If you are new to Photodoto start here: Start

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.

John Watson

John is the original founder of Photodoto, but after running it for 4 years he had to focus on different things. If you're interested in what John has been up to recently, you can check is personal blog or browse his photo blog.
  • I’d take a look at the book for free, but based on the review, I won’t be spending the money!

  • Kyle Pearson

    I agree, although I havent been into photography as long as others. Black and white, color, whatever. I would hate to limit myself to a monochromatic world and find it is the mood of the artist that sets the mood. Not the color. anyways….

  • I would like to review this book for myself. Please send it my way!

  • Paul Thebert

    I have been having fun toying with b&w conversion lately… I’d love a chance to review this book!

  • Allison

    I’d be interested in checking it out. Thanks!

  • mim

    I have a hard time deciding that something is better in b&w, but on the other hand, it’s not like I know all that much compositional techniques (or whatever) for photography. So it might be nice to take a look at the book. :)

  • cottonM

    I spent a bit of time just yesterday in Borders looking at books on B & W Photography. I hear your pain with the “digital” intros. They ALL had it. None of them appealed to me. I’ve regretted several photo book purchases lately so I’m pretty sale resistant. Most just don’t hold up after one reading. In fact I might have looked at this book but it just didn’t stand out. Don’t pick me.

  • I’m game for reviewing it but honestly after your review would not buy it… I don’t want wishy washy any photographer can make a book information – I want the nitty gritty why it works better information! I would really love someone to explain to me why one photo works in B&W over color and visa versa… there has to be a scientific explanation, right?

  • Scott Coulter

    Thanks for the review. I could always use some inspiration, so I’d love to get a look at the photos, anyway.

  • Mokona

    I think the book sounds interesting, but I’m not sure I would plunk down the money for it. Possibly see if a library had it first.

    I do have to admit, digital B&W just isn’t the same as film for me. And I find that I’m more drawn to B&W over color in general… I think anything with high contrast automatically looks better in B&W, but I’m curious to see what the author suggests for street and other genres.

    Great review! Thanks!

  • Peter

    Looks interesting. I’ll have to check it out.

  • A.P.

    Thanks for the review! I’d love a copy!

  • Would be interesting if they also talked about some of the film aspects of b&w photography. I’ll take one for free! ;)

  • Melanie Mac lean

    I’m finding that I can get much more dynamic intensity from shots in B&W, or turning shots of colour into b
    B&W, with filter edits. It all comes down to making the subject ‘speck’ to the viewer. I would appreciate the chance to review this take on B&W techniques! Thanks!

  • Conner Downey

    I would love a copy, I like black and white but as you said need some inspiration.


  • Pingback: Link Roundup 11-01-2008()

  • And the random recipient is commenter #9, Scott Coulter. Thanks, everybody.