Review: The Art of Black and White Photography

First of all, let me get something off my chest. I’m not picking on this book in particular, but generally, when will photography book authors quit talking about digital photography like it’s some crazy new thing that people need to be gently introduced to? Why does every photo book have an “introduction to digital” section that is all but useless filler? It’s 2008 people! If I wanted an introduction to digital photograhy, I’d have bought an introduction to digital photography book. Ok, rant over.

Read on to learn more about the book and find out how you can get a free copy.

Mercifully, The Art of Black and White Photography by Torsten Andreas Hoffmann keeps the intro to digital section to a mere 9 pages.

The meat of this book starts in section two. Section two devotes a full chapter to each of many different genres and concepts and attempts to show by example how to make black and white photographs.

Topics include overcoming clichés, architecture, portraits, street photography, and moods. Arguably, these are all topics that apply equally well to color photography. And in fact you could easily open this book to the chapter on, say, street photography, and apply the advice easily to color photos. If the example photos were in color you might even forget you were trying to learn something about black and white.

The example photos are quite good but very little space is spent explaining why these photos are better in black and white or how the removal of color enhances them. A person unfamiliar with the attraction of black and white might come away scratching his head. Technical details are lightly sprinkled throughout the text. For example, page 121 states “The photograph was taken with an analog camera, a 20 mm wide-angle lens, and a red filter. Yet, in spite of this red filter, the sky had to be burned in towards the top in the darkroom so it could unfold to its full effect.” On page 93 you’ll find “It was important to bring out the white highway stripes in the darkroom and to increase the contrast as well.”

And for a book subtitled “Creating Superb Images in a Digital Workflow,” a surprising number of images were creating using film cameras and traditional darkroom techniques. In many of the examples, rather than black and white techniques we get discussions of history, Greek mythology, and rather bland details like “This photo was taken with a 20mm wide-angle lens.” It’s an interesting read but not at all what I thought the book would contain based on its title.

Section three is devoted to compositional techniques. Again, most of these principals apply to photography in general, not just black and white. In this section though, I think it’s easier to see the connection to black and white because composition deals with concepts like shape, line, and form—basic components that often become more prominent once color has been removed from a photograph.

Section four covers digital conversion techniques using Photoshop CS2 and CS3. This is a solid but brief section with good information on basic conversion, dodging/burning, contast, sharpening and more. (Although, at one point the author shows one example of replacing a bland sky with an even blander gray scale gradient.)

Would I recommend this book? Well, maybe. Not if you’re looking for an introduction to black and white photography, certainly. But if you’ve already got some experience with black and white and you’re looking for some inspiration? Sure. I would have liked to have seen a lot more explanation of why particular photos work better in black and white or why the photographer chose to use black and white over color. But possibly, the best audience is anyone who can benefit from the lengthy and detailed discussions on various photographic genres and compositional techniques that fill most of the pages. And if you want to talk philosophy, mysticism, or history in relation to photography, this is the book for you.

Want my review copy? Leave a comment with a valid email address. One reader will be chosen at random this weekend to receive a free copy.

This book was provided to Photodoto free of charge for review.

Review: Nikon D90 first impressions

On semi-impulse I bought a Nikon D90 kit last Thursday from Amazon after nearly four years with my trusty D70. I sat down with the manual over the weekend and got to know it a little better. There are plenty of great in-depth reviews of the D90 out there with tech comparisons and sample photos. This is not one of those. I’m just going to give you my first impressions of the D90, especially things about it that made me smile, from the perspective of a D70 upgrader:

  • Live view! Giant LCD! 6.7x image review zoom! Awesome. The D70 screen looks like a postage stamp now.
  • It is perceptibly faster and lighter.
  • I turned on the viewfinder grid, turned off the focus beep, and switched to selected area for focus because that’s how I roll.
  • The default image processing settings are fairly neutral and true to life. In Flickr terms: boring. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se, but I’m not particularly interested in absolute truth, photographically speaking. I prefer my photos to have a little more pop so I adjusted the default to Vivid which boosts both the contrast and saturation. Speaking of which, you can record up to 9 custom image processing settings in the camera and save them off to SD cards to store or share.
  • Turned on custom setting d3 which shows the ISO setting in the viewfinder instead of the remaining frame count. Maybe that will stop me from shooting entire rolls at ISO 500 instead of 200. I doubt it. But one must try to be optimistic. I said “rolls.” How old am I?
  • The self-timer can be set for 1, 2, 5, 10, and 20 seconds and you can adjust the number of shots (up to 9). So you can set the self-timer to go off in 5 seconds and take, say, 3 shots (which it does at what feels like the low-speed frame rate).
  • The new AF-A focusing mode which automatically chooses between AF-S (single) and AF-C (continuous) focus depending on subject movement seems really good on paper and so far it has worked out well in practice. And thank you Nikon for the AF selector button on the body.
  • I must say I’m a fan of active D-lighting. In almost every test shot, the D90 makes better exposures than my D70 at default settings. Matrix metering and auto white balance are markedly improved, especially in difficult lighting situations. The D70 has a strong bias against blown highlights, so much so that I routinely shot my D70 with an exposure compensation of +0.7. The D90 isn’t nearly as overprotective (especially with active D-lighting enabled, strength: Normal). At the moment I think the D90 will work quite nicely at +0 or even -0.3.
  • It can record RAW + JPG FINE for every exposure. On an 8GB SDHC card I get a readout of 361 available images at that setting (539 RAW only, 1.1k JPG Fine only).
  • Built-in image adjustment and RAW processing. Pretty cool, though it’s no Photoshop/Lightroom/Gimp obviously. Post-processing lets you do the usual stuff: crop, rotate, adjust white balance, exposure compensation, choose picture controls (e.g. vivid, landscape, portrait, custom, etc.). In addition, you can apply D-lighting, red-eye removal (although I couldn’t get the D90 to give me red-eye), convert to black and white, sepia, cyanotype, filter effects (skylight, warm, red, green, blue, cross screen), resize, quick retouch (contrast + saturation), adjust distortion, and add fisheye effect. Each adjustment creates a new JPG and leaves the original untouched. It’s a nice-to-have for a guy like me who doesn’t particularly like post-processing images.
  • Strobists take note: The D90 has built-in flash commander support for up to two groups + the built-in flash + adjustable channels (1-4)! It’s almost like getting an SB-800 thrown into the kit for free. Awesome news for folks with multiple strobes.
  • No complaints about the 18-105 kit lens. The VR works well, it has the same field of view at the wide end as the 18-70, and it has produced fine bokeh so far. Plastic lens mount but, hey, it’s the kit lens. Exactly the same lens hood as the 18-70 kit and takes the same filter size (67mm).
  • Movie mode is a fun, fun, fun little battery drainer. Image quality is excellent, sound quality is acceptable (what you’d expect from a dinky in-camera microphone). I’ll post a video sample soon.

As I said, I’ve only had the camera a few days. More impressions as I learn more about it. Some weekend shots below, from my Flickr account:

Tower 4

Huntington Beach Condos

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