Book Review - The Art of Black and White Photography By Torsten Andress Hoffman

August 07, 2008

In recent years, tremendous advancements and innovation in digital cameras have turned everyone into photographers. With the developments in the last few years digital cameras have become equal to and in some aspects surpassed analog (film) cameras in terms of image quality and features which aide in photography. Some high-end cameras have so many features that it is hard for many to even use all of them.

That said, digital photography is not solely about technology alone; it is more about the images and their expressions. The content, formation of the elements and the mood of the images are much more important. The Art Of Black And White Photography has been written to help become familiar with digital photography, focusing on the images as art than the technology. The book covers the beginning - getting a camera, some accessories (like filters and polarizers) and then moves on to concepts in photography. This focuses heavily on the various genres and the mood the photographer tries to convey through photographs. This section includes advice on a gamut of photographic subjects like portraits, architecture, surreal etc. From there, the author Torsten Andress Hoffman moves on to an extensive section on composition of photographs and the various rules which should be adhered to in order to achieve a good image composition. Finally, once you have clicked one or several photographs, Hoffman details the use of Adobe Photoshop CS3 and some of the newer features in this software that helps you enhance your photographs and make them look even better.

The author, Torsten Andress Hoffman, is a renowned photographer from Germany with considerable experience. In this book, he shares experiences and knowledge of photography — specifically black and white photography. Over 100 black and white photographs are included in the book to illustrate the topic of discussion, and through which Hoffman explains how images are formed, the intention of the photographer behind the image and the expression contained within the image.

An interesting point made in the first few chapters is why shooting entirely in the raw mode is better and more preferable, and why, even though the latest cameras have features to shoot in B & W, the author recommends shooting images in color and then converting them to B & W in digital workflow by using the grayscale mode or the channel mixer in Adobe Photoshop.

The second chapter is a joy to read. The sheer range of genres of photography covered is a treat for most photographers. There are tips and advice for everyone no matter what genre of photography you specialize in. However, in this section, Hoffman's explicit references to the Canon 5D, makes the technique too manufacturer specific. I personally own a Canon so was able to follow the feature being detailed in those terms but photographers using cameras by other manufacturers (Nikon, Pentax, Sony etc) might not necessarily follow due to the differences in terminologies used by the manufacturers (for example, Image Stabilization by Canon vs. Vibration Reduction by Nikon). This is not a major concern because Hoffman has provided example images from many cameras including some film cameras too and I am only nitpicking on this fine book.

Of course, knowing what you want to photograph is not sufficient. It is very important to know how to shoot the subject right and how to enhance and bring out something more from your photographs. For this, knowing the rules of composition is very important. These rules help you draw the eyes of the viewer as you like them to follow the subjects in the photo and how balanced the image is. Some of the most important rules like maintaining the Golden Ratio, number of subjects in a photo perspective from which the photograph are dealt with in suitable detail. This section is very good and useful for photographers of almost all experience levels.

The last section teaches the reader on how to "develop" digital images using Adobe PhotoShop as a "dark room". As advised in the first chapter that it is better to shoot in color; and this section closes that loop by teaching how to use the channel mixer of Adobe PhotoShop. The section further details other features in PhotoShop to further improve and process your images to get the most visual appeal out of them. I do wish that Hoffman had intermingled references to Gimp as well or referenced equivalent functions since Gimp is the free software used by many photographers who cannot afford the high cost of Adobe PhotoShop. But that is a minor point since those well versed in Gimp will be able to understand the chapter equivalently.

While this book is intended primarily to take good black and white photographs. The concepts of photography and image composition explained in this book apply equally for color photographs. This book however is not meant for absolute amateurs but will be very useful to medium to high experience level photographers. For me, the best feature of the book is the large number of sample images, which are an absolute treat with some of them really beautiful. I recommend the book heartily for anyone interested in black and white photography or just photography in general.


Content 5/5
Writing 4/5
Concepts 5/5

AJ is a wanderer on the net currently working as a programmer to fuel those wanderings. He also blogs his personal thoughts and reads a lot.
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Book Review - The Art of Black and White Photography By Torsten Andress Hoffman


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Chaitanya S
August 7, 2008
03:54 PM

AJ, I am someone who used Adobe Photoshop extensively back in India. Since it's pretty expensive in the US, I had to "touch up" my photographs by using the free photo editing software provided by Vistas. I was told that Fireworks would be a good substitute for Photoshop. But it turned out to be an improved version of Paint. GIMP is something which I had never heard about. I'll give it a shot. Thanks for the info !

August 8, 2008
12:19 AM

Chaitanya, GIMP is one of the MOST powerful graphics applications. It also comes with a lot of free plugins which allow you to do almost anything you want.

The only sad part is that Gimp has a much higher learning curve than Photoshop. But once mastered, it is exceptionally good

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