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

This past week I was in western New York lecturing in Buffalo and Niagara Falls, and visiting the Eastman House in Rochester.

This month's View From Here essay "Lectures, Truth and the Eastman House Photo Wonderland" discusses the trip and some thoughts along the way.

In our Gallery One, my new exhibit Exquisite Earth has been extended through March.

Our workshop calendar is filling up, with summer schedule is now up through July.Our Color Management workshop coming up this weekend, March 5, and we've restarted our monthly Critique Session on Thursday evening March 10. The Highway One Coast workshop is the weekend after, running March 12-13

After many requests, we have added a new workshop at Joshua Tree National Park, set for April 2-4. Our next Fine Art Printing workshop follows April 16-19.

There is one scholarship spot in each of these classes.

We have also added our exciting new workshop exploring southern China for mid November.

This month's Tutorial is on Smart Photo Downloading.

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
Color Management in a Day
March 5, 2011
Photography Critique Session
March 10, 2011
Highway One San Mateo Coast
March 12-13, 2011
Joshua Tree National Park
April 2-4, 2011
Fine Art Digital Printing Hands on
April 16-19, 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


Joshua Tree National Monument. 1997.
Joshua Tree Workshop. April 2-4, 2011

FEATURED PRINT for March 2011

niagara falls

Falls and Mist. Niagara Falls. 2011.
Canon 1Ds III
11x14 Pigment Inkjet Print on Cotton paper
$195 each. Purchase this print.

My first visit to Niagara Falls left me fascinated with the power of the water, the color, mist and ice everywhere with snow ice-ridges below. It is a very special place, very different I'm sure in this winter cold white.

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High Falls District and Genesee River Gorge. Rochester, NY. 2011. Canon 1Ds Mark III.


American Falls, Niagara Falls NY. 2011.


Lectures, Truth and the Eastman House Photography Wonderland

I seem to frequently be writing as I am returning from trips. This time some Canon-sponsored lectures at the University of Buffalo, the Niagara Frontier Regional Camera Club's 50th Convention (NFRCC), and an amazing long-overdue visit to Niagara Falls and the George Eastman House in Rochester.

I have never been to this part of the country, and was not looking forward to possible storms that might complicate my trip. But no complications arose, and I was transported into a land of snow and ice, very unlike my home in California but much more like our idea of winter.

I was looking forward to seeing Niagara Falls, and anticipated a wonder in the ice and snow surrounding them. I was not let down. The mist from the falls iced the trees, built-up snow dunes below the falls and blanketed most everything in sight. The white of the snow and churning foam of the falling water seemed whiter still with the Niagara River's green water flowing through it. For all of the monocolor associated with winter, the color that comes through can be quite remarkable.

sj at buffalo

Steve Showing Prints in his Printing Class at the University at Buffalo. 2011.
photo by Domenic J. Licata, University at Buffalo.

It was a pleasure to spend some time with the faculty and students at the University at Buffalo. Touring the Art Department with its sculpture lab, printmaking studios and foundry, pulled me back into the tactile world of making art with hands and hard work. Although photography was always different, the darkroom connected you back with the raw materials from which the magic came. It was fundamentally different than working on a computer and sending files to a printer. It's peculiar that now, the most tactile operations of the photographic processes have more to do with presentation than fabrication, matting and framing.

At the heart of our work as photographers is still the fundamental interaction with a world of light, the cold, the sweat, the heat and sun, the weight of equipment and protection from rain and wind. All of those normal natural phenomena that moving about the world encounters, are all part of making images. That has always been the why for most of us, out there experiencing the real world, with its challenges and glories. But there was always also something else fundamental about the laborious and careful chemical aromatic experience of endless hours standing under safelights and in total darkness. There was an immersion in the materials. Probably to the detriment of our health, but it was an immersion. I don't mean to wax romantic about it, I would never trade away the tools and precision of how I am now able to work, but there is a change.

It is quite understandable why so many photographers in this digital age work their materials with hand coloring, montage, mixed-media and multiple processes in conjunction with their inkjet prints. The hard working of idea into something touched, inevitably singular, and hand made is substantial.

big sur

Tree and Rapids, Niagara River. Whirlpool State Park. NY 2011.

The Camera Club Convention
I was greeted warmly and felt much appreciated at the Niagara Falls NFRCC Convention. It was wonderful to see so many lovers of photography in a single place. Their print competition had many very fine photographs. I gave a lecture on my National Parks project With a New Eye and on 12 Steps to Improve Your Digital Photography.

In a few of my remarks, it seemed I might also have been saying some uncomfortable words. In talking about my work on the national parks, and my earlier stylistic evolution, I couldn't help but return to old themes of my frustration with the dark, saturated, contrasty world I see in so much color photography. I asked the audience if that's the world they saw, if they had ever encountered a black shadow, which I equated to a light-sucking black hole? Is the real world, in all its magnificence, nuance and beauty, really in need of the "enhancement" we see attempted in most digital landscape photography?

Although I heard appreciation for my talk,  phrases like "you made me think about things I've never thought of before," I also heard later  that some were vocally disagreeing with my views during my talk. All of this is for the good. Sometimes I feel like part of my mission in life is to stir up the pot, and ask questions that prompt debate and inquiry.

An Old Topic Revisited
For some reason the last few days have also stirred up some discussions of photographic truth, which also gave rise to some new ways of articulating my views.

Photographs are often said to be lies, so why worry about cloning real things in or out of a digital file. All photos lie anyway, supposedly. I strongly disagree with this contention, and will not go into it again deeply here as I've discussed it elsewhere. But something did come up this week that crystallized the ideas even more to me.

What we mean by truth after all, is as real in a photograph, as it is with the most reliable witness in their words in describing an event. The testimony is limited by the extent of the story told, as is the view of the photograph. Nothing has ever been a complete truth, but always limited to the subject at hand at best. It is from a particular point of view, like a person, or a lens. It is interpreted and understood by the norms of the time, as is a story and a photograph. What truth do we really have that is any truer than a photograph? Perhaps only our own experience and memory, our own truth.

A photograph is based on a physical phenomena, light through a lens, therefore I believe it is more of a truth than the best of what we can tell. That doesn't mean, as Ansel Adams once said that, "photographs don't lie, photographers do," that an image can't be photographed with intent to deceive, but trashing the veracity of a medium we cherish, partially because of its ability to be selective witness, is unwarranted.

This conversation deepened with the Eastman House Process Historian and well-known enthusiast for historical processes Mark Osterman as he was graciously showing us around their Conservation Lab. Mark pointed out that a photograph was also seen with certain processes yielding a particular look which contributed to the understanding of the time, as well the cultural prejudices of the days, so whatever truth it may contain would be relative to those considerations as well. No argument.

By the  way, Mark runs classes in historical processes. Check them out here.


Abraham Lincoln. late 1850s Alexander Hessler.

Lincoln Up Close
Mark also showed us a direct positive glass plate of a very well-known portrait of Abraham Lincoln by Alexander Hessler which he graciously allowed us to inspect with a loupe. Peering into the magnified view of this second generation glass plate was one of the truly amazing photo history moments of my life. The reality of the man portrayed became more alive than any other historical photographic experience I can remember. Through that photographic view, my sense of Lincoln as a real live human being was dramatically deepened.

Wiki link

...continued top of right column

big sur

Frozen Mist on Trees. Niagara Falls. 2011.

The George Eastman House
I've always wanted to visit the George Eastman House, so I extended my trip to pay a visit to Rochester, to see the museum and my old and dear friend from Kodak of yesteryear, photographer Pete Sucy. Pete helped sketch out and define digital photography as we know it in its early days. The George Eastman House is just that, the home of Kodak founder George Eastman, built with his Kodak fortune, some called it the "house that Brownie built" and is now a world renowned photography museum.

pete sucy

Photographer and Digital Visionary Pete Sucy Kindly Holding my Gray Cap. Niagara Falls. 2011.

I wasn't fully prepared for the treat I was about to encounter as Technology Curator Todd Gustavson gave us a backroom tour of the museum photography technology collection (check out his book, Camera: A History of Photography from Daguerrotype to Digital). I got to see so much neat stuff in a few hours that I am still coming down from the nerdy photo high I was floating on as we moved through the collection.

We saw the first of the Kodak cameras complete with original shipping/return for processing box, a Daguerreotype camera signed by Daguerre himself with original shipping documents, every imaginable camera design and concept, survey cameras from the early USGS, a stereo 4x5 Graphic View camera, the Lunar Orbiter camera with built-in darkroom and television scanner for film development and transmission from space, and gadgets galore. It is a photo nirvana place for the kid in me that fell in love with photography in my teens.


left top:Lunar Orbiter Camera. NASA. 1966.
right top:
Steve with a 4x5 Stereo Graphflex view camera. 1902.
left bottom: 5 Cent 3D Movie/Still Player featuring the National Parks. circa 1930s.
right bottom: The Octopus. 1980s All in one Clock Radio Camera.
all from the
George Eastman House Collection. 2011.

To many of us, Rochester New York was once an icon of photography and Eastman Kodak. As a series of decisions and missed opportunities left Kodak less central to present day photography, that iconic association waned.

To those of us without any real knowledge about the town, it may have made us think Rochester is a city in deep decay. Of course, like any other impression without deep information, this is not a fair view. Although the city has suffered mightily from Kodak's decline, it is still a huge and vital community. However, with so much industry now idled, there is also ample visual evidence of an industrial heyday now passed.

But industries remain, universities are present, and what appears to be an active and involved arts, music and creative community continues on.


High Falls, Genesse River. Rochester. NY 2011.


Fire Escape. High Falls. Rochester. NY 2011.

I've met so many people in the last few days that faces are a bit of a blur, but stories, voices and so much goodwill fills my mind. I was surrounded all weekend with a deep love of photography. I think I'll plan on going back.



Smart Photo Downloading

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

Using Adobe Bridge PhotoDownloader or Lightroom's Import download feature empowers photographers to take care of critical matters right up front.

Location: choose the location to offload the files.

Create Subfolder: Auto Folder Name Generation create and name custom folders according to what makes sense to you. I use year, month, day.

Rename Files: Custom naming, instead of using the arbitrary photo names coming out of the camera, custom name your photos on download to something that makes sense to you for easily find later. I use the same naming protocol as the folder name, with the added custom text identifying the place.

Convert to DNG: convert your files on download from the proprietary camera format to Adobe's documented DNG (digital negative) format.

Save Copies to: Back up Copy as a basic safety measure, simultaneously back up your files to a second drive as you offload.

Apply Metadata: add your name, copyright and contact information, all on download. Make custom Metadata Templates that contain all of this information always ready to apply to your photographs.



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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Last updated on March 9, 2011 . Mail comments to:
Photographs and Text Copyright ©2011, Stephen Johnson. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.