Book Review: The Art of Black and White Photography

October 27, 2008

The Art of Black and White Photography is the first serious book I have read on photography. As an amateur photographer with relatively less experience with the SLR camera (a little over a year), it was a booster in a lot of ways - and it really is a book one shouldn't judge by its cover (which, doesn't look too er, artistic)

Having long been fascinated by the visual landscape around me, and being persuaded to buy an SLR, my photography ability seemed to be finding its limitations in that from a passion it seemed to be turning into a boring hobby. The trouble with finding good guidance on photography is that most websites and people talk more about the technical details of the camera, and less about how a shot can be approached, planned for, anticipated - and then taken - and also on how post-processing is to be done.

That is where this book is so handy - and where it actually justifies the title's Artistic reference. Torsten Andreas Hoffmann is still new to me - he's still a fantastic teacher, decent author and superlative photographer. But most importantly, he's someone who helped me appreciate the art of photography even more than before, and to broaden my way of looking at images.

As the preface notes, the art of digital photography is about seeing images, about composing them, etc., - not about technicality, even though it does deal with in bits and pieces. To drive a Ferrari well, I need to know how to shift gears, where the pedals are etc., and not a PhD in automobile technology!

The book starts off at a very easy pace - which is especially useful for an amateur. Among the first pieces discussed are the need for selecting a good camera, why RAW mode is best for the B&W photos - and the use of filters. It's been amongst the best things I have learnt from this book - and initially transformed the way I look at things, of course the book has also helped me immensely in the way I approach photos as well- in composing them in my mind before I actually take the shot, in looking for "visual tension" as Hoffman puts it. The various forms of photography are covered in depth - and illustrated to telling effect via Hoffman's lens - and some seem to make even the more difficult forms of photography very easy, when the shot has been thought through and executed well!

Hoffmann writes in a very easy approach - although not all lessons can be learnt in a day, and not all of them are immediately apparent - some of them actually took me a while to figure out. (and some I still haven't!) The best part is that each of the lessons are imparted as though one's taken through distinct phases of learning - a first basic shot, a second improved shot, a 3rd shot with most things in place - and then the best shot. It is this which would be of most use to any reader - and that is really the crux of this whole book - the approach to taking a photo - where taking a photo isn't just a point-and-click, or point-make a thousand camera adjustments-click.

It is instead more of looking at life, through different lenses, analyzing the mood which that lens shows - and even changing it, for a better, more interesting view.

Don't buy the book because I'm recommending it. Buy it because it will help you look at things more visually, because you'll notice art in everyday life - even help you fall in love with the black and white medium - almost like I have.

BG blogs off and on, on politics, current affairs and anything else that catches his fancy. He used to take his politics rather seriously - but doesn't anymore!
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