October 2, 2012

Tutorial - Being Prepared


Being Prepared

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

The photograph you may see will often only be a photograph you make if you are prepared to capture it.

Check existing settings that might be left from a previous situation that may be quite different than what you need now. Common problematic settings may be methods of focus, high ISO setting, Manual vs Auto exposure, Image Stabilization turned on and customized for the movement, or off if on a tripod.

Thinking through the ambient exposure and likely subject matter needs can anticipate a moment so that your camera is preset for what is likely.

Fast moving action means pre-setting a fast shutter speed, and possibly high ISO if limited light needs it.

As you walk down a street, consider what it is you are noticing, and prepare for possible unfolding events that needs quick response. Put on the most likely needed lens, but arrange the pack for other things you may need, the second most likely lens.

Although it may seem an unlikely pairing, being prepared also makes for a greater possibility of serendipity playing a wonderful role in recording the completely unexpected.

The dolphin photograph to the right could not exactly be seen, it was happening too quickly. The settings I set up were able to capture a magic I could intend, but not actually see and react to quickly enough to capture. I had to just set the camera and keep tripping the shutter, sometimes on continuous bursts and hope that some of the magic I was seeing could be held. It was, and more.


The View From Here - September/October 2012


Tuolumne River. Tioga Meadows. Yosemite. 2012.

by Stephen Johnson


I rarely know what these essays will turn toward, as I write from the photographs I make, and the experiences that evolve. Water reflections, movement, flow and its very precious nature seems to be holding my mind the last few days.

A few recent experiences contributed to this. A quick trip just before Labor Day to the high Sierra and Mono Lake brought me back to some deeply inspiring places. The lake water rising, reflections, the streams and rivers of the Sierra, all filled my head. The very life of water running brought relief from the desert heat. Then, just last week, a long awaited whale watch cruise into Monterey Bay with whales and dolphins moving through the blue-green Pacific brought water back into my head.


Last Light Cloud. Mono Lake. 2012.

The constant movement of water is one of its infinite fascinations. In photography, I never know exactly what the result of moving water will look like rendered. Whether it is ocean streaming off a Humpback Whale's fluke as it dives, the tumble of a waterfall, or the laminar flow of water in, and around dolphins speeding through their liquid world.

The dolphins were a great example. They played with the boat, racing along, round in front, speeding so fast it was impossible to understand how they could move so rapidly through the water. I wasn't fully prepared for the photographic opportunity, it all happened so quickly. I had carelessly left a slow card in the camera, and had only a very long lens handy when we encountered the dolphins. Sharp, carefully planned shots with real bursts of exposures, backed off in zoom were not going to happen. So I rolled with the abstraction of some blur and wildly improvisational compositions, largely out of necessity.

We were told they were Common Dolphins. We thought they were anything but.


Common Dolphins, Monterey Bay. 2012.

It reminded me of other experiences and photographs, of mammals, birds, water flow and reflections, even probably inspiring new work over the next few days where form and movement kept playing into the magic of water...

A few from the last two weeks, Monterey Bay, from the Russian River, and the Sonoma Coast seemed worth including here.


White Pelicans. Sonoma Coast. 2012.


Pelicans. Pescadero. 2012.


Great Blue Heron Landing on the Russian River. 2012. ps6CR7hdr

Reflections and Granite Shoreline. Teneya Lake, Yosemite. 2012.

High Sierra and Tioga Pass

Driving over Tioga Pass in Yosemite is always special for me. I have to continually renew my connections to this road that takes me to 10,000 feet amid the mountains that have given me the greatest solace of my life. Just short of Tuolumne Meadows heading from the west is Teneya Lake which happened to have some unusual water color layers and reflections.

Mono Lake

No visit ever fails to deepen my fascination and appreciation of the wonder of Mono Lake. It is curious to see the lake rise and re-flood so many of the familiar tufa formation we came to love. We hoped this would happen, as it is critical for the lake's vitality as an eco-system.

But as trails get reworked and formations start to return to the water of their birth, I am also reminded that getting to know many of these places was a fluke of careless water diversions. Watching them start to disappear under Mono's ancient waters is simply the right course for this precious resource. It does also give us a short window (hopefully) to still see some of these magnificent formations.

Join us if you can on our Mono Lake and the Eastern Sierra Workshop October 13-16, 2012.


Submerging Tufa Towers. Mono Lake. 2012

Last week, revisiting Lee Vining Creek, one of Mono Lake's feeder streams, reminded me of some video I made last year which took me down a meditative path of water movement poetry. Here it is, unedited, for whatever transportive qualities it may have for you.

Lee Vining Creek. Mono Lake. 2011. Canon 5dII. (streaming may be slow)

Tutorial - Black and White or Color


Black and White or Color

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

Black and White or Color? A question that has changed in some fundamental ways in this digital age. Now we almost always make our photographs in color through Bayer pattern filters spread across our sensors filtering the light into red, green and blue.

If we want black and white, for the most part, we are starting in color. This is frustrating on one level, because it means if we want black and white, we have to derive the color first, then transform the photograph into grayscale.. This lowers the resolution of the file as compared to what it would be without the color filters.

But there are also some wonderful advantages. It means the black and white world we derive from color (albeit, now on the computer) can be almost anything we imagine, or stumble into through experimentation. The Black and White Adjustment Layer in Photoshop further enables a level of customization that it is almost unbelievable. We can experiment with conversions, customize different areas with masks, and re-imagine the nature of what a black and white photograph can be.

Although Grayscale (BW) conversion can be done in Camera Raw, Lightroom, Capture One and other raw processors, I prefer Photoshop because of the masking and control, allowing different areas to be converted in different ways, as shown below.


From July 2011 Newsletter: Black and White Selective Conversion. Jordan Pond, Acadia National Park. Maine. 2011.

ps6CR7hdr ps6CR7hdr

Chard, Veggie Series (color). 2012


Chard, Veggie Series (custom black and white with adjustments shown on graphic to the left). 2012

In the example here, the color file provided the raw material for separating the BW conversion into dark stems on glowing leaves. It's a major tonal shift, but demonstrates the flexibility of the process.

The View From Here - August 2012


Pepper. Veggie Series #4. 2012.

by Stephen Johnson

Raw Form 

I've been thinking about form, organic, sensual form, living objects, the things we grow and eat, the things we subconsciously pick up at a market, the fruits and vegetables that make up so much of our diet. Or ought to. The beauty of these objects, their vibrant color, improbable form and connection to the earth are all compelling sources we instinctively seek.

Our new RAW from RAW class and a visit to the San Francisco Farmers Market, brought a plethora of peppers, eggplant, tomatoes and strange fungus into our lives to serve as models for the class. We needed them as subjects, now feel somewhat overwhelmed at their beauty, imminent decay, and the need to act fast to do them photographic justice before they collapse into something quite different.

The class was fun, very hands-on, and filled with immediate feedback on our work, which was wonderful. In the studio, a slight change in approach shows up immediately. Working with depth of field in such a demonstrable and dramatic way was very rewarding. Making photographs as a depth of field expansion set, then demonstrating how to put them together was also very effective, and fun. (see Testimonial by Alan Kushnir).

It makes me want to wander the beach, collect more stuff, go through the rock and artifact collection, get lost in those most curious things we pick up and hold on to. There must be a reason after all, for me to hold onto so many of those precious jewels of the moment for so many years.


Pepper. Veggie Series. 2012.

Help! Bell peppers everywhere!!!!!!

I feel like we're drowning in the veggies we gathered for the class. Although it is shame they are wilting, it is also a delight that we are eating very well.

peppers ps6CR7hdr


Cucumbers, Bitter Melon, and Peppers in color and custom black and white. 2012.

Black and White or Color

With the advent of the Black and White Adjustment Layer in Photoshop, whole new worlds of black and white interpretation have opened up to us. The veggies above are a simple example, the tutorial below explores the possibilities a bit further.


Surf at sunset, north Pacifica.. 2012..

Another Surf Photograph

Why do we keep photographing scenes we've seen a thousand times before? When do they become compelling once again, and what can the photograph be that makes the new particular experience stand out. A topic we'll explore in the Beauty in Photography course coming up November 3rd.

July 13, 2012

Tutorial - Low Light, Needed Depth, Low Noise


Low Light, Needed Depth, Low Noise

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

On a field trip to the Richard Remsen's Foundry and Gallery in Rockport Maine two weeks ago, I remember working my way into serious work that seemed like a process that might be worth flushing out a little bit.

The class was visiting a place I had never been, and as such I wanted to assess the situation before I started hauling equipment in. Naturally I was there to help my students, so initially I just set my equipment down outside and wandered the site. It was clear we were being made very welcome and so the class started to explore. The light was often dim, the detail intriguing, with dust, metal, wood and tools everywhere.

It was one of those situations where space was tight, light was low and interesting collections of objects and form could be seen from almost everywhere.

At first I wandered and simply cranked up the ISO to be able to handle the low light. It soon became abundantly clear that only a serious approach with tripod and long exposure would have any chance of rendering the complexities of the scene and depth.

In other words, it was an opportunity, that done casually would be useless, and done right might be quite nice. So I did what I knew I should do, grabbed the tripod, the remote release, locked the mirror up, lowered the ISO and went for the long exposures at whatever aperture was needed for the depth of the scene. Of course, rather than guess, I tried to calculate the necessary depth, and use no smaller aperture than required.

The exposures were in the 30 second range, the aperture often f16 or f22, but I kept checking with every shot what I actually needed with near/far, rack the focus method of determining the ideal focusing point, guessing at the needed depth, then checking with the depth of field preview button and capture inspection.

It was another Maine Media Workshops outing with wonder and great curiosity.


Richardson Foundry. Camden ME. 2012

  • Tripod
  • Mirror lock up with Remote Release
  • Low ISO to drive exposure long rather than noise up (long exposure noise reduction on)
  • near/far, rack the focus method of determining the ideal focusing point
  • Needed Aperture estimate
  • Depth of Field Preview to check on depth
  • Image inspection by Zooming in on the Camera LCD

The View From Here - July 2012

Steve Lecturing at the George Eastman House Museum of Photography. June 2012.

by Stephen Johnson

A Full Few Weeks of Travel, Teaching and Plunges into Photo Technology and History

I've been on a bit of a whirlwind these past few weeks and been anxious to sit down and write about some of the experiences. Hopefully writing about them will sort them out, as the memories are already starting to run together and form non-linear associations that have more to do with inspirations than linear story telling.

The first stop on my recent trip was an honor of a lifetime, lecturing at the George Eastman House Museum in Rochester NY. It was a real high to be coming into such a prestigious institution to talk about my national parks work "With a New Eye."

The Introduction to the talk by Eastman House Director of Communications Eliza Kozlowski can be found here. We'll be working on the video of the full talk.

 QuickTime link of the Introduction to Steve's Lecture at the George Eastman House. June 2012.

We shipped in a few big prints which were shown briefly at a Welcoming Reception at the Image City Gallery, then in the foyer of the theater at the Eastman House. A season record breaker for attendance gave me quite a boost as so many old friends from Kodak came by to say hello. I believe the talk went well and we will be preparing a video from the footage, slide show stills and the audio made by the Eastman House.


Image City Gallery Reception. Rochester, NY. June 2012.

After Rochester and the Eastman House talk, we drove across New York state through southern Vermont and New Hampshire to our two weeks of classes at the Maine Media Workshops in Rockport.


My annual two weeks of classes for the Maine Media Workshops were yet another pleasure of people and place. The first week was a field work and editing class, the second a printing class. A few people stayed for both, which is ideal. Although teaching all day for two weeks straight is a challenge, the friends I make and the work I get to see and aid continues to be a wonderful spinoff of the classes.

The first evening of the class we (my partner Fiona, friend and fellow instructor Bobbi Lane, her assistant Lena, and my student Bill Filip) were invited out on the Appledore, a local 86 foot schooner, for a sunset cruise which started out the two weeks with a real Maine coast immersion. We happened to be the only clients that evening and got to not only enjoy the sea and sunset, but also got to steer a bit.


Fiona Sailing the Appledore. Camden Maine. 2012..


Vision and Craft: Perfecting the Photograph Class. Maine Media Workshops. 2012..

My lecture at the workshops this year was a slide show of my Exquisite Earth 1 show set to music, Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis by Vaughan Williams. Although I did a short introduction and follow-up, this was quite a departure for me, as I rarely just show the work. It was refreshing and curiously gave me a different perspective on this emerging body of work.


Printing Photographic Beauty Class. Maine Media Workshops. 2012. Reid Elem.

The Maine Media Workshops experience is always such a great mixture of disciplines, ages and projects all going on simultaneously that it continues to be a rich and rewarding part of my summer.

postpile postpile

Left: Steve getting to hold one of the Hasselblad cameras like Neil Armstrong used to take the photograph above of Buzz Aldrin at the Apollo 11 landing site. The same design was used on every lunar landing through the final flight of Apollo 17.

Eastman House Archive

The art and technology collections of the Eastman House amazes me with every visit. This time we took the time to look at some of the historical processes collections, including some Daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and tintypes. Autochromes are always on my must see list as well and I saw my first  8x10 Autochrome on this trip. Many thanks to archivist Joe Struble for taking the time to show us so many beautiful pieces. I didn't know at the time that this experience would end up inspiring some work two weeks later in Maine.

There were a couple of special treats to this visit, Alfred Stieglitz's 8x10 Eastman View Camera given to the museum by Georgia O'Keefe (used for his Equivalences series and Georgia's Hands Portraits), Ansel Adam's first Brownie, and the specially designed Hasselblad 500EL made for the Apollo program and the moon landings.

The second week in Maine, my partner Fiona McDonnell (inspired by the collections we saw at the Eastman House) helped out with a Wet-Plate Collodian class and learned how to make tintype and wet-plate negatives from instructor Jill Enfield who ran a fine and inspiring class.


Birch Tree. Rockport Maine. Wet-plate Collodian Negative. Fiona McDonnell. 2012.

Fireworks and the 4th.


Like most of us, I love seeing fireworks, but once again this 4th of July, the scene I witnessed being out watching the fireworks was the photograph that stuck with me. It was the nearly full moon rising over the hills to the east of my studio with the broken clouds forming what seemed like a celestial nebula.


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

We'll be going back to the eastern Sierra for a 7 day trek along its dramatic escarpment and into the White Mountains with their ancient Bristlecone pines. This is one of my favorite areas of California and allows me to link the high country of Yosemite to Mono Lake and the Owens Valley. The area is deeply embedded in my early years of landscape photography and often feels like a sojourn home.


White Mountains. 2011.

June 11, 2012

Tutorial - Photoshop CS6, RAW and HDR


Photoshop CS6, RAW and HDR

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

Camera RAW 7 Can Now Decode HDR Encoded Multiple Bracketed Exposures

As I mentioned last month, with the release of Lightroom 4 and Photoshop CS6, we now have a power in Adobe RAW processors to hold shadow and highlight detail like never before. Their new Black, Shadow, White and Highlight sliders essentially allow you to smoothly narrow the dynamic range of the capture through the RAW interpreter.

Photoshop's HDR ability to Merge to HDR Pro multiple bracketed exposures into a floating point 32 bit per channel file has long been in place. Adding the Remove Ghosts function to the encoding function a few years ago really helped manage misalignment of moving objects in the set. The main problem with the Merge to HDR feature was in the conversion from these encoded HDR files into a useable 16 bit/channel (normal) file. Previously, it was just very hard to manage the look and feel into something natural while transforming the image from this high bit depth state.

Now we have support for HDR conversion built right into the Adobe RAW processor with Camera RAW 7 and Lightroom 4.

The procedure is rather simple. Just save the open HDR integrated file as a TIFF (turn on support for TIFF in Camera RAW Preferences) or DNG, and poof, magic, you can now convert your HDR encoded files via the familiar RAW interface with all of the controls you are already accustomed to.

This has dramatically increased my use of HDR and the usability of the files themselves.

You can download a free 30-day trial of Adobe Photoshop CS6 here.


Adobe's New RAW Processor in Camera RAW 7 Transforming and HDR TIFF

The View From Here - June 2012

San Francisco and the Golden Gate from the Marin Headlands. 1994.
Betterlight Scanning Back.

by Stephen Johnson

A Summer of Photography, Educaion, Travel and Tasks

I'm thinking through the summer ahead, of the places I'll be going and the tasks where progress can be made.The travels often come from my speaking engagements, the tasks from what I now may feel empowered to do, and some are long overdue.

The tasks can seem endless, and however carefully I plan, they are rarely caught up nor central to my photographic motivations or inspirations. Many are business related, some are purely photographic in this digital age, but just tasks. Some critical. The business of the arts, is fundamentally different than making art.


I almost feel as though I've been on the road already with many recent visits to the Golden Gate, but it is only 15 miles from my studio. Showing people around and the 75th Anniversary of the Bridge were the supposed reasons, but an impulse to just walk across the Golden Gate Bridge one evening was acted upon and really enjoyed. It was a real reminder of how we take things nearby for granted, and shouldn't.

The first trip comes next week as I head off to Rochester for a June 14th. lecture at the George Eastman House International Photography Museum. I must say, I'm deeply honored to be invited to lecture there. I'm speaking on my national parks project, With a New Eye, and looking forward to describing my journey and the remarkable results I was able to hold. Image City Gallery will also host a reception for me on the evening of June 13. If you're in the area, please come see us.

Next, onto the northeast where I'll be teaching for two weeks at the Maine Media Workshops, a field workshop Vision & Craft: Perfecting the Photograph June 18-22, 2012, and the Printing Photographic Beauty course running June 24-30, 2012. I've been teaching in Maine for a few weeks each summer for over a decade now. It is a part of my summer experience that I have come to treasure. The landscape shift, the weather, the community of the Maine Media Workshops, all part of a great experience.

In August I'll be off to Michigan to speak at the Southwestern Michigan Council of Camera Clubs photo conference and explore more of the Lake Michigan shoreline and dunes.


White Mountains. 2011.

Later in August we'll be going back to the eastern Sierra for a 7 day trek along its dramatic escarpment and into the White Mountains with their ancient Bristlecone pines. This is one of my favorite areas of California and allows me to link the high country of Yosemite to Mono Lake and the Owens Valley. The area is deeply embedded in my early years of landscape photography and often feels like a sojourn home.

High and Eastern
A High Sierra, Owens Valley, and White Mountains Photography Workshop

August 19-25, 2012




On photographic tasks, I am readying a big archive project with Blu-ray Gold disks to back-up all of my hard drive archives onto what I now believe to be a stable media. So far, the project is starting off well with both 25gb and 50gb double layer disks.

The latest push to move forward on the project is the availability of gold disks which are just now coming onto the market. I consider the gold reflective layer to be one of the critical factors in building a reasonably stable archive of disks on an additional technology to hard drives, without their mechanical risks and fragile directory structure.

As I have mentioned earlier, I will keep updating the newsletter as I gain experience and confidence in the project postpile

Alabama Hills. 2011

Printing and the Evolution of Vision and Skill

Its funny, and fascinating, the way our vision of the possible just keeps expanding. It is partially due to this high technology medium that the recording and rendering of light has evolved into, but it is also a measure, I hope, of continued growth in aesthetics and at least in an individual maturing of vision and craft.

I'll be 57 this year, and for many that may seem young, for others nearly ancient, but having worked in the arts for more than 40 years, you might think I would know exactly what I want to do to and how to do it. It really hasn't worked that way for me. My aspirations keep growing, as do my skills, I still learn so much in the process of asking more and more of my work.

This has certainly been influenced by the opportunities I've had to push the technology forward. I've been consulting on the development of printers, printer technology, software development and printing papers for almost 20 years. That has given me a chance to tackle and help solve many of the very issues that stood in my way, and tackle new ones as they were revealed or developed with the evolving technologies.

I have had confidence in my printing and my judgment as to what a print can be for a very long time. But it is also true that my prints are getting better. I am making the best prints of my life, and I am very proud of them.

That is not to say that my relentless pursuit of perfection has been achieved, but it is quite a profound feeling of satisfaction to be able to make prints that rise so high on my level of satisfaction. It makes me anxious to see the work 20 years from now, as I assume this process will only continue.

There are still some issues I want to address and the real world so beautifully rich...


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 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 around the country over the next few months, June in NY, late June in Maine, early August in MI.

Some other opportuniities to see Steve follow the Viewpoint Gallery invitation below.



June 7, 2012

Tutorial - Photoshop CS6 and RAW


Photoshop CS6 and RAW

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

Control of Highlight and Shadows, for Real

With the release of Lightroom 4 and Photoshop CS6, we now have a power in Adobe RAW processors to hold shadow and highlight detail like never before. Their new Black, Shadow, White and Highlight sliders essentially allow you to smoothly narrow the dynamic range of the capture through the RAW interpreter.

This has already enabled me to "rescue" high dynamic range images that really did have critical detail locked up at both ends of the histogram. In some cases it has already worked better than combining an HDR set, making me able to do more with a single, albeit difficult capture, than with a set of bracketed exposures as candidates for HDR.

This is a capability I've been asking for many years, and I had even sketched out various ways of handling the interface for Adobe, so I am delighted to have this power in place. It is a huge step forward for my RAW processing.

My general methodology on a very contrasty photograph is to move both the Black and Shadow sliders up, and the White and Highlight sliders down, to generally lower the contrast of the interpretation and getting control over the extremes of the encoded raw data.

I then fine tune the blacks and whites to only as much shadow lightening as is really needed, and the highlights to only as much highlight darkening as needed. This can easily yield a somewhat gray interpretation, but that is fine with me as I always emphasize that I use the RAW processor to reveal and preserve information, moving it toward what I want the photograph to look like. I leave the heavy lifting of real image editing to the powerhouse of control and finesse that is Photoshop.

Here is one example of both default (contrasty) processing and one customized as I've described.

You can download a free  30-day trial of Adobe Photoshop CS6 here.


Adobe's New RAW Processor Interface in Camera RAW's Basic Tab

Camera RAW Processor in Default mode letting high contrast go.


Camera RAW Processor in Custom mode with highlights and shadows now accessible.

The View From Here - May 2012

Trees, Fitzgerald Reserve. 2004.

by Stephen Johnson

Highway One Coastal Gems

Thinking about the Highway One San Francisco South workshop coming up, naturally made me think about times along the coast and some of places I return to again and again. There are so many gems along the way, but a few do stick out, and we will be spending time in some of those during the workshop.

For those of you in the Bay Area, or visitors to California, take these places in when you can.

Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

One of my favorite places along the coast is the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach. Named for the former county supervisor who helped create its protected status, James Fitzgerald, the reserve is mostly known for its great tide pools and wide variety of species.

However, as a photographer, it is the scenic qualities of the place that keep me coming back. The forest on the cliffs above the tide-pools are what stay in my mind. A beautiful long stand of cypress trees lines the east side of the rise running roughly north and south. Most of the cliff top is covered in a forest of straight and tall Monterey pines, contrasting beautifully with the reach of the cypress.

Crossing San Vicente Creek SW of the parking lot leads to trails extending through a maze of trees, some fallen, and vines, including such diverse oddities as palms, german ivy and pampas grass. The trail can be looped south down to the beach, past the old foundation of the Smith-Doelger homesite from the early 1900s. It is a short 1.2 mile walk along the cliffside, down the beach and circling back to the parking lot via a walkway along the creek.

Views to the south include the well known Moss Beach Distillery and Seal Cove, to the north the mountains and cliffs of Montara mountain, Devil's Slide and on a clear day even Pt. Reyes stretching out to sea from Marin county.

The reserve exists because of tide-pools and marine life. The sea life drew people here longer than recorded history. What is believed to be a stone tool dating back 5,700 years was discovered here in 1994. People gathering seafood, researchers amazed at the biological diversity, and visitors simply fascinated by the unique glimpse into tidal life have been coming here for the last hundred years. I certainly came to know the place much better by bringing my children here many times.

Marine life is the heart of the reserve, including anemones, and sea urchins. Over 25 new marine species have been observed at the reserve, several of which are only found at Fitzgerald. Wildlife flying and swimming through the area include California sea lions, harbor seals, and many birds including Great Blue Herons, egrets, terns, and gulls.

Trentepohlia, Fitzgerald Reserve. 2011.

In the late 19th century by German immigrant Juergen Wienke built The Moss Beach Hotel here. He built a successful business, drawing tourists to the area, and planted the many cypress trees seen there today. The Ocean Shore Railroad brought more people after it reached the area in 1908. The Hotel flourished until burning down in 1911. The Reefs restaurant was built before World War I by Charley Nye who also made a successful business here. The Reefs was destroyed by storms in 1931, then later rebuilt further up the hill as Reefs II.


Cliffs, Pebble Beach.

In response to increasing damage to the area from visitation, motorcycles on the cliffs, cars on the beach and other high impact issues, the county created the reserve in 1969. Naturalist Bob Breen was hired and made a huge difference in the preservation, and understanding of the reserve.

Today the reserve is blessed with and endures 130,000 visitors annually and in the classic challenge of public conservation projects, is being loved to death by such high visitation.

Good resources on the reserve can be found on the web at:


Brush and Hillside, Stage Road. 2008

Stage Road and Pescadero

The hills and farms along the old Stage Road leading into Pescadero is one of my country road retreats. I love the wander, the hills, the views, all so close to the coast, leading to an entirely different view of the Bay Area.

The San Gregorio Store is a must stop along the way, as well Duarte's in Pescadero.



Butano Redwoods

The Redwood forests of 2800 acre Butano Redwood State Park keep drawing me back, into another world of a coastal rainforest with towering trees, banana slugs, creeks and ferns. The trails take you into a forest of redwoods on the hills, with fern lined creeks cutting through the lowlands.

Butano Creek. 2008

Although most of the park is second growth redwoods, some huge old growth trees remain. The park is drained by Butano creek, a name apparently derived from local native American stories as “a gathering place for friendly visits.”


Butano State Park. 2012

It is a magical place, where light is constantly scattering through the trees which sway in the wind and make their own creeky stand up sound. It smells like a forest, where life and decay are in a constant dance of renewal.


Cliffs, Pebble Beach.

Pebble Beach (Bean Hollow State Reserve)

One of my favorite places anywhere is Pebble State Beach on Highway One near Pescadero. The tide pools, pebble beach and small bay are great. But the unearthly landscape of rocks is almost beyond belief in their abstraction and sensuality. Among the formations, a unique erosion pattern called tafoni is scattered about the the more sensual sandstone forms.

The beach is a great place to watch wildlife as well, from harbor seals, pelicans and the life-filled tide pools. On a field trip many years ago, one of my photo classes was blessed with a breaching whale, just offshore. Whether or not on the workshop, it is a place one must go!


Rocks, Pebble Beach

April 18, 2012

Tutorial - Digital Black and White: Part 2


Digital Black and White: Part 2

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

Printing Black and White Digitally

I fell in love with photography largely because of the beauty of a black-and-white gelatin-silver print. I have now mostly abandoned that darkroom approach in favor of digital printing. However, my darkroom equipment remains, with lots of paper in the freezer. The digital era created a bit of a black and white limbo-land, but some very beautiful solutions are now in hand.

Inevitably, we compare our black and white results to traditional printing methods, whether gelatin-silver or platinum. A digital inkjet-based print is a different animal—one that can chase the look and feel of other mediums and that has its own unique aesthetic potential. The path you go down is of your own choosing; I'm finding it difficult not to pursue many as I try to understand what I want out of a black-and-white print in this digital age.

Black-and-white printing is both necessary and difficult. It is critical to many of us for its sheer beauty and because the language of photography does not always require color. In fact, scenes are often strengthened without color, relying instead on black and white’s inherent increased abstraction.

Digital printers are designed mainly to print color. Many twists and turns in gray balance and tricks to human perception are employed to make the highly capable color printers we now have. But many of those very improvisations have made printing neutral black-and-white prints very challenging. It is also true that most of us would prefer to have only one printer, one that will print our color and black and white equally well. This was very hard to do for a long time.

Various ways have been developed to creatively adapt to black and white challenges: substituting the printer’s color inks with black and grays (even 6 or 7 grays with black), elaborating workarounds to avoid a printer’s default color processing, or adding gray inks to the color set. All worked to some degree.

Black Gray Custom Inksets were a common solution to digital black and white inkjet printing for a long time, but have now been replaced by good options from the printing manufacturers themselves, Epson, HP and Canon. We now have a substantial effort by the printer companies to do great color, long life, plus added gray inks to the 6 color photo sets making for a dramatic versatility and stunning results.

Gray Ink Plus Color

  • Epson Ultrachrome K3 (on selected Epson printers)
  • Hewlett-Packard: Verio color, plus extra black and grays (on selected HP printers)
  • Canon: Lucia inkset of 6 color plus grays

The basic operation for all of these black and white driver controls is to start with what the manufacturer has determined to be neutral black and white printing, then enable us as users to customize the appearance through trying minimize or create color casts. Additional controls are often offered for overall density, and in some drivers shadow and highlight tonality.

As in so many of the these cases, allowing a little time, experimentation, good notes and test sheets are very helpful to the process.

Issues with Black-and-White Printing

  • Software: How do you preview and control the printing?
  • Neutrality
    -Paper/ink combinations produce image color variations.
    -Viewing conditions and color temperature of light influence neutrality of most black/gray ink combinations.
  • Density
    -Comparison to silver usually results in inkjet not quite coming up to a similarly rich black.
  • Longevity
    -How long will these inks last on which papers?
    -How are they tested, by whom, according to what standards?
  • Paper
    -Rag papers hearken back to platinum printing and births an altogether new look.
    -Glossy looks more like traditional silver prints.
  • Black inks for matte and glossy paper
    -New Inks from Epson and others.
    -Photo Black for glossy papers. Matte Black formulated for matte papers, extra need for black density.
  • Print Drivers/Control
    -Black/Gray Ink Printing Software
    -RIPs (raster image processors): software to translate your data into the printer’s format.
    • ImagePrint RIP, Best Color, etc.
      Replacement Drivers: QuadTone RIP

ImagePrint is software for printing, featuring wide printer model support and profiles for color and black-and-white prints using color, gray inks, and supporting image tints. It includes an extensive library of downloadable profiles supporting a wide variety of papers and viewing conditions. Very neutral black-and-white prints are possible as well as image tints and split-toning. By supplying direct and beautiful solutions to black and white printing, ImagePrint has made a significant contribution to digital black and white photography.

ImagePrint includes traditional RIP features like scaling, nesting, and crop marks with extensive print correction controls for color, tone, saturation, and resolution are all built-in.

QuadTone RIP
A number of ink-makers and interested third-party developers have offered black-and-white printing solutions as well. The Quadtone RIP appears as another printer and if driven by tone color curves for different printers, papers, inkset for color tone, cool, neutral to warm. They can be mixed in various ways and is extremely versatile but requires experimentation.


Epson Advanced Black and White Print Controls


HP Z3200 Grayscale Print Controls



Quadtone RIP Print Controls


Tutorial with Related Subjects:

  • Black and White Conversion from Color