Based upon the title: The Essential Guide to Black and White Photography by David J. Nightingale, I was expecting a book only about black and white photography. What I found as I read was a book that not only covered black and white photography well, but also concepts, skills and techniques that encompass all areas of photography. This is a book that will help all levels of photographers, from the beginner up through the even some professional photographers – I know I learned a few things reading it.
The basics of a good photograph are the same and it doesn’t matter if the final product is color or black and white. Good composition, understanding of lighting, and exposure all are critical components and while the author deals with each of these in the context of black and white photography, the same skills are applicable to the color photographer as well.
The author takes a practical approach to black and white photography. He briefly discusses black and white film and even digital black and white cameras – a camera that I didn’t even know existed. Nightingale recognizes that his audience is most likely using a Digital SLR and shooting color images and then converting to black and white.
In the process of discussing equipment, the author tackles several technical topics with clear writing. He makes a very strong case for shooting RAW images. What follows is one of the better technical explanations of RAW vs. JPEG, bit depth, and JPEG compression I have read. Also discussed is the value of high quality lenses – an investment that can stay with you through several camera bodies.
Understanding which images are powerful in black and white isn’t easy to learn. The author develops this topic by discussing the theory and also by showing many of his own images and the reasons why some became black and white and why others were kept color.
The discussion of shooting black and white is a study of tonal range, contrasts and exposure, all material that if presented poorly is dry, but these topics are well handled by Nightingale. He tackles dynamic range and explains how it can make the difference between a dull image and one that captures the viewers attention.
Nightingale covers camera metering systems in a very clear way and includes center-weighted, matrix or evaluative and spot metering options with examples. The topic of exposure compensation is in easy to understand language.
The rest of the book handles converting color images to black and white. The author addresses Adobe Lightroom, but the majority of the techniques discussed use Adobe Photoshop.
One of the more common techniques used to convert an image from color to black and white is quickly discussed – grabbing the saturation slider and dragging it all the way to the left. He spends the time to explain why this is a poor method and provides examples of images converted using this method.
Black and White Photography Editing in Lightroom and Photoshop
The remainder of the book is a detailed walk-through of the other methods to convert a color image to black and white and the advantages and disadvantages of each. He discusses how to convert using Lightroom, my primary photo editing software. The Lightroom discussion is only a few pages before he starts to show the multiple options in Photoshop.
I will admit that I am a novice Photoshop user. I have a few skills I know in Photoshop and am very comfortable with, but the heavy lifting in our family has been left to my wife who is much better with that software.
This book encouraged me to dive deeper into Photoshop and while reading it I took several of my own color photographs and worked with them using his techniques. What I found was that he does assume a base level of Photoshop skill, and it exposed my weaknesses. This forced me to grab a good Photoshop book and go back and learn a few skills I was missing, primarily masking part of an image. I know, a basic skill in this software, but one I had just not taken the time to learn.
Black and White Portraits
There is an excellent chapter devoted black and white portraiture. The author again discusses what images make good black and white candidates and which images are better left in color. When editing a photo shoot this is always a dilemma and he provides good guidelines for both the amateur and even the professional.
Included with the book was a second book titled “10 Recipes for Amazing Black and White Photography.” This was a chance to see the author take 10 color images and to walk you through his thinking and techniques to produce black and white photographs. It helped me to see how he used each of the techniques discussed in the book in practical ways. This extra is currently included with the purchase of the book, but may not be in the future.
My conclusions about this book are as follows, it is a book that covers more than just black and white photography, as it deals with basic composure, exposure and lighting. This is a book that would benefit any photographer who wants to improve their skills in editing color images into black and white.
The Essential Guide to Black and White Photography by David J. Nightingale is an eBook published by dPS (Digital Photography School). The book is a .pdf download allowing you take it with you on your tablet, phone or computer. The special introductory price of US$19.99 includes the “10 Recipes for Amazing Black and White Photography”
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