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