Review of Mastering Black and White Digital Photography

I am still on a quest to improve my black-and-white photographs, and I am still looking at various books. I’ve already reviewed two books (review 1 and review 2) which were not quite what I was looking for, but Michael Freeman’s Mastering Black and White Digital Photography is quite good.

The book delivers exactly what the title promises — clear and practical advice about how to create good black and white photographs using digital methods. It is divided into 5 chapters.

Chapter one, The language of Mono, is supposed to be an introduction: why do we make black and white photographs, what makes a good black and white photograph, what to watch out for when making black and white images. In other words it’s more artistic than technical, but with 16 pages only it’s too short to cover the topics in any depth at all. In fact, the book would probably be better off without this chapter. Or how about showing 16 gorgeous black and white images without accompanying them by superficial comments?

Chapter two, Color into Grayscale, covers just about everything you need to know about converting a color image into black and white. On 50 pages it discusses the channel mixer in great detail and shows you how to “place” any color anywhere on the brightness scale. Several pages are dedicated to achieving realistic skin tones of dark, light and Asian skin.

Having attained a black and white image with optimal relationships between the gray tones in chapter two, chapter three, Digital Black and White, shows you how to optimize the appearance of such an image: maximizing the dynamic range, retaining shadow detail, preventing blown highlights, various methods of adjusting the tonal distribution, dodging and burning using layers and layer masks. There is also a discussion about noise, upscaling, scanning negatives and positives. All in all, quite interesting 40 pages.

On the next 28 pages chapter four, Image Editing and Effects, discusses further important topics: conveying a specific mood, image toning, duotones and tritones and some less important ones: bas relief, solarization, posterization, hand coloring.

The last chapter, The Print, is once again too short to have any depth or value. On 10 pages the author touches on the topics of desktop printers, creating contact sheets, printer calibration, ink and paper and mounting and framing an image. Not only is the information here utterly short, it is also dated. The printers discussed are the budget Canon Selphy and Pixma without a word on the higher quality ink jets like the Epson 3800. Instead of talking about third-party monochrome ink-sets, Michael Freeman should have better discussed the now-standard black-and-white modes of the printer drivers and their ability to produce stunning black and white images with the standard ink sets.

So what’s the final verdict? I’d say that the book is definitely worth reading and the information presented in chapters 2, 3 and 4 more than makes up for the weak chapters 1 and 5. Simply concentrate on pages 26 — 144.

And now a question. Are there any even better books out there? Something more artistic maybe? I feel like I now have a grasp of the technical side of black-and-white, but I need a ideas on further increasing the impact of my images.