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The Art of Black and White Photography: Techniques for Creating Superb Images in a Digital Workflow Hardcover – 1 Jun 2008


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Rocky Nook; 1 edition (1 Jun 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 193395227X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933952277
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 2 x 25.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 740,994 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Torsten Andreas Hoffmann is mostly known as the photographer and author of illustrated books on New York, Paris, Rome, and the Himalayas. He regularly teaches workshops on photography with an emphasis on composition and black and white photography. Hoffmann is a regular contributor to LFI, the highly acclaimed international journal published by Leica.

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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Dood on 30 July 2008
Format: Hardcover
I was initially attracted to this book by the subtitle "Techniques for creating superb images in a digital worklow". As stated, I think this title is a little misleading. Much more appropriate is a statement from the Introduction ". . . although this book deals with digital technology and provides you with essential technical information explained in simple terms, it is primarily an advanced guide to image composition."

The basic structure of the book is a series of essays, you could almost see them as lessons from a photography course, some 35 of them, formed into four main sections of 'Tools and Fundamentals', 'Genres and Concepts', 'Rules of Composition' and 'The Digital Darkroom'. The first of these doesn't really sit with a book on advanced composition, it starts with Choosing a Good Digital Camera for example, and the last I found to be quite weak, which is why I object to the subtitle of the book. I do not think you would want to go into the Digital Darkroom armed only with this book, and if you know much at all about PS CS2 then you would be aware of the lightly covered techniques described therein. I actually think that the author could lose the first and last sections and not significantly diminish the book in any way.

The core of the book then is on the compositional side and here the author is on much stronger ground. There are a large number of photographs, all the author's, that support the text very well. The standard of the photographs is generally high with some exceptionally striking examples, though also a few that are a bit ho hum. The text is a bit formal, and couched in a slightly awkward English in some places, which can make the experience of reading the book a little harder than maybe it should be.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By P. Randhol on 15 Nov 2008
Format: Hardcover
I found this book to be very much worth the money! It talks about things that applies for non-digital photography as well as digital photography. The nice thing is that you learn how red, yellow etc.. filters changes the photography. These filters are not needed for digital SLRs, but you learn the effect and can apply them in Gimp or Photoshop to create the effects of them.

It also shows B&W composition which is different from colour composition.

Absolutely recommend this for all amateurs. I'm not a professional so I cannot judge if this book is good for professional or semi-professional.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 15 reviews
58 of 59 people found the following review helpful
A Hearty Welcome to Another Top German Photographer/Author 3 Jun 2008
By T. Campbell - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a welcome volume for B&W photogs and a useful read for color photographers from another fine German photographer/author. This is Hoffmann's first instructional book to be published in English, although he has had numerous articles on image design/composition published in the magazine "Leica Fotographie International", or LFI, which, by the way, is not published by Leica-Camera GMBH.

Hoffmann emphasizes the possibilities in tonal manipulation in digital and analogue photographing. The point of his presentation is always to show how manipulating the tones and, therefore, contrast, contributes to the design of the image with respect to the photographer's intentions. He spends a significant amount of space on showing how to elicit mood in various kinds of photographs (content).

His chapters start with, what I find to be, rather interesting summaries of the chapter topic's history, significant practitioners, and current directions. Then he examines several of his own images in detail. His commentary on an image concentrates on the visual structure and on the darkroom and/or digital manipulations necessary to realize his intentions. The only other book that comes to mind for nearly such excellence in pictorial descriptions or captions is the first edition of Bill Smith's "Designing a Photograph," which sets the standard for applying the Gestalt visual psychological approach to analyzing image structure.

Rather differently from the other two top volumes on image structure currently in print, Michael Freeman's "The Photographer's Eye," and Harald Mante's "The Photograph," Hoffmann spends significant time looking at the various genres of photographic subject matter and then covers composing/design from the point of view of visual tensions and abstract structure. There is overlap with both of the other volumes, but also depth and emphasis that is his own. Color is not part of the subject in this book, but color photographers will benefit from Hoffmann's insights into tonality, contrast, and structure in images.

This book, IMHO, sort of completes the circle of really good books on photographic composition/design at the intermediate level. With this book, the years 2007 and 2008 have been the best in a few decades for the publication of outstanding books on design/composition, and it is interesting to this reviewer that the three best are by an English and two German photographer/authors . It just does not seem that US practioners are taught the nuts and bolts of visual design to any degree of depth and ability to articulate their thoughts about image structure. The ability of even world class US photographers to discuss the reasons that their images work in structural terms is relatively rare.

I like this book enough to make a triumvirate of this one, Freeman's book, and Mante's book for readers interested in sophisticated, analytical approaches to visual design and image structure. The only thing I would wish for is that more of his photos be accompanied by those delightful little thumbnails with his structural line diagrams. The more of these there are in a book, the more an interested reader packs away in one's mental image databank for later resurrection and use.

Some asides before I finish. Hoffmann gets more visual mileage from aircraft vapor trails than anyone else I know of. Most of us regard these as intrusions into the tranquility of our landscape images. But, in the venerable tradition of divorcing content from an image's abstract structure, and the role of structure being to support the content, Hoffmann integrates these features into his images so forcefully that to remove them would ruin the image. Bravo; Mante would be proud.

Too, the basic structural architecure of many of his images rests upon the grid formed from the golden ratio approximations of breaking the height and width into 5/8th and 3/8th divisions. One advantage of this choice versus the preference of US photographers for the Thirds Rule is that the Thirds method breaks the space into nine identical rectangles - a recipe well on the way to boring space management. Yet, as shows Charles Bouleau in his seminal book, "The Painter's Secret Geometry," even relatively simple visual architectures in the hands of someone with excellent training and inspired talent yield captivating, dynamic images, while the plodders among us achieve less subtle and interesting results.

I hope it will not be so long before Hoffmann gives us a volume on design in color photography.

19 November 2008. I just read this book again. It is more satisfying, informative, and a pleasure to read than I realized the first time through. The second section covers thirteen genres or concepts, each one starting with a delightful essay that I began to look forward to in succeeding chapters. Beginning with a chapter on dealing with cliches and ending with a chapter on eliciting mystical elements from a subject and a chapter on panoramics, he deals with the major philosophical aspects relating to photography in each genre, how such issues have changed through the history of photography, sometimes the relationships to other visual arts, and some reference to major past and current practitioners.

The third section presents fourteen aspects of composing images, from "what is composition" to movement in the image. The prefatory remarks are much more brief than in the genres/concepts section, but are insightful. His approach to composing emphasizes the principles of design and techniques of visualization and thinking to achieve the principles, and less concentration on the elements that one gets from Mante and Freeman.

In all four sections of the book, when he discusses a photograph, he does it better, more thoroughly from a structural point of view, and at a higher level than most any other writing I have seen.

I now feel that this book ranks right up there with Freeman and Mante as coequal in quality, depth, and level of presentation. These are the three strongest books on the composition/design subject in years. If you are interested in analytical, thinking, focussed approaches to making, understanding, and appreciating images, I cannot recommend too strongly owning and reading several times the three books by Freeman, Mante, and Hoffmann.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Black and White is not dead - it has its advantages over the world of color. 14 July 2008
By Midwest Book Review - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Black and White is not dead - it has its advantages over the world of color. "The Art of Black and White Photography: Techniques for Creating Superb Images in a Digital Workflow" is a complete and comprehensive guide to the craft of taking photos in the style of black and white. Chapters discuss when black and white should be used rather than color, how to avoid the cliches so often associated with black and white, applying new technology to improve an old art, and much more. For anyone enthusiastic about photography, "The Art of Black and White Photography: Techniques for Creating Superb Images in a Digital Workflow" is a must-have.

Diane C. Donovan
California Bookwatch
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Not quite there 9 Jan 2011
By vQ - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book has a couple of very positive reviews at Amazon, and then a few not so enthusiastic. If you're tempted to buy it, be sure to (a) think carefully through your expectations, and (b) make an effort to examine the book in advance, best directly in your hand, before you decide to invest in it. The book is not amazing, and you need to judge how the good and bad sides balance wrt. your needs.

"The Art of Black and White Photography: Techniques for Creating Superb Images in a Digital Workflow" is about black and white photography, somewhat less about 'the art', despite the author's obvious intentions. It is not so much about 'superb images', despite the author's obvious opinion about his works. The 'digital workflow' part is a cruel joke.

Why you MIGHT want to read (but not necessarily buy) the book:

1. There are a few interesting, both content- and form-wise images there. You might hope to learn how to compose, shoot, and process such images.

2. The narrative is smooth, understandable, and, most of the time, of a strong personal character, proving the author's emotional involvement.

3. The author goes beyond discussing the technical part of shooting and processing, enriching the discussion with a broader context of references to other photographers and concepts in photography. The book definitely is not the typical 'click this-and-that button' guide through Photoshop.

4. The chapters offer different perspectives on the subject, and you might learn to look at your own picture-taking with a more careful eye.

Why you might NOT want to buy the book (but perhaps skim through it anyway if your library offers this possibility):

5. The graphical material is unimpressive, with vast majority of the images being merely technically correct. The author is incredibly consistent in praising himself for almost every image in the book ("exceptional perspective", "fantastic composition", "that's why the picture is so good", "perfect timing", etc.). However, I find his pictures -- with just a handful of exceptions -- rather dull, boring, and closer to an intermediate classroom exercise than art.

6. The narrative is almost too personal. The repetitive self-appraisal is boring and irritating, especially that the material isn't really stunning. In some places, the author discusses at length how important it is for the image to press the shutter in the unique moment, an ability possessed only by the greatest masters (guess who); some pages later, he'll show you images taken from the knee, again praising himself for the perfect composition. In a few cases, the author admits that the image may look uninteresting and poorly composed, but then, no, it's to the contrary, the composition is perfect, and the image will stay in your memory for long. Well, what stays in my memory are this exaggerated self-marketing. (One of the previous reviewers remarks: "Hoffmann is sometimes overly laudatory about his photos, many of which are outstanding . . . but not all." Yes, he is. Many are not.)
You'll read about how important it is to think about composition before taking the picture, and how patient you must be until you get the perfect shot. In another place, the author shamelessly admits removing irritating details from the image with digital tools such as clone stamp (which traditional photographers might consider a blasphemy), even though the scene is such that he surely could wait a few more minutes to avoid the disturbance. In yet another example he leaves clearly unintentional, disturbing elements without a single comment. (And yes, that composition is perfect, again.) Besides that one case mentioned above, digital interventions beyond basic contrast improvement and such are not discussed (which many modern photographers might consider a serious deficiency). Issues such as ISO vs. tonal range, noise, grain, sharpness, etc. are nowhere subject to the author's comment.

7. The author focuses mostly on composition. The narrative is fairly superficial, however, with important concepts mentioned here and there, but never discussed in depth. In a few (or rather just few) cases, alternative compositions of the same scene are shown, but this sampler it's far from a systematic, broad and deep coverage. Most photographs in this book seem to be merely correctly composed snapshots rather than well planned, designed, and executed pieces of art.
Despite the subtitle, you'll be rather disappointed about the digital workflow part. The last, fourth part o the book (about 20-30 pages) is dedicated to converting digital images to black and white and improving contrast using tools such as channel mixing and masks (for selective corrections). You won't learn much here; besides, this part is already dated even at the date of publication (it covers CS2, with new features from CS3 mentioned, while Photoshop CS4 was released about the date the English edition of the book was published). New tools (e.g., smart objects) useful for processing RAW files within Photoshop are not mentioned. Additional comments referring to digital processing are sprinkled here and there throughout the book, but very unsystematically. In fact, the author is rather chaotic about the technical side of his pictures; for some, he mentions the camera used, for some the lens, for some the focal length, for some the Photoshop tool used. For an art-superb-digital workflow book, a more coherent approach would certainly help.
As to the context part, a great majority of the photographers, artists, poets, and whoever else mentioned in the book bear German names. While it might be acceptable and well-justified for the German edition of the book, I find it just irritating. It gives the unfortunate impression that the author is either ignorant about photography beyond his own country (very unlikely, though) or unreasonably biased. More effort on the author's side to provide a broader and more balanced reference would certainly not hurt.

8. The selection of subjects is rather limited, constrained almost entirely to landscape and modern architecture. Black and white photography is an excellent medium for portraiture, sports, events, and otherwise documentary photography; however, except for a few, rather average portraits, the author clearly ignores anything that would force him out of the apparent uninvolved tourist stance. With literally two, again unimpressive exceptions, you'll find no studio photography here. You'll find absolutely no discussion on setting up and using artificial lighting. There is virtually no discussion of how available (almost exclusively natural) light can be explored to capture the same scene from different perspectives and at different times (of the day, of the year) and thus expose some characteristics of the subject while hiding others.
Another consequence of the subjects limited to landscape and architecture is that most of the photographs have large depth of field and thus give the whole book a rather monotone, flat look. The author fails to note that different depth of field settings help expose some parts of the scene while hiding others, and how blur and bokeh can be used to improve the composition. (I don't recall him ever using the term 'bokeh', for example.)
The chapter on photography of movement is another joke. If anything, it shows the author's inability to go beyond his rather static attitude and produce more dynamic photographs (dynamic precisely in the sense of including movement, not that of tilting the perspective and making the composition less symmetric, a sense the author employs throughout the book). While panoramic formats, both horizontal and vertical, are mentioned (ignoring the existence of tools such as panoramic heads), for a book focusing mostly on composition and layout the lack of discussion of alternative formats (including square, of which no example is given) is also surprising.

9. Last not least, discussion of printing is virtually non-existent. With a 'workflow' in subtitle, the lack of discussion of presentation issues (including printing, but not only) is again a serious omission.

Somewhat uncomfortably, I'm giving this book merely two stars, reflecting my own disappointment and irritation (also with the fact that I did buy and forced myself to read the whole text, a waste of money and time). Since there are other, more positive reviews here, you should carefully consider the deal. The book is superficial, unsystematic, narrowly selective, with mostly boring examples. If you come to learn about composition, consider <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1933952261">'The Photograph' by Harald Mante</a>, an amazing book by another German photographer (a truly good one). That book is stunning (yes!), and every single photograph there is worth hours of contemplation -- precisely unlike this one.
23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
always the same... 24 Jan 2009
By Manuel Vazquez Muñoz - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Only 40 pages of 260 dedicated to digital darkroom... The rest of the book speaks about basics in photography, such as tools and fundamentals, photographic genres and rules of composition... this kind of information is always present in every book of photography...

so, it's not a good book for those who want to learn on black and white photography, but it's useful for those who are begginers in photography...
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Well worth owning. 20 Oct 2008
By C. Bullock - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
"The Art of Black and White Photography", by Torsten Andreas Hoffman, is the latest Rockynook book that I have read. So far, only one Rockynook title has disappointed me. "The Art of Black and White Photography" was definitely not a disappointment.

Black and white photography has interested me for some time, but I haven't really found the right subjects for it. When I thought I had a good candidate, it turned out to be much better in sepia than b&w. This book went a long way in helping me to understand what subjects woiuld do better in black and white. It also presents a wealth of knowledge about using modern tools (Photoshop CS2 was quoted) to refine images and get the most out of the exposure. The insistence to shoot in RAW was spot on. I learned this the hard way, but if you haven't gone to that exclusively yet, you need to.

While the title of the book implies exclusivity to B& photography, there is still quite a bit of useful information that crosses over to the color world also. Since I plan to keep shooting color and selectively convert to black and white in post processing, I was happy to see this. Every aspect of photography is addressed - landscapes and portraits, motion and still life, day and night exposures, you name it. Extensive sections cover Genres and Concepts as well as Composition Rules. Perhaps most useful to me (and well worth the price of the book) is the last section covering "The Digital Darkroom". I love getting useful Photoshop tips, and this book does not disappoint. Hopefully future editions will also include Lightroom tips.

"The Art of Black and White Photography" is one book that I could not put down once I started reading it, and I cannot wait to apply some of the concepts I learned.
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