Welcome to the Arrowrock Photography blog!

What you'll find here ~ bi-weekly assignments to challenge your skills and creativity ~ announcements of upcoming special events ~ session samples ~ and the occasional rant or ramble... thanks for visiting, and please spread the word!

Happy shooting!

Don Johnson



January 01, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

_DJ61603-fb copy_DJ61603-fb copy In the beginning was nothing, not even a spark of light for photographers to point lenses at. What on earth did they do? Spend more time in the darkroom, fumbling around with primordial chemicals and coming up with arcane theories about what light would be like if they could only see it? Things like zone theory and the inverse law, for example. In their spare time they codified everything and often made a grand mess of it. Some of them got so good at it they left to create the IRS, insurance companies, and Applesoft. But that's another story.

So let's start over.

In the beginning was nothing. The Lightmaker said "let there be light... and it was good."

Close enough. We can work with this abridged version.

Note that our Lightmaker made no mention of bad or mediocre light - it was all good. Previously, Darkness had the run of the place since before time was invented, so imagine the shock and awe that light must have caused with her sweet entrance onto the Great Dance Floor.

One swoosh and a swirl and paparazzi were instantly legion.

But let's back up yet again. In our photographic mythology, light requires a source, so the Lightmaker created an orb, a sphere which emits electromagnetic radiation, some of which we call light. Let's call it Orb A. Or as we know it, the sun.

But light is useless without a receptor - someone or some thing to receive and appreciate its existence. Darkness wasn't about to stand up and applaud, being so rudely upstaged, so some other mechanism was required. The Lightmaker solved this dilemma by creating Orb B, the eyeball.

Now isn't that interesting - two orbs, the simplest shapes to exist. One orb to transmit, the other orb to receive, each requiring the other, and the result is constant astonishment.


At any rate, we now have a handy, simple equation.

oA + oB = astonishment

The astonishing part for me is basic - neither light nor eyeballs have any function on their own; each requires the other. But put them together and... wow. Fireworks.

Oh yeah, we were going to make this practical, weren't we? Here's how.

Let's start with the Orb we all know so well - the sun. And let's use our B orbs to register Orb A's emitted light, whether it's incident or reflected. Then, knowing that we are part of the primal creative equation, start making decisions about how to make light behave. This orb-to-orb transfer business gives us enormous creative power, once we get cameras in our hands. 

For this assignment, stay as simple as possible and dispel any notion of good or bad light. If light has no such inherent qualities, it's our own psychology that's providing them. Photograph light and its effects, but do so with a bright mind and a brilliant heart, as naturally as possible. If the light's "bad" figure out how to make it "good." The creative response and process is 100% internal. It's sort of like putting on glasses backwards, or standing on one's head, but understanding that light is as much internal as it is external can be the juice that turns a snapshot into a photograph.

If this allegory doesn't work for you, go back to your own roots. In the beginning was nothing. What happened next? 

2017 is a good year to explore light and its myriad secrets. It will be a fun ride. Today we start at the beginning. Again.

Ideas for BEGIN AGAIN:

  • Go out on a sunny day and find a subject to photograph, preferably a vegetable or mineral - something that won't move suddenly or talk back when you poke it with a stick. Photograph it without thinking. Then study it, look at the angle at which light strikes it. Locate and trace the shadow. Carefully photograph it again from many angles. The light hasn't changed, but each movement you make changes history (photographically speaking).
  • Go out on a cloudy day and repeat the exercise. What's changed? There's little or no shadow, for one. Photograph from many angles again. Compare these photos to your first set. Do they "feel" different? Where does that feeling come from?
  • Shoot the same subject at dawn, noon, and dusk. We already know the shadow will move, but something else is happening too. Do you know what it is, Mr. Jones?
  • Shoot before sunup and after sundown. There is still sufficient light but not from the sun. Where is it coming from? What is its quality? Why are we so mysteriously drawn to it? What does it say about us?
  • Isolate your subject by using only a spot of light. Shade everything else. Does it like being in the spotlight? Do you?
  • Shoot the sun directly (but be careful). Why is it so hard to get a good exposure? 
  • Instead of selecting a subject to photograph, select a variety of emotions to direct your inquiry. How does it affect what you visually frame in your viewfinder?

BEGIN AGAIN will run for two weeks, from Jan 2 through Jan 15.

Happy shooting!


December 27, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

DC-6544DC-6544 It's music season, with lots of semiquavers, flagged flats, and accidentals rattling from car speakers and desktop radios. There's Leonard's major lift, Gruber's famous not-so-silent thirds, and Robert Burns' unforgettable "fair use" of an auld folke song.

But let's settle in on just one musical attribute today - the semibreve.

The semibreve is the musical notation for a whole note, the longest note now in common use. Anyone can sing or play a whole note, so it's very inclusive, safe and warm, and good for warding off all these frosty nights. Raise a glass and sing.

The week between Christmas and New Year's Day could be considered a semibreve, a time to take a deep breath before diving headlong back into the daily tempo of hemidemisemiquavers (otherwise known as 64th notes). This week is a good time to reflect, retrieve good memories, deeds, and successes, and to discard conflicts, miscues, and stumbles before considering new resolutions to break. The semibreve is our private period of wholeness.

Therefore, there's no official "assignment" except to be at ease, to consider the photographic journey we've taken the past 12 months, to share some unseen images if we're so inclined, and to tap our tuning forks to listen for the tones of 2017. It's a time to be wholly open to revisiting our best and worst photos from 2016, and to imagine what we'll create during the next 12 months. 

This assignment will be shorter than usual - less than a week - as the clock is reset for the new year. New Photo Assignments (as well as Circle of Confusion topics) will be posted on the first and third Mondays of each month, so they'll now both sync up. Look for them at approximately midnight every other Sunday night / Monday morning. And whenever possible, there will be a tighter link between PA and CoC topics.

2016 was the year of NIA, the ineffable, the inner landscape. 2017 will continue our upward journey but with renewed focus on practical matters too (not that the ineffable isn't practical, mind you). We may see more hands-on projects like Tinfoil Hat and extra events like Coffeetalkenwalks that everyone can participate in. And as usual, we'll throw down a few jazz notes just because we can.

Meanwhile, be semibreve. May all your notes be harmonious.

SEMIBREVE will run for five days, from Dec 28 until Sunday, Jan 1, 2017. 


December 13, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

_DSC8484-c2_DSC8484-c2DON JOHNSON 2089399397

It's December, and we've arrived at the gates of our own Bethlehem after a yearlong journey of inward-focusing photo assignments. There has been an underlying theme, you see, a reason for all of them. Remember ostranyenie, touched in the head, hidden, mumble tracks, memory leak, heavy light, or the one that whacked almost everybody - photosynthesis? The thread that held them all together, the map that led us here, is the ineffable, the unlabeled, the presence of the present. It's the "it" that's virtually impossible to put into words, yet we employ thousands of them in its pursuit. Aren't we an odd persevering lot?

When we're touched by the oneness of wonder, we know it, don't we? We feel connected, in tune, in awe of what is. But when we try to describe it to someone else, it never translates well, does it? It's ironic - wonder is a direct connection to All That Is and a uniquely private affair at the same time. It's like sticking a fork into an electrical socket - now that's a direct experience that can't be shared because you're paralyzed! Later, you could describe it to someone but they'd have zero clue until they did it themselves. No doubt that's why some kind, sharing genius invented the taser.

Lens People have a big advantage when it comes to sharing and spreading the sense of wonder. Photographs don't need words or explanations to directly transmit a feeling, a mood, a concept, a message without interference from one soul to another. Photographs bypass our addiction to language, especially our modern dialects so infected with misdirection, double entendre, propaganda, and dilution. A camera fully sees What Is, simply and without comment. Our goal is to see that same way - judgment free, witnessing each moment as a brand new act of creation, and to facilitate that awareness to someone else. The more we get out of our own way, the more the Way is revealed.

There is an apropos Latin phrase that sheds some light on our condition as we approach our annual season of reflection and renewal. It goes like this:

"Nascantur in admiratione."

Loosely translated, it becomes "Let them be born in wonder."

Doesn't that describe what we're seeking? We see it often in babies and young children as they discover something greater than themselves for the first time. And if we haven't killed off our own curiosity and openness, we occasionally experience such expansion in ourselves, too. But it needs constant care and feeding, and as we age it becomes easier to forget where we left the watering can.

To be born is to be willing to trust, love, and care - and wonder is the environment in which trust, love, and care thrive. Sounds like the perfect soil for photography, right? Do we trust what we see, love what we do, and care about the outcome? 

We are all too aware of how badly the world craves more wonder at the moment. Let's give birth to it with our cameras. Find it where it lives; let it lure us out of our own shadows into the light. As we temporarily turn off the medium of language - tv, radio, magazines, papers, internet - we will find wonder still beating beneath the noise. Wonder hasn't left us; it's we that wander. Be still, quiet, waiting, and relieved of the stress of thinking. Watch, observe, feel, and listen at rest. Then click the shutter as wonder sidles up behind you and kisses you on the cheek.

Merry Christmas, one and all. Unwrap your present of presence.

NASCANTUR IN ADMIRATIONE will run for two weeks, from Dec 14 through Dec 27.


November 29, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Edit-1297-light breakfast_flat_3000Edit-1297-light breakfast_flat_3000DON JOHNSON 208-939-9397

Yay! It's play time! No more photosynthesis!! For now.

Nothing serious for the next couple weeks - we're going to channel our inner kindergärtner and do fun stuff. Complete with a nap at 3 pm (bring your own blanket), and a snack before recess. We'll track mud into the house, crayon the walls, get cookie crumbs in the sofa, and let the dog chase the cat when mom's not looking. 

But before you do anything else, get up, walk through your house and make sure you have a kitchen. Good? Alright. You never know.

A typical kitchen is a gold mine for photographers. It's full of props, light modifiers, things that go whir and knives to chop them all up with when things don't work out. Some kitchens, like ours, even have running water! I'll bet that would be awesome in the outhouse.

Since you're already in the kitchen, check to see if you can locate these three common articles. They'll come in handy later:

  • a roll of aluminum foil
  • a roll of wax paper
  • a roll of plastic wrap

If not, put them on your shopping list for tomorrow. We like happy families, so it's probably best to have your own private supply. We don't want to read in the paper about your significant other going nuclear when they find their tin foil wrapped around poor Fido, or worse, Baby Kate. See, there's a great reason to have your own.

That's just for starters. In addition, you get to use anything you find in your kitchen. For example, forks (useful for road decisions), spoons (which often run away with dishes), copper pots (excellent tripod weights), microwaves (dry your camera fast!), and a refrigerator to keep the wine bottles chilled. Partially empty wine bottles make excellent photographic still life models, especially in odd numbers like 3 or 7. Well, maybe not so still; they tend to move around a lot as they get lighter. 

There are only two rules for this assignment:

> Every shot you make for the next two weeks will require the use of at least one kitchen item. The item may or may not appear in the photo, but it must be utilized in the making of the photo.

> At least one of your photos needs to feature the use of aluminum foil, wax paper, or plastic wrap. [Photoshop filters that emulate these things don't count. You must use the real deal.]

Some things to do with foil wax paper, or plastic wrap:

  • Make a tinfoil hat, of course! Extra points if you wear it in public.
  • A crumpled foil or wax backdrop
  • A bright foil reflector or soft wax reflector
  • A foil funhouse mirror
  • A foil bokeh wall
  • Roll up a snoot (to limit direction of flash output)
  • Moody or hazy lens filters (use a full wax paper piece or cut a hole in the middle)
  • Paint on plastic wrap with a colored marker - shoot through it
  • Form figures and shapes with foil
  • Punch holes in foil and light from behind
  • Make a pinhole camera
  • Wrap a fish
  • Flag and limit light with Cinefoil (a versatile black foil)
  • Waterproof your camera by wrapping it in plastic (surprisingly often much better than expensive covers and wraps)
  • Wrap a tree, a car, a model (make sure she can breathe!)
  • Safety warning - wax paper is flammable so don't be stupid. Also, don't lay across train tracks. Or run with scissors.

And so on. The same logic, or lack thereof, applies to all kitchen items. If you haven't had enough photosynthesis, create a photo with a fork, leftover coffee grounds, and that tub of coconut oil on the upper shelf. You forgot you bought that, didn't you? Now we're talking. 

TINFOIL HAT will run for two weeks, from Nov 30 to Dec 13.

Happy shooting!




November 16, 2016  •  Leave a Comment



Wikepedia defines photosynthesis is a process used by plants and other organisms to convert light energy into chemical energy that can later be used to fuel the organisms' activities.

Phhht. We know that photosynthesis is really about photography - it has "photo" in it fer cryin' out loud.

But ok, maybe photosynthesis is a valid description of photography too. We do a lot of light energy conversion, do we not? Which fuels other activities, like lens purchases, pre-dawn bushwhacking, strobe setting, post processing, monitor calibration, happy hour, and of course our favorite, banging our heads on a table in frustration.

But there's more!

Synthesis is a powerful catalyst that can reveal new levels in a photograph. Synthesis is the "combination of ideas to form a theory or system" or "the process of combining objects or ideas into a complex whole." Well now, what a beautiful description of photography! It's what we do every time we lift a camera to our eye or develop an image in Lightroom. We are creating something new from a variety of raw materials.

That little word "combination" is important. Synthesis is not compromise; it doesn't require that something be thrown out or sacrificed in order to make a mediocre agreement. Instead, synthesis creates something "other" from its sources and that "other" is transformative, sometimes revolutionary.

Synthesis doesn't just happen; it requires things or ideas that differ from one other. Let's simplify and suggest that synthesis requires two opposing forces to create a third. Visual tone for example - black and white. Synthesis of the two, if perfectly balanced, results in neutral gray, or "Kodak 18%." OK, you could argue that neutral gray is compromise, not synthesis. But if unbalanced a bit, we get shades of gray, and we know how delicate and varied they can be. Nobody would call black and white photography a compromise; instead, a master of the zone system has the capacity to create powerful, emotive work by synthesizing highlights and shadows in just the right locations and amounts.

The color wheel is built upon the foundation of synthesis. Mix two primary colors and you get a secondary color (blue and yellow result in green). Mix a primary color with a secondary color and you get a tertiary color. Add black and you get a shade; white and you get a tint. And so on. It's why there are so many freaking colors and so hard to zero in on just the right one. Each new color has a mood, a feel, a magnetic attraction (or repulsion) that is more than the sum of its parts.

Mix a rectangle with a triangle and you get a nearly infinite number of "complex" shapes. Throw in a circle and the Taj Mahal happens. Or the female form. Or a 1963 Corvette.

Synthesis can be reverse-engineered, too. The most complex shapes, colors, tones, chords, or ideas can be broken back down into their original components. They can be reshuffled into new shapes, colors, tones, chords, or ideas. Musical synthesizers create new bleeps and blats with knobs and sliders. So does Photoshop. One hits the airwaves; the other, Instagram. 

What happens when you unleash synthesis into the atmosphere of ideas, cognition, emotion, creative art? Relationships, politics, religion, scientific discovery, family dynamics, or which socks to wear all stretch our boundaries of this that and the other thing. We rubber band our way through every day in our real lives, inventing new coping mechanisms, pushing artistic boundaries, daring to fail. We're not the same person today we were yesterday. And tomorrow? We'll photosynthesize it as we go.

So then, how can we apply synthesis to photography? Here are a few ideas. I know you'll come up with more and better ones.

  • Photograph something simple, then photograph its opposite. Think about what the opposite really is - maybe it's not what you first think. Put those two photographs side by side and study them for awhile. Be patient, wait for some idea to emerge - maybe just a thread - that taps the energy from both images. Use that energy to create a third. Don't think too much, just use that energy to play and create.
  • Think of synthesis as a triangle. The two bottom points are the opposing forces. The top point is the synthesis, the "new idea." Start at the top and work down into the opposing components. Is something revealed you didn't notice before? Make a photograph of each point.
  • Consider actual photosynthesis. The sun, a giant superheated yellow ball of screaming atoms emits invisible rays that strike the earth's soil, warming a tiny humble seed that a few weeks later blossoms into a giant yellow sunflower. How weird is that? Nowhere along the process could a sunflower be predicted. But it's here anyway, daring you not to believe it. So prepare to be constantly surprised with synthesis.
  • Butterflies. Same deal. Except even weirder.
  • Remember a dream. What didn't make sense? Dig into that part - it's probably the third point of the triangle and has something to tell you. It would make a pretty cool photograph, wouldn't it?
  • Run with scissors... no, don't do that. I didn't say that.
  • The yin/yang symbol is a brilliant symbol of synthesis. Two opposing halves create a new and unbroken whole, yet is in constant changing motion. A bit of the positive exists within the negative, and vice versa. Positive and negative space plays a similar role in a photograph. Create a photograph where the whole would fall apart if one element is removed.
  • Baseball is synthesis on a grand scale, and it has hot dogs and beer. Damn. Cubs win.

PHOTOSYNTHESIS will run for two weeks, from Nov 16 through Nov 29.