Author: Torsten Andreas Hoffmann
Publisher: Rocky Nook, 2012
Aimed at: Photographers who want to get "arty"
Pros: A good read.
Cons: Misses a lot of technical issues and weak on explaining editing
Reviewed by: David Conrad
What role is there for a book on black-and-white photography in the digital age?
You know that you are into "serious" photography when the subject matter is black-and-white. Once you worked in black-and-white because you couldn't afford color film or because processing and printing it was too difficult. Now color is easy - you point, shoot and view in full color at no extra cost or trouble. To deliberately drop color you must have a good and presumably artistic reason.
This book is about black-and-white photography in the digital age and how you feel about it depends on how you feel about moving back into something more technically primitive in order to make an impression.
The subtitle of the book is "Techniques for Creating Superb Images in a Digital Workflow" - and I have no idea why the author or the publisher needed to include the word "Workflow". If you buy this book expecting a technical account of workflow you will be disappointed as this is not what the book is about. Its account of workflow comes down to - shoot in RAW, process in PhotoShop, display picture.
Another feature of the book that you might find annoying is the way it keeps on telling you about basic photographic technology or technique. There is a lot in this book that you could find in any book on photography and it isn't specific to black-and-white imaging. Try not to let this worry you because there is much in the book that is worth reading.
There are far too many short chapters in the book to give you a full account of its contents. Roughly speaking, each has a title that suggests a type of picture. After a brief discussion the author shows you some of this own images and discusses what is wrong with them and shows the steps used to improve them. Sometimes the improvements are matters of composition, sometimes tonal issues are the problem. The author isn't above using PhotoShop not only to change local tonal ranges but also to remove objects that are in the wrong place or correct perspective. This is not a book about fidelity but about creating stunning images and key to this are the elements of composition and contrast.
You will either like these short accounts or find them so personal that they really don't help. I found nearly all of them to be spot on descriptions of what I hope I would have done given the same initial image. I learned a lot, but you need to be warned that many of the descriptions of how the adjustments were made are very vague. If you know Photoshop, or another image editor, then you will understand what has been done, but you don't get step-by-step instructions.
The final part of the book is about the digital darkroom but even here there are few detailed instructions. The discussion is at a higher level. At least it put to rest my own long term desire for a camera with lens-shifting ability. The author points out that such technologies really aren't necessary as you have so much control over perspective in the digital darkroom. It is nice to have this confirmed.
You might well find the author to be opinionated and self important. There is an element of this book that is indeed nothing more than self publicity. How you react to this depends a great deal on how you react to the majority of the images - they are mostly good enough to illustrate the point being made rather than being great pictures. There is also no in-depth discussion of the technology of black-and-white and certainly no discussion of printing or presentation.
Overall, though, I found the book to be fun to read and inspirational. It is great for the beginner who wants to do better at black-and-white. Put simply it stimulates thinking about the task in hand even if you don't always agree with the author. If you already consider yourself an expert on the topic then don't even consider it, as it will only make you unhappy.