The previous post seems to have done something that I seldom do any more these days, which is to piss a few people off. Sorry. As my comeuppance, I've been inundated with people sending me their digital B&W work, which is no less than I deserve (and pretty pleasant, now that I stop to catch my breath).
For the record, some people are doing B&W very nicely these days—even with DSLRs. If they know what they're doing, that is, which not everybody does. Still and all, those highlights are often a problem (I'm eager to try to get my hands on a Fuji S5 just to try out its B&W capabilities). Also, plenty of people are out there making a horrifying hash of their attempts at monochrome. Just please don't assume I was talking about you personally.
As an antidote to that earlier post, I'd like to recommend two recent books.
Disclosure: Any time you access Amazon from this site, we get a few pennies from every dollar you spend when you're there (no matter what, or how much, you buy). It doesn't raise the price to you. But that's not the reason I'll ever plug a book—promise.
The first of these books earns the strongest of recommendations. Long ago, on the old version of this site, I gave a "strong buy" recommendation to the late Bruce Fraser's Camera RAW. I said it was one of those rare technical books that stands head and shoulders above the crowd, that can change the way you work, even the way you think.
Such books are few and far between for me, but another that's just as much of a standout is Amadou Diallo's superb Mastering Digital Black and White: A Photographer's Guide to High Quality Black-and-White Imaging and Printing. I haven't learned this much from one book since Fraser's. It's actually a great book about digital photography and printing, not just of B&W. But there's more here to learn about B&W than I thought there was to know. Well written, well illustrated, well organized, well thought-out, and obviously the work of a guy who really knows his stuff—I might even venture to say, the work of a guy who loves his subject. Diallo seems to live and breath digital B&W, and much thought and research has gone into this work. This one should be short-listed for the technical library of anyone who's interested in the topic.
The other book, I would argue, is more in the nature of a mandatory purchase—for anyone. It's basically the first universally important book of photography's digital age. Nominally it is a contemporary account of original history, a documentary of digital printing's "incunable" period and one of its biggest early influences, Graham Nash. And it's important enough just for that. But it's also a wonderful collection of pictures, bringing together a large, beautiful, and indeed inspiring portfolio from the seminal work of this studio. It looks modest by its cover, and its title doesn't hint at its true importance—but don't let that fool you.
I'm speaking of course of Nash Editions: Photography and the Art of Digital Printing, edited by Garrett White, introduction by Graham Nash, with essays by Richard Benson, R. Mac Holbert, and Henry Wilhelm. This is a book that is just sure to bring you a lot of pleasure, and it absolutely belongs on the shelf of anyone who cares about digital imaging—or photography in the 21st century. A rare prize, this. (You can read more, including Nash's introduction to the book online, at Tom's Hardware.)
Neither of these books will waste your time or money. But if you can get only one, get Nash Editions. And prepare to spend some "quality time" with it. It will not only educate but inspire you, almost regardless of your taste in pictures. You have my word.
Mike (Thanks to Arnaud)
Featured Comment by yunfat: "Got to see Mr. Nash at a Epson/Adobe workshop a few years ago and all I can say is wow, the guy really knows everything there is to know about state of the art printing, no BS. Not only that, but his experience seemed far more practical than almost any other printer out there, largely because he has been working with large format devices since their inception and can get anecdotal about things like $120,000 inkjet heads and modifying the hardware of $250,000 printers (voiding the warranty) in order to get the best prints from the printer back when there were only a handful of said printers in existence. I think that first printer he modified is on display at the Smithsonian now. Like whoa."
UPDATE: The Diallo title has elicited some dismissive remarks in the comments, so I thought I'd expand on my review of it a little. My feeling is that every technical book will have a lot of basic stuff that is already known by advanced readers. I've never read one that doesn't (well, since my first one, which was The Craft of Photography by David Vestal when I was 23, and I think I even knew some of the stuff in that one before I read it too). Any expert will find intermediate how-to books "a review," and 90% useless because they already know it all. So what? That's true of any how-to. The advantage of this book is that the process is presented in such a sensible, flowing way, that allows even a fairly advanced reader to proceed without undue annoyance, and the fact that the author presents the entire process as being subservient to the aims of a practicing photographer, rather than as technique for its own sake. Amadou also strikes a good balance between presenting his own preferred practices and acknowledging that some people may want to do things differently, which is not easy even for certain seasoned technical writers. I can hardly focus on most digital photography books, they're so breathless and fractured, but I found this one easy to read and easy to follow and I believe it will give most enthusiasts a very good foundation for doing the work they want to do in digital B&W. It's the best digital B&W book I've encountered yet. Certainly the easiest to recommend. Sorry if you don't agree, but if you don't, perhaps you're past the stage at which you need to read instructional texts. —Mike