sj news logomono craters dawn

Dawn over Mono Craters. See our next field workshop: Mono Lake Workshop October 8-11, 2011

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

Just off of my 7-day High and Eastern: A High Sierra, Owens Valley, and White Mountains Workshop and feeling very full of both photographs and wondrous views. It was an amazing week with great progress for my class. I hope you enjoy the Newsletter.

This month's Newsletter covers a wide variety of topics, from reflection on recent travel to photographic techniques. The View From Here column for September explores Steve's recent eastern Sierra trip and an impromptu photo series. Our Tutorial this month discusses Perspective Correction, traditionally and in Photoshop.

September comes with a handful of workshops and happenings at the studio! 

Fine Art Printing Hands-on class is around the corner, September 8-11 with additional critical new features including two after class custom profiles for every student and a round of print critiques. Additional sessions have been added for September 22-25 and January 21-24, 2012.

Show your own work and receive feedback during our  
September Critique Session on the 15th from 7 to 10pm.

Our one-day Introduction to Digital Photography in a Day seminar is on September 17th, a perfect one day session to learn about your digital camera and breaking down the components of exposure, composition and RAW processing.

The classic and engaging Mono Lake Autumn Workshop is October 8-11 this year, exploring this high desert sea, its surrounding volcanoes and high Sierra canyons.

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

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 China, the Galapagos and Iceland. We are really looking forward to our trip exploring southern China, The China Guangxi Landforms Photography Workshop in mid-November. There are some images of the stunning landscape below and I am looking forward to photographing it with some of you.

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!

Busy schedules and limited budgets often keep us from destination workshops or classes, but many of you still come across 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



Star Circle over Mono Lake. 2011

New Photo Link

time and the earth turning while soaking up photons....

FEATURED PRINT September 2011

whitney rays

Sunrays Over Whitney Sierras. 2011.
Canon 1Ds II
11x14 Pigment Inkjet Print on Cotton paper
$195 each. Purchase this print.

Afternoon sunrays pouring over the Whitney Crest onto peaks just above the Alabama Hills.

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2011 Stephen Johnson Workshops and Event Calendar
Fine Art Digital Printing September 8-11, 2011
Critique Session September 15, 2011
Introduction to Digital Photography in a Day September 17, 2011
Fine Art Digital Printing September 22-25, 2011
Mono Lake and the Eastern Sierra
October 8-11, 2011
Guangxi China
November 7-19, 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
Galapagos 2012. April 2012
Iceland. August 21-September 2, 2012







Clouds over Mono. 2011.

by Stephen Johnson

On the East Desert of the West

The eastern Sierra almost doesn't seem like California. Although our state is many things, coast, forest, towering granite peaks, world-famous cities, huge tracks of big agriculture, it is also the home of many deserts and transitional zones from mountains to arid  high elevation lands that give life to the the oldest living beings on the planet and once fertile valleys turned to desert by diversions of their life-giving water.

It is in this setting that we explored the high Sierra and the lands below and east in our High and Eastern Sierraworkshop in late August. It was a challenging scenery in the sense of scale and wonder being reduced to 2D photo renderings, but a great set of opportunities to explore this environment and transitions of light-defined-form from the conceptual knowledge of what we were seeing. Ideas about big spaces, huge scale and arid high altitude lands are one thing, being there photographically was another. Those challenges are no small part of what I work with in a workshop and the ideas we explore.

We started on the shores of Mono Lake and my At Mono Lake exhibition, explaining the place, and my environmental work in the area. The  exhibition allowed us to talk about design, simplicity and other renderings of the very place we were exploring, in some fundamental ways that I've found to be a great asset to my Mono Lake workshops.

We then went up to the Yosemite high country at Tuolumne Meadows. We wandered a bit, got lost in form and color, the clear air and layers of meadows, rocks, grasses and melted snow flowing over orange-brown streambeds.

sierran pond

Grasses and Reflections, Yosemite, CA. 2011.

The crystallized lava field at Devil's Postpile was next on our workshop. Arriving in the morning helped us record the columns in a way I had not been able to on a previous trip. The west facing exposed verticals had not yet been lit by the morning light and we were able to see that form simply for what it was in the soft shade. The sunlight cresting over the ridge line was nice in the afternoon as well.

Further south we spent the day driving through the White Mountains, famous for their ancient Bristlecone Pine. The trees are endlessly fascinating, although often hard to photograph, particularly in sunlight where the patches of sunlight and shadow can overwhelm the sensual and twisted form of the aged wood. They are always beautiful and intriguing, but I would love to also see them in fog. As a teaching demo, I did one HDR set with my students to hold the extremes of light and dark, in order to create a less contrasty interpretation.


Bristlecone Pine Detail. White Mountains. 2011.

On this trip, we drove deeper into the Whites than I had in previous trips and discovered a realm of painted hills and otherworldly vistas that tugged on our imaginations. The road ends at the gate to a University of California Research Station deep into the range. It is a vast space, and one very worthy of the time it takes to get up there.


White Mountains. 2011.

South from Bishop on our way to Lone Pine, I had planned a stop at the Japanese-American Internment Camp at Manzanar. I had been by to pay my respects around 30 years ago, and had not realized a Manzanar National Historic Site had been created featuring a Visitors Center with great interpretation. The site is now well documented with many elements restored. I confess to tears at re-reading the story of these disrupted lives, loss of property and impressive coping of these Americans during World War II.

We spent our week along the eastern Sierran escarpment, a very dramatic line of mountains, extending from the southern Owens Valley all they way up to the Mono Basin. Near Lone Pine is the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states, Mt. Whitney at over 14,500 feet, rising almost 2 miles above the valley below. Although it is part of granite wave that makes the actual peak merely part of a continuum, the rising Sierra from the desert valley below is melodrama on steroids.


Whitney Crest. Lone Pine, CA. 2011.

From the morning sun of the Whitney Crest, to the boulder-strewn wild forms of the Alabama Hills along Movie Road, the landscapes around Lone Pine are dramatic and accessible. After many hours out, we went back into town for some refreshment, but having found a garden seating and some pitchers, the skyline was beckoning to the west, and it wasn't long before I was heading back into the hills with an afternoon sky that was putting on a performance of ever warmer light beams, mist and clouds that I had to get back to. (see this month's Featured Print)



...continued top of right column


Clouds over Mono. 2011.

Organic Clouds and a Body of Work

Walking the trail up to Panum Crater at Mono Lake, I noticed some amazing clouds starting to form. As we walked on toward the top of the crater, the clouds got wilder and wilder. I found myself completely seduced by their grace, intricacy and living form. The winds were changing their appearance so quickly that they seemed alive, literally evolving before my eyes.

After a few minutes I realized I was in the process of making a series of misty life-like forms blowing over the skies of my old friend Mono Lake. A small body of work was playing itself out right before my eyes, linking with the hundreds of aerial cloud images I've been making for decades. It was quite satisfying, and instantly encouraging of delving deeper into the seeing, on the spot, with no intention whatsoever.

It was amazing to watch.

I suppose I am always in search of context, in a somewhat curious state of my mind, shifting through information and stimulus trying to sort it out, to see how it all fits together. I think most of us are doing that all of the time. If we are engaged in creative activities we are likely to be assembling the input into manifestations related to that expression. It is certainly true for me visually with photography. It is also true for me when succinct phrases come to mind that could evolve into song lyrics.

Those clouds over Panum were a powerful contextualizing opportunity for so many organic forms I've seen and recorded over the decades. The aerial work of cloud design and abstraction for sure, but the graceful sensual expression of natural form that is so core to my work as well. The fact that a small series is possible in one afternoon was a wonderful conclusion and goes some real distance to that question we are all asking ourselves, of what do we do with our work. Seeing it as a body of expression is a step toward organizing the work into presentations, web galleries, print on demand books, shows, etc.

mono grasses

Grasses and Tufa stones. Mono Lake, CA. 2011.


Devil's Postpile. CA. 2011.


Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power water diversion aqueduct near Highway 168 above Bishop. 2011.


Alabama Hills. 2011.

A Workshop Review: Advanced Fine Art Printing Workshop- July 2011

I recently attended Steve Johnson's  Advanced Fine Art Printing Workshop.  I have taken a number of Steve's workshops before and was looking forward to this one.  This workshop did not disappoint me.  Steve has an uncanny ability to see ways that an image could be improved and helped me see them too.  He helped the students slice through the extensive capabilities of Photoshop to the relatively few tools that are important to creating a quality photographic print.  Steve has an impressive knowledge of Photoshop and gave each student all the personal attention needed to address issues with their images.  I learned image processing workflows that would have taken me years to figure out on my own.  In addition, he created a relaxed atmosphere that made the workshop fun, both in interacting with Steve and with the other students.

Bottom line, this workshop was not only fun to attend, but it was very rewarding in terms of the knowledge and skills that I gained.  Thank you Steve.

Carl Schwab. Pacifica, CA



Perspective Correction

As I was first learning to use a 4x5 view camera, one of the most amazing features was the rising front (lens) that allowed me to see a higher view by raising the lens relative to the film, without tilting the camera up. This ability to create precise geometric perspectives and keep vertical lines straight rather than converging was one of the fundamental interpretive tools I missed with my medium format and 35mm cameras.

Converging verticals are an interesting phenomena. We see them, they are real, but except where the convergence is extreme, such as at the base of a tall building, we tend to subtract them out of our visual take on a scene. Perhaps we don't notice them as much as our eyes create circular non-edged visions, without the straight lines of our photographic rectangles.

In the darkroom, we would occasionally tilt the paper easel and lens to correct for convergence and distortion, but the correction that could be done was very limited with a desire to maintain focus as well.

But now we have Photoshop. As much as I rail against overt intent to deceive or soup-up reality in images presented as photographs, I have generally seen perspective correction as one of the wonders of this new medium and creating the same effect I might seek with a view camera.

Of course there are now shift-tilt lenses available for 35 and medium format cameras, but they tend to be expensive and limited in their ability to do what I would have done with my view camera.

To correct for convergence, I tend to use the Transform/Distort command in Photoshop (with Grids turned on) which gives me individual controls of every corner. I work at pulling edges in rather than pulling them out, to straighten lines, throwing away data rather than making up more new intermediate pixels to render the now aligned lines.

This is an important capability, perhaps not quite as fundamental as minimizing chromatic aberration which is a natural consequence of trying to focus three different wavelengths of light on the same imaging plane. But I've always believed that it is a wonderful step forward where digital photographic techniques can eliminate common photographic problems that are not part of our normal human visual perception. Perspective correction rests somewhere in a middle ground between what we see, don't notice, but is then emphasized by the photographic process. I think we are well served by the ability to dial it back.



White River Light Station. Michigan. 2011.


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.


China: November 7-19, 2011

Our trip to China is coming up in November and we are quite excited to see the famed karst towers of Guilin and the Li River. We hope you can consider joining us on this exciting photographic excursion.


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.

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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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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 September 22, 2011 . Mail comments to:
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