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On Studying With a Master: Fine Art Photography With Stephen Johnson

Until recently, my creative endeavors involved making digital products, whether it be writing, music, videos, or images. All these things exist on the Internet, but not in the physical world. After joining the Los-Gatos Saratoga Camera Club a few years ago, seeing the prints made by other club members got me excited about making prints. When I got my first print back from Bay Photo, I felt the excitement of holding an actual product of my creativity.

Creating a print is the only way for a maker to ensure that the viewer sees the image as it is intended to be seen. Computer monitors vary in size and quality; most aren’t color calibrated. Most people only ever look at an image on a phone screen. It’s impossible to appreciate the detail and nuance of an image on such a small screen.

I don’t own a printer, so for the past two years I’ve continued to use Bay Photo to make prints. While Bay has done a good job, the color on the prints has not matched exactly what I see on my screen. It’s acceptable, but not precise. I decided that I needed to learn to make my own prints. I did an Internet search to find a printing workshop where I could learn the craft.

I was delighted to find Stephen Johnson. Not only is his photographic art stellar, but he appears to be one of the top experts on fine art photographic printing. A colleague at Los-Gatos Saratoga Camera Club confirmed that I could find no teacher better than Stephen Johnson.

Stephen’s four-day fine art printing workshop is a combination of lecture and hands-on work. He covers everything, from techniques to preparing an image file for printing to the various ways to organize and make prints available. I learned Photoshop techniques, the history of printing technologies, current state-of the art printing technologies, a workflow for printing, various considerations on choosing a printer, how to store and transport images, framing and matting considerations, book making, special print sets, printer profiles, monitor calibration, ink and paper reflectance, light temperature and its effect on proofing and viewing, and much, much more. (Image: New Zealand. There is no way to communicate how wonderful the print looks unless you see it in person.)

During the hands-on time, Stephen was available to work with each of us individually to provide feedback on test prints and how to improve them. I got a lot of individual help because there were only three of us in the workshop. He never accepts more than four students at a time. (Image: Antarctica. The workshop also covered black and white printing.)

As a master photographer and printer, Stephen has a discerning eye for spotting such things as masking artifacts, color casts, sharpening artifacts, and so on. Listening to his critiques, I learned how to be on the lookout for such things. But more importantly, I learned how to correct these issues. At the end of the workshop, I had more than a dozen prints that I felt proud of.

Studying with a master like Stephen has not only made me feel confident to print images on my own but it will, no doubt, save me time and money when I start making my own prints at home.

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