digital cameras of the time, as they resolved much more detail than the color camera. I still have the infrared version. I remember using it on aerial photo excursions over Yosemite. Their 6 mp sensor held much more information than their color brothers.

Many years ago I did a test on a 6mp camera and compared the b&w and color-matrixed versions of the camera when turned to black and white. The differences in resolution were startling.



Darin. 1994.
Leaf DCB.

I've been photographing with black and white digital cameras since 1992, originally using the Kodak DCS200. Shortly after that Leaf sent in their prototype Leaf DCB 2k x 2k back for the Hasselblad. The Leaf DCB back amazed me. It was an instant digital file, from my old Hasselblad, seemingly higher res than my 120mm film, and with far greater flexibility. From there I went on a long journey of amazement and fascination with high resolution digital capture, 16 bit files and the idea of a RAW file format and processor.


color checker

Ant Body Joint.
SEM. 1980.

In graduate school I pursued an interdisciplinary degree so I could investigate additional imaging technologies beyond conventional photography. One of the approaches that completely drew me in was Scanning Electron Microscopy. Using a concentrated beam of electrons to image at very high magnifications gave me a way of seeing micro landscape of unexpected complexity and oftentimes grace.

The exploration became a whole body of work.


...continued top of right column

steve 2004

Shelldance Orchid Gardens. 2014.
Kodak DCS 760m.

Some cameras are black and white and color simultaneously. My work with the BetterLight Scanning back made three discrete full res scans all at once, making the option to use any one of the color channels on its own, or blend all three together. I got very accustomed to photographing in a way that I could have color or black and white at any point in the decision process, at exposure or later, because of the way the camera recorded light.


Hoh Rainforest. Olympic National Park, Washington. 1996.
BetterLight Scanning Back on 4x5 View Camera.


This trend of options continued with my consulting work with Foveon as they were developing their X-3 chip. Foveon's idea was to build a sensor that could detect the different wavelengths of light, red, green and blue, by tapping the reaction of the silicon to light at three different depths within each pixel well, the red penetrating the deepest, the blue penetrating the least. The signals were then separated and colorized resulting in a full color image. Or not. The images  could simply be processed without separating the color, resulting in a remarkable B&W photograph. It is an elegant process, preserving the original chip resolution while having an option of color or B&W.

Sigma bought chips from Foveon and built a line of cameras from SLRs to point and shoots. The technology did not catch on with other camera companies. Nothing larger than sub-35mm-sized chips in Sigma cameras made it to market. To me, the X3 chip remains a significant technology development and I am still hopeful that larger sensors revealing more of its potential will make it to market. Foveon was later acquired by Sigma.


Michelle. 2005.
Experimental 2k x 2k Foveon Sensor.

Last year, I had the privilege of working with Jim Tasket's (Bear Images, Palo Alto) Phase One Achromatic + back and found it very rewarding. It is a Phase One 39 megapixel medium-format back with no Bayer Pattern of color filters over the sensor, so it is a full resolution black and white back. It also happens to see deep into the infrared, as silicon sensors are natively IR. Unless an IR cutoff filter is put in the light path, the recorded images become IR. This gives us great flexibility for tonal interpretations, an IR B&W camera, or with an IR Cutoff filter on the camera, a more conventional B&W panchromatic camera. Both approaches remain full-resolution B&W photographs.

An added benefit to this design is that it featured a Kodak sensor that is very well suited for long exposures, up to an hour, like Phase One's P45. Its deep IR sensitivity makes it very useful for scientific as well as conventional photographic renditions if you add an IR cutoff filter to the light path.


Looking Toward San Francisco. 2013.
Phase One Achromatic+ Back.


Phase One is also now offering their IQ260 Achromatic as a panchromatic and IR back with 60 megapixels, and the IQ series wireless capability. At 8964 x 6716 pixels, it is the first digital back that actually out resolves my BetterLight scanning back's 8000x6000 pixels of real information. It's ISO range is 200-3200 and long exposures cap out at about 2 minutes. Although I haven't used it, it should be an amazing black and white back.

There is also the Leica M Monochrom rangefinder camera that has been out for a few years. At 18mp it is impressive in detail, but at about $8,000 for a rangefinder camera, adoption has been limited. Leica continues to advertise this camera as the first 35mm black and white camera, which does bug me, as it is clearly not true. My Kodak DCS 460m from 1997, and my DCS 760m from 2002 are clear proofs. But that doesn't make their camera of less value.

Digital black and white options are growing. For image quality, it makes much more sense to record your black and white photographs without going through color separation filters on a bayer patterned chip, with the consequent loss of resolution. But the costs are substantial and so they are not common devices.

Many of us remain hopeful that Nikon and Canon will bring out dedicated B&W versions of their dSLRs.



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 New York City at PhotoPlus.

  • Pacifica: At the Gallery
    Come by and talk with Steve about his ongoing Exhibitions of work on display

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.


Hiding Blurry Grass


I began recording demos I give during my workshops. They are very practical problems that need to be solved. So I try to figure out what to do and the students get to take the demo home as well.

A severely out of focus area in an image, that still shows what was behind he blur, might be a candidate for this technique to emphasize the somewhat hidden detail, and minimize the effects of the out of focus object.


From my June 2014 Fine Art Digital Printing Class.




Previous Tutorial and Technique Posts

The Stephen Johnson Photography Gift Shop

Featured Product

2014 Life Form Note cards
5x7 inches,

Click to Purchase

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

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


National Park Note cards

note card

National Park Color Note card 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 August 5, 2014 . Mail comments to:
Photographs and Text Copyright ©2014, Stephen Johnson. All Rights Reserved Worldwide