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

When I saw this book up for review, I jumped at the chance immediately. Having a deep interest in Photography, with the new camera, I now have complete control over my photos and their look.

I have always considered Black and white photography the real art form of photography. The  representation of the image that can be represented just by the two colors is simply amazing. It also focuses the viewer to pay attention to the details and the subject rather than the colors which in some cases I have found to be a distraction.

In a sense, for me, Black and White photographs speak more than color photographs. Not to take anything away from color photos for they have their own place (and I take a lot more of them too), I personally favor B&W photos. Below is a review of a very good book dedicated to Black and White Photographs: The Art of Black and White Photography

In recent years, tremendous advancements and innovation in digital cameras has allowed everyone to experience the magic of photography. And with the speed of developments in digital camera technology, they have now, become equal to and in some aspects better than analog (film) cameras. Both 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, collation of the elements and the mood of the images are much more important. The Art of Black and White Photography by Torsten Andress Hoffman has been written with the aim of becoming familiar with the genre of digital photography, focusing on the images in black and white than the technology.

The book starts at the basics – getting a camera, some accessories (like filters and polarizers) and then moves on to the second section which deals with basic concepts of photography. This section 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, 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.

As mentioned, the first chapter deals with the basics – cameras formats (wide format, medium format), filters, polarizers etc.  An interesting point that Hoffman makes is that shooting entirely in the raw mode is better and more preferable than using the cameras built-in B & W shooting mode. Hoffman recommends shooting images in color and then converting them to B & W by using the gray-scale mode or the channel mixer in Adobe Photoshop.

The second chapter on photography genres 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 or what your experience level is. 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 in Canon cameras vs. Vibration Reduction in Nikon cameras). This is not a major flaw because Hoffman has also 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 the extra oomph from your photographs. And 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 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 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.

3 Comments

  1. Preethi (28 comments) August 12, 2008

    Hello! How’s Pah-ree! You found time to write a review? Nice review though I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did the other reviews as it was too technical. I can already picture the eiffel tower in black and white!
    Post some pics soon :)

  2. AJ (258 comments) August 12, 2008

    Pah-ree is awesome.. Great climate, lovely places and a loverly city :D

    I did not really write the review here but it was mostly complete but in the draft stage. A little more polishing and it was ready for publishing.

    Yeah, this one is a bit technical I guess. But is a subject I LOVE.. So… ;)

    I am taking lots of pics. Constrained only by the limited memory stick I have. But still, enough. Will be posting them soon..

  3. Prashant (1 comments) August 29, 2008

    Hi Aj,

    Went through some of the articles.,. Seems u r an avid book fan.. so many reviews of them.., Gotta have a lot to learn from here,. :)

    Cheers.

    Happy Blogging.,.

    Prashant
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