Stephen Johnson Photography News
Welcome to the March 2017 Edition of the Stephen Johnson Photography Newsletter.
I've been deep into video archives this month, archiving old family and career VHS and Hi8 tapes onto DVD and online. Something about winter, the desire to nest, working through the detail and careful work of making your own history accessible.
I had a great time up at The Image Flow in Mill Valley giving a talk on the Parks Project.
FEATURED PRINT March 2017
San Francisco City Hall in Pink
Canon EOS-1Dx II
9.5x14 Pigment Inkjet Print on Cotton paper.
Apparently there were the better part of 100,000 people in and around Civic Center Plaza for the National Women's March on January 21. It had been raining on and off. We had just heard Joan Baez sing as the event transitioned from Rally to March at dusk. The view of City Hall aglow in pink below the rainy blue sky was quite beautiful.
Canon 1Dx II.
The modern San Francisco Public Library's interior atrium is an architectural beauty. The symmetry, asymmetry and complexity intrigue me every time I visit.
On this visit there was also a very impressive photographic exhibit Everyone Deserves a Home on a San Francisco Homeless shelter with sensitive portraits and quotes about the life-changing experience at the shelter.
Upcoming Events & Workshops
Exhibition opens at Computer History Museum featuring Steve's work.
2017 Workshop Schedule is building with these and other great courses coming up. See what a great experience students have had on Steve's Workshops by exploring Workshop Testimonials.
Have you ever visited a nursery or greenhouse, and thought about how great it would be to capture the beauty, color, line and form of an orchid, or unusual succulent that inspires you and preserve it in a photograph? Access can be hard, and using a tripod can be impossible and not allowed. Technical, aesthetic and compositional framework to make it happen.
This workshop is designed to enable careful photography exploring the wonder and beauty of orchids and other-worldly flora. We are lucky to have this exclusive and private access workshop at the very special Shelldance Orchid Gardens Nursery.
Focusing exclusively on fine-art digital printing, Stephen explores the possibilities of printmaking using Epson inkjet printers. Concentrating on printing with color pigments and black/gray ink combinations on coated and rag papers, students learn from the digital pioneer how he obtains his impressive results. Stephen covers workflow issues, color management, correcting color casts, adjustment layers, custom profile generation, editing, and inspection, as well as paper visual qualities and the challenges and advantages of printing.
Awesome Crater Lake, a total Eclipse of the Sun among strange Painted Hills, check this out, an amazing opportunity! (only 2 spots left)
The Studio, Scholarships and Mentoring
As part of our ongoing commitment to photographic education, there is one student scholarship spot in many of our classes. Please pass the word along.
We invite you to 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. We value your input.
We hope you can come by the gallery and see the new Panoramic Prints we've added to the National Parks Gallery, and the Exquisite Earth exhibition with its accompanying very special Exquisite Earth Portfolio 1. We invite you to 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. We value your input.
THE VIEW FROM HERE
by Stephen Johnson
Over the last few months, I've reconnected and fine-tuned my video transfer and archiving process. As a result, more videos are going on-line and some longterm projects are getting some attention.
Parks Project Press Conference. Yosemite 1994.
As sponsor of the press conference announcing my digital national parks project in 1994, the Ansel Adams Gallery hired a video crew to record the event. We made a low res duplicate with time code displayed in the mid-1990s and beta-cam copies, fully intending to do a 25 minute edit from the nearly four hours of video. I've used a short piece from the first few minutes in my talks for years, it was dark and the time code display numbers were funky. About ten years ago I made a rough 7 minute edit of about half of the event, both to tweak the edit and to review footage for my 2006 book "Stephen Johnson on Digital Photography." This "window dub" version was all I had easy access to.
Because the original tapes were so precious, I found myself reluctant to play them into my own somewhat primitive video setup. Well, the time had long since come to at least get access to the material so I plunged in and wrote out a set of DVDs. Unedited to be sure, but a relatively good and accessible copy. Not the format I want, but a start. Last week, I had the first opportunity to use some of the footage during my talk at "The Image Flow" in Mill Valley, CA.
Another long-overdue project was to copy the video from the Heartland in Transition Symposium we conduced for our Great Central Valley exhibit way back in 1986 at the California Academy of Sciences.
My good friend Michael Black produced the Symposium and arranged for the first transcripts, but after the event, the record just sat, for decades. After Michael passed away in 2013, the responsibility fell completely onto me. It always seemed to me the archive was important to preserve and make accessible. The task was also daunting. Video production was difficult and expensive at the time, there were 8 hours of tape, the Internet and pdfs had not even been invented. And, as one does with older projects, you move on.
In 2014 I did pull out the Arts Panel tape and ran a copy to get my friend Gerald Haslam's remarks online. It has been on the Great Central Valley Project page since that time. But the whole day of many speakers remained only a memory. I am starting to change that. I picked up a DVD recorder as about a year ago, and I've now made complete DVD copies of the day. In just the last few days I scanned the nearly complete transcript and made a pdf which is now online. I am reaching out to participants to let them know it is there.
At one level that it is pitiful it has taken so long to put Symposium availability in process. On another level, the issues discussed are still relevant and in play, and the day might yet still inform beyond its 1986 impact. I've also put the follow-on newspaper article by my friend Harold Gilliam online and the published text by writer Richard Rodriquez from the California Council for the Humanities Newsletter. A grant from the CCH made the Symposium possible.
Years later, after The Great Central Valley: California's Heartland was published by the University of California Press in 1993, Richard Rodriquez again played a role in appreciating the Valley project with one of his video essays on the PBS MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour. Watching that report made me very proud. The video above is a new encoding of the piece.
For my video transfers on to DVD, I'm simply playing the Hi8, VHS or U-Matic tapes into a DVD recorder. I don't consider this ideal with the consequent DVD encoding and inaccessibility of the DVD data for other digital uses, but it is very easy. I have ripped the DVD back to my computer, but prefer a direct feed to a computer likely encoding the movies into Apple ProRes format, all taking place at the same time. I have a few bugs to work out, and can update my set-up if people are interested.
For my working copy DVDs I'm just using high quality standard DVD-R disks. Once I determine that a disk has some of the important material, I will then duplicate a master onto gold DVD-Rs from MAM-A.
Some of tapes in Waiting. Video History Page under construction.
In 2001, I was asked to participate in "The Language of Photography," a public television series being produced by KSCM TV in San Mateo. The series aired shortly after it was made and as I recall was well received. Whenever I am asked to do video, I always do ask for a copy of the un-edited raw video for my own non-competitive use. The VHS of the original and somewhat wide-ranging interview was stashed away among the 200 or so videos and I had kind of lost track of its existence. Going through the video shelves, a tape of the interview turned up and I was quite pleased with the demeanor, tone and information. So I copied it and threw it up online with some captions for the hard to hear questions.
Part of the motivation for this recent video excavation came from feeling like some of the most significant images from my career should have their own webpage and maybe some video commentary. Even if I am a much grayer guy than the dark haired fellow in many of the older tapes. I built on the page I had created for my Mt. St. Helens photograph, and created one for the Fitzgerald Reserve Trees, including this new bit of video.
I don't pretend to have delved deep into video editing and to have acquired many skills, but I do enjoy preserving the work I've done with this video documentation. I am using Photoshop's video editing capability for many of these short and simpler edits, particularly those that need major color correction. Apple's Final Cut, Adobe Premiere and the screen capture utility ScreenFlow are among the video tools I use.
As I've talked about over the last few years, I am delighted to be able to now record motion studies and movement on a whim with my dSLR built-in video. My Canon 5DSr and the 1Dx II work well. I do hope to shape a group of these studies into an earth motion performance at some point.
Like so many of these video projects, the time has to be balanced among many ideas and aspirations. Beauty, intrigue, discovery and fascination all play into such interest. Following what seems like the profound and the profane seems to be the journey, with motion or stills. My ambition to produce always outruns my capability and available time. And so many of these worthwhile projects have no direct income path, despite their value.
I've documented installations of my work over the years. After the introduction of Apple's QuickTime VR in 1995, I had a great way of presenting panoramics of exhibitions in a nicely interactive way. Although Apple has abandoned QTVR, I can still hand-render movies moving around the spaces from the files. If anyone knows of a good QTVR to modern web browser compatible format, please let me know.
It is frustrating to have to go back and redo something that was working so well. Such is the nature of the digital age. Any technology is subject to abandonment. The part is very discouraging. The fact that any of this is even possible in wondrous.
Check out the Tutorial below on Good Photo File Management practices.
Recently at Stephen Johnson Photography
The temporary show of photographs from my digital national parks project With a New Eye for my March 2nd. lecture The Image Flow. Mill Valley, CA., We put up nine 9 full sized "virtual contact prints" 20x25 & 27x34 inches. Thanks again to Canon's Explorers of Light program for sponsoring the lecture.
Grasses with dappled light with the Leica M1 monochrome camera.
I do want to encourage the development of monochrome cameras as the resolution is then unencumbered by RGB filters on the sensor and the consequent resolution loss.
But it is also true that I have grown so accustomed to deriving my BW from a mix of RGB color, I did feel a little tonally constrained in the processing.
Good Photo File Management
Taking care of your digital photographs involves more than just making sure your data is written to reasonably stable media, on multiple copies, and stored in multiple locations.
Photography is still in a state of digital evolution, although the process has stabilized to some degree. I have experienced many instances where needed technology was simply abandoned by a company that changed focus, went out of business or decided profits lay in other directions. This can have a major impact on those of us trying to use these digital technologies for our career, business, art and passion.
Trying to keep our archives independent of proprietary technology is simply good file management practice at this point. And challenging.
Photographing in Raw is certainly the best first step in preserving your digital information from the camera. But of course, these raw file formats are, for the most part, proprietary, and could be abandoned by the manufacturer as Kodak did in 1999 with their DCS cameras from the 1990s. We felt rescued by Thomas Knoll when he then wrote Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) to enable us to continue working and create an architecture for future raw processing.
There has been much discussion about Adobe's project to address that proprietary raw file challenge and create a standard with their DNG format. The digital negative (DNG) was intended to re-write the original raw data into a documented format, creating a standard raw format that companies could choose to encode their files into from their cameras. Alternatively, we could choose to save our raw files out to DNG, even embedding the original camera's raw data if we choose. Camera companies contend that the Adobe editors don't do as good a job on their raw files as the the camera companies do. Canon and Nikon make their own raw processing software. But the DNG encoding is documented and therefore should be readable in the future. The code belongs to Adobe. It is unknown what the camera companies will do.
An unprocessed RAW file is still in its original camera-recorded form, in theory, the most pristine form of your file. However, more and more we are seeing versions of raw that have been processed to some degree. An example would be of a HDR or panoramic encoded set of of images through ACR or Lightroom. The file often looks good, but it is no longer really raw data. The option can work beautifully and is still editable by the raw processors, but is no longer raw. Part of my caution is that over the years real improvements have been made in de-mosianic image results where the base grayscale camera file with its intermitant RGB filter data is interpolated into a three channel RGB file. Be careful, keep both.
Longterm Compatibility: PSD vs TIFF
Both PSD and TIFF files are Adobe formats. A flattened TIFF is simply a more ubiquitous file than a TIFF variant with proprietary add-ons like a layered Photoshop PSD. A TIFF with layers also adds a level of complexity. What will be open-able over time and what gives us the best access to our data now are the decision making variables.
Access to all Versions
My strategy is to keep everything, and try to make sure my archives are as non-proprietary as possible and in well documented formats.
For the images I care the most about, I'll create a folder for the image, save the raw, the PSD and the flattened TIFF all in one archive-driven place. That will then be copied to multiple media and duplicates created for storage in multiple locations.
I copy the original raw data unaltered from the camera into its own folder, separate from my ongoing archive. I appreciate being able to save the raw adjustment scripts from ACR and Lightroom (xmp files). I want to label and understand any raw variants like a scene referred DNG, as a separate entity from the original Raw. After opening a photograph in Photoshop and creating a reasonable edited version, that file then becomes my "Master" file and is saved as a PSD with all Photoshop layers intact, and then I save a flattened version as a plain vanilla uncompressed 16 bit TIFF in ProPhoto RGB. My friend Jeff Schewe adds that a full-sized sRGB jpeg for file opening and viewing convenience can also be useful.
This is not to say TIFF is sacred or un-owned. It was developed by Aldus before Adobe bought them, and is now copyrighted by Adobe. Adobe creates its own variants, like TIFF/EP which can accommodate raw data.
The above file organization and version creation is where I am currently most comfortable. It is not meant to presume to be God's truth written in stone.
20 scenes in and around Pacifica, California where Stephen Johnson Photography is located. Full page trail map included. Printed on a color laser digital press.
11" x 17" $25.00
Gift Certificates for Prints and Workshops!
Emailed or shipped with beautiful gift note card.
Life Form Note cards
5x7 inches (sold-out, on backorder)
12 image Note card set with envelopes featuring photographs from Steve's new Life Form work.
Printed by Steve in his studio in very limited numbers on a color laser digital press
National Park Note cards
12 cards/envelopes $20 set
From "With a New Eye" Beautiful 300 line screen offset reproductions with envelopes in clear box. A great gift.
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