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Eastern Sierra Clouds near Owens Lake. Lone Pine. Email to order a print. See our next workshop: Fine Art Digital Printing Hands-on March 3-6, 2012

Welcome to the February 2012 Edition of the Photography Newsletter.

As this unusually warm winter moves forward, I am deeply appreciative for all of the sunny days. But I would trade even the beauty of my recent trip over Yosemite's Tioga Pass in January, with frozen lakes, moonlight and little snow, for a healthy heavy snowpack. I hope you are all weathering this winter well and seeing some beautiful light. .

This month's Newsletter's View From Here column discusses RAW Processors plus Photoshop. We hope you enjoy reading it and perhaps will send us some comments. Our Tutorial this month goes through some iisues on Working the Fine Print.

Our Photographers & Photoshop Series continues in February. This has proven to be a critical class for many as they work through the power of Photoshop to precisely edit their photographs.

We've restarted our Evening Critique Program with the next session being held February 16 at 7pm. If you can't be there in person, let us know if you want to register and participate virtually.

Our next Fine Art Printing Hands-on class is March 3-6, 2012. We hope you can join us for these four intensive days of hands on printing.

We have added a much requested Intermediate Fine Art Printing weekend for March 24-25 and have many great workshops throughout the Spring of 2012 Joshua Tree National Park, Pt. Reyes National Seashore, and California's Highway One San Francisco South. Check them out!

A number of people wrote and asked for a Pt. Lobos Carmel workshop this spring, so in the interest of being responsive, we have scheduled one for April 28-30, 2012.

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

The Summer Digital Bootcamp, From RAW to Print is now on the schedule for July 16-21, 2012 with an early enrollment discount for the first 5 students.

In August of 2012 we will journey back to the land of fire and ice for a 10 day Photographic Expedition to Iceland.  The Exquisite Earth show we have at the gallery has some very abstract landscape photographs from Iceland and we are excited to announce that we will be going back!

Our busy schedules and limited budgets often keep us from destination workshops or classes, but many of you still have questions you need answered, or need 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.

We hope you can come by the gallery and see the Exquisite Earth exhibition, its accompanying very special Exquisite Earth Portfolio 1, 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.

Workshop Testimonials

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FEATURED PRINT February 2012


Whitney Crest and Alabama Hills above Lone Pine. 2012.

Whitney Crest and Alabama Hills above Lone Pine. 2012.
Canon 1Ds III
11x14 Pigment Inkjet Print on Cotton paper
$195 each. Purchase this print.

layers of classic eastern Sierra landscape.

Stephen Johnson Workshops and Event Calendar
Photographers & Photoshop Series: Selections, Adjustment Layers, Tone and Color
February 11-12, 2012
Evening Photography Critique Session February 16, 2012
Fine Art Digital Printing March 3-6, 2012
Joshua Tree March 10-12, 2012
Intermediate Fine Art Printing Hands-on March 24-25, 2012
Pt. Reyes National Seashore April 21-23, 2012
Pt. Lobos and Carmel April 28-30, 2012
California's Highway One: San Francisco South May 19-20, 2012
From RAW to Print July 16-21, 2012.
Iceland. August 24-September 2, 2012


sleeping bear dunes


New Photo Link

Sunrays above Chicago. Lake Michigan. 2011.
Canon 1Ds III

Flying off to a new and great adventure, I looked back at Chicago and was amazed at this play of light and color.

Ubehebe Crater in Morning Shade. Death Valley. 2012.

by Stephen Johnson

RAW Processors plus Photoshop

Much has been said in the last few years about the wonders of Adobe Lightroom and the obsolescence of Photoshop. Lightroom is remarkable and powerful. In many forums however, I remind people that for all of their power and conveniences, Adobe's Camera RAW, and Lightroom, Apple's Aperture, and PhaseOne's Capture One are after all RAW processors, not image editors in the same sense of Photoshop's flexibility and pixel by pixel precision. I believe that Photoshop remains an absolutely critical ingredient in image editing.

Many photographers are simply put off by the complexity of Photoshop, the seemingly endless array of options and elaborate workflows abounding on the internet. Others simply want the flexibility of RAW without all of the work and time that finishing the image in Photoshop implies. The cost differential is also real. I can understand all of these notions, but want to discuss a few of them here.

Photoshop need not be too much more complex than what your needs and knowledge desire. There certainly is no imperative that you do as much stuff to your photograph as possible just because you can. I teach a fairly straightforward path through Photoshop that needs little more in most cases than a few Adjustment Layers for some tone and color needs, some so called "sharpening" and some image tone-balance work for prints. I go through much of this in the Selections, Adjustment Layers, Tone and Color Workshop coming up next weekend February 11-12, 2012.

One thing I've always liked about Lightroom and RAW processors in general is that there is no encouragement of composited faking of photographs inherent in the software. I think this encourages a straight forward workflow which is where in my interest in photography primarily lies. The image database is also useful, but not for me as I use other approaches and simply have way too many photographs over too many decades for it to be as useful to me as it is for some. The Lightroom Virtual Copy is great, as well as some of the stylistic and annotation automation.

As I am not a regular Lightroom or Aperture user, there are no doubt other features that I haven't yet noticed. But even in a program I know well, like Photoshop, I am constantly noticing, or having things pointed out to me that I had not seen, either in development or post-release.

But for me, Photoshop's shipping companion Camera RAW is just simpler to use. I find the tabs in CameraRaw very direct and I work well with the interface. The tight integration between Adobe's browser Bridge, CameraRAW and Photoshop is a relationship I find very convenient and empowering.


When it comes to precision editing, the RAW processors are great for basic interpretation of the RAW data, but I would feel deeply limited if I didn't have Photoshop at my disposal for precise editing, even pixel by pixel for some picky issues. I would also feel very constrained in my ability to fine tune the image for printing. That is why I discourage people from printing through Lightroom or Aperture as that decision bypasses many of the finishing and balance options I have and need in Photoshop.

The non-destructive editing metaphor which many have picked up on from Lightroom, and is inherent in RAW processing, has been in place in Photoshop for a very long time. Photoshop's Layers feature was dramatically empowered with the introduction of Adjustment Layer editors a long time ago.

It is only with Photoshop's precision and iterative editing that I feel that I can really work an image into a fine print. Critical to my printmaking capabilities is the careful balancing of tone, density, nuances of color imbalance and careful attention to the optical illusions of "sharpening" and texture. Without these controls, I feel like I would be left in a more crude position than I was in a conventional darkroom in terms of careful interpretation of the image.

Many of the needed capabilities of image editing continue to grow in the RAW processors, as a new preview of Adobe's Camera RAW by product manager Bryan O'Neil Hughes demonstrates. Check it out.

...continued top of right column

duskDune Shadows and Brush. Death Valley. 2012


A few things I would like you to keep in mind...

Virtual Education: Our Virtual Consulting and Mentoring Program is working well. Readers of this Newsletter can still get a 20% discount by mentioning this reference when you enroll.

Catch Steve Live: Steve will be speaking here and there around the country over the next few months, April in MA, June in NY, late June in Maine, early August in MI.

Three Recent Photographs

Aerial, Confluence of Missouri and Mississippi Rivers near St. Louis. 2011.

.duskThe Enola Gay. Air and Space Museum Annex. 2011.

Gulls on Beach. 2011.


Working the Fine Print

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

Most first prints are work prints. It is the first look at the behaviors of the color management workflow, overall density and balance, the glow of white from the paper, the apparent perceived sharpness. If you think of printing as a process that evolves as you explore, tweak and refine, you step right into the traditions of fine-art photographic printmaking that has yielded an astonishingly beautiful history of photographs on paper.

As a general rule, a fully edited file will still take work to make a beautiful print. Anything less than the most refined edit you can make in Photoshop should be expected to print poorly, and will need extra and sometimes confusing work to make a great print. As general advice, take the time and care to edit your image to a high level of satisfaction, then start the printing interpretation process.

I believe our artwork deserves the best materials possible and that it is largely a waste of time to test on anything less. So I do all of my test prints on the paper I intend to print on, although often as small 3x5 images on letter-sized paper. Sometimes a lighter-weight version of the same paper is available and cheaper.

My papers of choice have been the same for many years now. Specifically the Hahnemühle Museum Etching (which I helped create) for the cotton printmaking paper look. I also use the Hahnemühle PhotoRag Pearl for a more traditional gelatin-silver look. It should also be pointed out that Hahnemühle supplies these papers to my workshops, but of course they are by my choice the papers that I use and want to teach with.

Color Management
A color managed workflow is essential for printing, from monitor, through printer/settings/paper profiles to a viewing light matched to the white point of your monitor.

It is very important to me that a print has a glow about its tonality that lets it seem light-based. Although there may be exceptions to this, I mostly look to pull back detail of the whites to make sure some of the glowing white of the paper itself is able to shine through.

Tonal Balance
I would describe a balanced print as one where the viewers eye goes primarily where I intend, where no one element seems to get more attention than I intend, and where the viewers eye is kept engaged and moving around the image. This is achieved not only by your original composition and subject matter, but also by how you lighten or darken certain areas of the print to emphasize or de-emphasize the area in question.

I would suggest in general that carefully made masks and Curve Adjustment Layers are often the best means of controlling specific tonal emphasis, or perhaps a Doge/Burn Layer. I would discourage the use of Doge/Burn brushes and Brightness/Contrast editors.

Edges and Vignettes
Lenses often fall off in density at the edges of the frame, and certainly traditional condenser enlargers did. Lightening and darkening of the corner of the image to treat problems is something I always try to watch out for. I am not a fan of "burning-in" the edges to concentrate the viewers attention. It often looks fake and in my judgment is treating a symptom of the past with a stylistic affectation.

In the digital photo realm, where focus is sometimes thought of as a "sharpness" that you can add after the fact, I caution people that actual sharpness takes place in the camera. The optical illusion of "edge-contrast exaggeration" that we call sharpening can be very useful, but can be easily overused and make the image look fake. Use restraint in sharpening and use your file as a measure of what is needed initially, then examine the print for any additional illusion-creating effects you may deem are needed. Too often, rote values and unexamined imperatives simply make an image look tacky.


Test Print with small images run through the printer multiple times with different settings.

It has long been an archival standard to allow at least a one-inch border around your image to the paper edge. This ensures you have space to handle the print, and that there is space for a reveal overmatt if desired. The print is then essentially presentation ready for casual view with a border that looks a bit like an overmat. It is also true that this border around the image separates the photograph from any contaminates that may creep in from the edge over time.

Matting and Framing
I believe it is important to present your work as framed in the least attention-getting manor possible, so that the image is preserved and cared for, but not distracted from. Consequently, I feel that standard white overmatts look the best, either silver or white metal frames, or simple light wood for the most beautiful earth tone possible.

You might want to check out my Matting and Framing DVD.

Prints should always be overmatted to protect the image from direct contact with the glass or acrylic. Most non-glare glass or plex looks awful as it adds texture or matt sprays to archive their so-called non glare status. There is however, beautiful glass and acrylic available from vendors like TrueVue make Museum Glass and Optium acrylic that truly do reduce the reflectivity of the surface material. They are not cheap.

Related Previous Tutorials



We have a few of international workshops coming up in the next 12 months! For basic information please see below.  The links attached will have all details and ways to register.


Iceland: August 21-September 2, 2012

I am enthralled with Iceland. It is one of the most beautiful places I've been and I feel a deep pull to continue to explore and share this place. This is a new trip customized for my photographic interests and curiosities, dedicated to a wonderful and deep photographic experience.

2012 Calendars


12 selections from Steve's Exquisite Earth, National Parks or Pacifica work.

11" x 17"
Price $20.00

More Information

To order by credit card.





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

Studio Lab Rental

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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 February 20, 2012 . Mail comments to:
Photographs and Text Copyright ©2012, Stephen Johnson. All Rights Reserved Worldwide