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Where the San Andreas Fault Goes Out to Sea. 2011. See our next field workshop: Mono Lake Workshop October 8-11, 2011

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

Just now completing my Exquisite Earth Portfolio 1 and deeply enjoying the process of making something that feels so beautiful and special.

This month's Newsletter covers a wide variety of topics, from The View From Here column for October which reflects on photography as heart process to the making of Steve's new portfolio. Our Tutorial this month is a video discussing exposure, and histograms in the field.

October brings both workshops at the studio and in the field! 

First up is the classic and engaging Mono Lake Autumn Workshop October 8-11 coming right up this week, exploring this high desert sea, its surrounding volcanoes and high Sierra canyons. There may even be some fresh snow on the ground amid the Fall color!

Later this month you can show your own work and receive feedback during our  October 20 Critique Session on the 20th from 7 to 10pm.

Our one-day Camera Mechanics seminar is on November 5th, a perfect one day session to learn about the workings your digital camera, breaking down the components of exposure, focus, depth of field, encoding balanced color, controlling RAW previews, and lens characteristics.

The important Image Editing Hands-on class returns November 12-14, 2011. Many of you have asked when we will offer this class again, so come and join us for this vital dive into thoughtful and realistic image editing.

One of our most popular workshops is the Death Valley in Winter Workshop which starts the new year running January 7-10, 2012 on a full moon. Four days of exploring this remarkable national park with great photographic instruction and field work. Death Valley is a place you must go, so why not now?

Our next Fine Art Printing Hands-on class is January 21-24, 2012 for which we are currently offering a pre-enrollment 10% discount.

Many new workshops have been added to our schedule for the Spring, Yosemite in Winter, Joshua Tree National Park, Pt. Reyes National Seashore, and Highway One San Francisco South. Check them out!

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.

Don't miss the international trips we have coming up to the Galapagos and Iceland.

Our return to the awesome Galapagos archipelago will be a high point of 2012 with the wondrous Galapagos Photography Expedition March 23-April 2, 2012. We have a November 15 deadline on this one to hold the boat, so don't wait, jump in now!

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



Confused Construction. Pacifica, CA. 2011

New Photo Link

hard to know which way to turn these days....


sleeping bear dunes

Sleeping Bear Dunes and Lake Michigan. 2011
Canon 1Ds II
11x14 Pigment Inkjet Print on Cotton paper
$195 each. Purchase this print.

Lake Michigan stretching out under a dramatic sky from the huge lakeshore dunes of Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore.

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2011 Stephen Johnson Workshops and Event Calendar
Mono Lake and the Eastern Sierra
October 8-11, 2011
Critique Session October 20, 2011
Camera Mechanics in a Day November 5, 2011
Professional Image Editing November 12-14, 2011
Pt. Lobos and Carmel. A Canon Workshop. December 3-5, 2011
Death Valley in Winter
January 7-10, 2012
Fine Art Digital Printing January 21-24, 2012
Yosemite in Winter February 4-6, 2012
Joshua Tree March 10-12, 2012
Pt. Reyes National Seashore April 21-23, 2012
Galapagos 2012. April 2012
Highway One: San Francisco South May 19-20, 2012
Iceland. August 24-September 2, 2012







Sun Setting into Pacific with Green Flash. 2011.

by Stephen Johnson


I love my work. The careful crafting of an image, from out in the world on the edge of experience, to the methodical but empowering printing of a finely crafted print. I love my work.

The satisfaction is partially tied up in the act of creation itself. In photography, where there was the passage of time and light, ephemeral and fleeting, we create an impression of a moment fixed, rendered by light, captured as photons to electrons, and held as electrical charges. Complex without a doubt, but the sheer elegance of holding the light of a moment remains.

I'm working these last few weeks on finishing the first set of portfolios from my Exquisite Earth series. With every new image explored, honing down the magic ten photographs for this first abstract set of recent work, there is something mind clearing in the resolve to select carefully, print with dedication and be satisfied with nothing less than reaching further than I thought possible.

Being Out There

Being out there in the real world, the natural world, is what working as a photographer is fundamentally about for me. Being in a state of mind where a flowing river is a miraculous entity, almost organism, seeming to flow endlessly and keep building. Being in a state of mind where every time you see the sun set into the ocean it is a wonder of celestial mechanics, weird refraction, and mind blowing scale and distance. Much less seeing a green flash. I never want to cease to being fascinated by the time machine that a starry night simply is. Photography out in the natural world is about all of this for me.

Being Back

The excitement of seeing my photographs as they offload, starting to examine my witness, enduring disappointments, but being amazed at those extraordinary few, that is the high of the post photographic experience for me.

Image processing, although critical is less exciting. It is where a scene held can be made really seen, understood, and balanced where needed. It is where tonal vision and memory can collide, idealized vision often stomp on magic, and where magic itself can be revealed.

For me image processing is a direct connection back to the scene. It is a processes of analyzing what can I do to decode and make visible what I saw with my eyes. The witnessed scene is the cherished starting point and for me the wonder of photography. After all, you have to appreciate the view for what it is, to want to render it for what is was. I find magic in that appreciation and rendering.

The Sacred Print

Laying the image onto paper can sometimes seem almost like a religious experience. Although imbued with somewhat less esoterica than a darkroom, the methodology of color management and print drivers hold no romance for me. But the subdued lighting of my print space, having the proper tools and paper, knowing the process from so many angles, I feel like I'm tracking solid ground, where I know how to make beauty, and hold it with grace and subtlety. I feel at home in such a place. Deeply at home.

My studio lab is such a physical place for me. And I believe it has been for scores of printing students over the last six years. It ia a place of refuge and craft, learning and aspirations fulfilled.

Of course, printing can't help but be frustrating too, and so as to not paint too rosy or romantic of a picture, it is also a place where challenged knowledge and aspiration can meet head-on––where sorting out understanding, technical glitches and evolving senses of problems and possibilities have to be resolved. And that is good.



An Arts and Education Economy in Decline

Workshop enrollments are down for so many people and organizations I talk to. They tell similar stories of running small classes or cancellations. Print sales have collapsed for many. Many are giving up on the arts as careers. Many are trying to find any work they can as the challenges of this long recession mount.

I have no great insights here in this Autumn of 2011 and we are not an exception to those challenges. Of course, as self-employed artists we can't lay ourselves off, as has happened to so many. I know I have to stay true to why I started down this path, this vision of life, art and work all bound together, be willing to work even harder and keep restructuring diversified income streams in this shattered economy. We have basically adopted an internal "no cancellation" policy on workshops, even if it means running some smaller classes.

We are all in this together in the arts. We need to be imaginative, share resources, be very open to helping one and other, and stay focused on the rich lives we are able to live with art in our hearts.

It might be a good time to re-read Ted Orland and David Bayles Art and Fear.

I remain in love with my work.

If you've been thinking about a workshop, an original print or portfolio, give us a call. The gift of a workshop or the treasure of a beautiful print can be a great idea for the holidays coming up. We'll be doing gift card discounts, a holiday Open House, and perhaps even a new exhibition before the end of the year.


NEW PRODUCT: Mono Lake Folio

We are bundling a vintage copy of the original paperback edition of the At Mono Lake exhibition catalog from 1983 with a new illustrated and expanded copy of my Masters Thesis documenting the creation of the exhibition together with an original 8x10 print that I consider pivotal in my aesthetic evolution, Dusk, Mono Lake 1979.

book coverbook coverdusk

This set will come bundled in a folio and is available for purchase now at $250. Email to order or call 650 355-7507.

Mono Lake Folio Link


Revised and Updated version of "Stephen Johnson On Digital Photography"

I am updating and revising my last book, the 2006 Stephen Johnson On Digital Photography,

I would appreciate having my reader's feedback on topics they would like to see added, errors they might have noticed and in general how to make it an even more useful work.

Please email us your suggestions.

book cover


...continued top of right column


Exquisite Earth Portfolio 1 Selections

The Making of a Portfolio: Exquisite Earth 1

The assembly of a body of work is an interesting and challenging process. Envisioning, selecting, editing, printing, all are steps down a path to a public stepping out from the shadows of our internal space to a fixed statement of vision, accomplishment and beauty.

The exhibition I put together late last year, Exquisite Earth, will continue its run in our Gallery One through 2011. We hope you can see it in person. As we finish the first portfolio from the work, it seemed a good time to reflect on some of the processes.


Curating the Exhibition

I had been considering gathering recent work together for some time, even writing about it in the spring of 2010. As we decided to go forward with a December 2010 opening, the largest initial task was selecting what would be included. I decided fairly early on that this first step out the door with this recent work would be exclusively 35mm dSLR work, a huge break from the large-format work I was known for. This was healthy for me to shift such major parameters and reflective of so much of the work I was doing.

With that decision the curatorial process got narrowed somewhat, but of course by the very nature of 35mm photography, there was more of that material than any other. As one of Canon's Explorer's of Light with an annual obligation to provide some images to Canon, there were already many images that I had singled out, as well as photographs I had produced for this Newsletter and elsewhere. These became the first groupings the work was drawn from.

As I was devoting an entire gallery to the installation, I decided to strip the walls of photographs, lay out the existing prints and start to see what kind of flow, subjects and color seemed to work together. What fit together was based on intuition, a growing sense of visual harmony and thematic flow. I had some early on favorites, and some influenced the character of the show, others were just outliers and didn't fit with the growing selections but might work later in other sets of work drawn from this period.

At the same time as I was selecting photographs, I began sequencing them in the gallery as well. This was a wonderful and unusual opportunity to curate a body of work based on all of the criteria the installation would be subject to, the photographs, their sequence, their size, and ultimately multi-image salon-style groupings as well, something I did not initially even consider.

steve in gallery

Some real favorites didn't seem to fit, causing more re-searching. Finding more photographs that might work was an interesting process. Over a few days, I started to develop a feel for the visual rhythm of the emerging show. Faint memories of experiences, and occasionally specific images were tracked down and examined, and where promising, edited and printed for the first time. I began to develop a resistance to Iceland and Antarctica photographs as I kept coming back to them. At one point it seemed the show was getting cold and blue. I kept reshifting the selections.

Over a few weeks, and with much help from my staff and friends, the show slowly began to emerge from that process. An Opening was held on December 10, 2010, was well attended and documented. I was proud of what we had done with the exhibition, and of course proud of the work itself.


The first of the Limited Edition Portfolios were sold, even with some ambiguity as to exactly which photographs would be included.

A Portfolio Theme
In the weeks following the opening, portfolio selection started getting more serious, going through many scenarios, but coming back to a few core images that created a direction toward abstraction.

Balance of Color
In curating the exhibition, the flow of color, abstraction and subject matter became a critical factor in what was included and how it was hung. The portfolio proved rather daunting in similar ways, less so about subject matter, but certainly in terms of basic color casts.

With so much work from Antarctica, and in some cases, from Iceland, I kept having to battle back a sense of being overwhelmed by ice and blue. I found myself trying to create a balance of cool and warm, moving through some neutrals on the way.

Getting the portfolio box constructed economically proved to be a real challenge. I had worked with several bindery's over the years on some very special custom projects, but when bids started coming in for the custom boxes for this set of work, I was shocked. I was able to find some fine custom houses, but the prices were two to three times what I expected. Eventually I found a great vendor in PortfolioBox in Rhode Island and am delighted to present the work in their boxes.

Of course, a portfolio is a discreet entity in and of itself, so a title sheet was in order, describing a bit about the work and trying to contextualize the grouping. This took another week or so.

Getting the word out on the current availability of the work is not a small task. This essay is one path, seeking out past customers and collectors is another, as well asking professional acquaintances for help in getting the word out and about is critical.

I decided an additional touch of a small book drawn from the collection could also be part of the package and as I write this I am designing that component to add to the portfolio.

The escalating pricing is obviously designed to stimulate early sales and underscores the rarity of the collection.



Check Exposure and Composition

A Video Transcript

Itís ironic that one of the real advantages of digital photography, the ability to see the images at the time you make the photograph, is also now being subjected to some derision by people suggesting that if you take the time to look at your photographs after you make them, you are†somehow not taking advantage of the flow of time and you might miss some images.

Well I would contend that one of the real advantages of being able to fine tune the exposure into the kind of photograph that you want, is the ability to look at the photograph after you have made it. The idea being to take that guess that the light meter made, see how that actually recorded on the sensor by inspecting the histogram, and then modifying subsequent exposures if you need to, so that you really do take as full advantage of the sensor, the tonal range definitions of the image, and be able to move the image into the best possible quality that you can.

You've got to remember that the light meter was always a guess of the exposure and we did our best to cope with the fact that it was a guess by having an 18 percent gray card to allow the light meter to see what it was expecting to see. Nowadays we still have to guess with the light meter as a starting point, but have the histogram as a measure of the exposure, therefore giving us a chance to see how the photograph actually recorded, rather than just a guess at the kind of light that is needed in order to stimulate the silicon sensor.

That kind of advantage alone would be reason enough to inspect the photograph after you make the exposure. But when you add to that the fact that we now have fairly high quality previews of the image that come with that histogram, naturally that is after all why that thumbnail gets put up there to begin with, we also have a chance to look at the photograph and try and understand what it is we have just done. So that we can look at nuances of composition, exposure, maybe areas that weren't quite as sharp from the depth of field choices that we made, that the thumbnail coupled with the fact that you can zoom in on it, scroll around on it and get an idea of what the image actually contains, start to move away from this metaphor of snapping, snapping, snapping, making a lot of photographs, and starts to encourage the opportunity to slow way down. Consider each photograph as a unique expression of your creative impulse or your reaction to the scene, and take that particular photograph that youíre making, even if itís not that particular exposure, but that particular photograph seriously is a finished work of art.



Click image to go video clip.

And that doesn't come from a lot of rapid shooting except under those rare circumstances where that evolution of motion is critical. From my standpoint, especially as a landscape photographer, that careful seeing comes from slowing way down, looking carefully, considering exposure, considering the composition, considering the depth of field. The ability to look at the photograph after you have made it, to try and make a subsequent attempt at making it the best it can be, is one of the processes that I relish and cherish in this whole new digital photography workflow. Now we can look at the back of the camera and understand what we have done, learn from what we have just done to try and make the next attempt at making the next photograph the best it can be.

Itís a workflow that is not about a continuous stream of images, but taking seriously the photograph you are making at that moment as an individual expression, then working it through to completion just like you would if you were under a dark cloth on a 4x5 100 years ago, 20 years ago or even today still using a 4x5 view camera with all of the slow methodical care that that implies.


We have a number 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.


Galapagos Adventure: March 23-April 2, 2012

This is my third return to this famous and wondrous group of islands on the equator off South America. This volcanic chain is unlike any other place I've been and really is a must see in a life of exploring the earth. We are very lucky to have the chance to put together a dedicated photo trip on a small boat with only 12 people, extensive time on the islands and working through the images on the boat during island transit and evenings. We have a mid-November deadline to get at least 6 students to hold the boat.


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. email for preliminary info

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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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 October 17, 2011 . Mail comments to:
Photographs and Text Copyright ©2011, Stephen Johnson. All Rights Reserved Worldwide