Monday, February 27, 2012

Book Review: The Art of Black and White Photography by Torsten Hoffmann

The Art of Black and White Photography: Techniques for Creating Superb Images in a Digital WorkflowThe Art of Black and White Photography: Techniques for Creating Superb Images in a Digital Workflow by Torsten Andreas Hoffmann
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Art of Black and White Photography is written as a series of chapters that are short lessons on individual topics. While it starts out like many photography tutorial books discussing equipment, once past the initial chapters it changes form. It becomes a set of lessons that are built around the creation of photographs, from the initial scene to adjusting composition and tone to achieve a final result. And in that it is much better then the usual set of tips and tricks. Because to teach an art involves leading someone through the mental steps of discovery, not telling someone how to do it.

That is me playing the pianoArt is traditionally taught by master to student, and the context in conservatories, schools, and classes around the world is the studio. Where aspiring artists can gather and present and critique their work under the guidance of a master. Because this exposure to criticism in an environment intended for the growth of the student is how the student's skill at a craft is honed. But in the modern world where people think that mastery can come quick and easy by learning a few secrets and tricks, this is bypassed. And that is my criticism of most photography instructional materials, they attempt to teach a set of rules for each situation. And while this at least provides examples of good photographs, it does not lead the reader through the craft of looking and evaluating scenes, and then of taking a scene and looking for improvements along the way.

Bench by Benedum Hall after a little rainHoffmann does something different. In each chapter he takes you through a series of scenes. And leads you through the way showing how a change in view, composition, focus can lead to an improved picture. One example is a market in a courtyard. First a picture of a few stalls. Then a discussion of how clutter detracts. Then as the composition gets tighter and tighter it becomes essential elements. Then a picture with essential elements is improved by a dynamic element of a person walking through, with the moment captured at exactly the right time so that the movement is apparent in a still picture.

Columns outside Amos HallHe does this in various forms throughout. Yes, he hits the 'rules' like everyone else (there is a chapter on the Golden ratio that has many pictures with many drawn lines illustrating various applications of the Golden ratio), but what makes this book different are the discussions that lead you through how to view the scene and compose to make a distinctive photograph.

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through the O'Reilly Press Blogger Review program.

More information on this book can be found at the O'Reilly website.
I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program

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