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Monday, 17 December 2007

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A word of caution...

The write-up here sounds v. interesting and the book is on a subject I"m interested in learning more about and I find myself very much in the situation of being a knowledgeable b/w photographer who always hungers for more... so I clicked on the link to the Amazon.co.uk store. There was one review and it couldn't have been more the polar opposite of the review above. In fact the reviewer said: "Unless you've never used a computer, Photoshop, and a printer, you're not going to find useful information in this book." hmmmm

So I went to Amazon.com to see what the reviews there said. The first was by K. Tanaka who I believe is the same person known as Ken Tanaka who is a frequent contributor to this site. He said "Warning: This book is NOT for you if your primary interest is truly that of "mastering" digital black and white photography and printing. ... Any time a book title includes the words "mastering" or "ultimate" my smell-o-rama sensor automatically activates. Such sweeping and arrogant suggestions are always over-cooked. "Mastering Digital Black and White" is no exception." While he found some redeeming quality in the book, his impression was far different from the one above

The other reviews at Amazon.com were more positive but I knew nothing about the level of knowledge of these reviews comparerd to K Tanaka.

So although click throughs and purchases at Amazon help Mike and I'd be happy to help fund Mike's site which I read regularly, prudence suggests looking at the book in the flesh to determine how appropriate it is for the mind of the beholder.

Eric

Hm. And what about the "review" at amazon.uk? The guy who wrote it said basically just the opposite of Mr. Wittig - that is, that "unless you've never used a computer, Photoshop, and a printer, you're not going to find useful information in this book."

He mixed it with something else? With one of those books that Mr. Wittig mentions in the first paragraph?

"Hm. And what about the "review" at amazon.uk?"

What about it? It's another data point. I'm not going to say that any instruction book is perfect for everybody, but I think this one is much better than the other ones I've seen on the subject. Granted, it's not going to be of deathless interest to anyone who already knows everything it contains, but that can be said of any technical title.

Mike J.

I have read this book and it is ok.

I want to improve my B&W skills from digital. If you already know how to create good Black and White photographs as an art form, you probably only need this book for it's output section.

I have yet to find a good book about non-technical issues of B&W. I have AA's full set and I'm using that. I want to know more about what makes a B&W photograph SING! There just seems to be a dearth of information about anything that speaks to the ART of photography.

Any suggestions?

I purchased this book about six weeks ago. There are some helpful hints but overall I was already doing (or in some cases, rejecting) most of the things he talks about. The author doesn't do himself any favors with the gawd-awful pic on the cover of the book. Whatever was he thinking?

Mike,

I usually appreciate your advice on books and have had very good experience in following that advice. This book was an exception, not because it is a bad book, but because, after having worked through other books previously, I had expected more specific know-how about, well, black and white printing. It is a good book for beginners who are only beginning to fit out their digital darkroom and starting to come to grips with profiles and colour management and the like because the book IS lucidly written and easy to follow. But there is, to my mind, very little in there in the way of inside information about getting the most out of your files for a black and white print.

Karsten

Books on Photoshop seem to fall into one of three categories:

1. Those that contain original content. Margulis' Photoshop LAB Color and Professional Photoshop are about the only exemplars I've yet come across.

2. Those that trot out the same stuff in more or less readable/presentable fashion. Such books are fairly benign and you never know what tidbit or two you may come across in their 800+ pages.

3. Those that are superficially well presented but rife with technical errors and just perpetuate bad practices and/or misunderstandings.

Diallo's book falls into the last category. His grasp of Color Management is demonstrably poor, he doesn't seem to comprehend that Photoshop's K readout is dependent on Color Settings, the adoption of L* for monitor calibration is a step in the right direction but why not get the full benefit by using a working space based on L* as well? and etc. But the real failing in his book is not addressing the point where the rubber hits the road: the ink on the paper. Or are we simply to assume that by just buying the products he mentions all this will magically come together as brilliant B&W output? I'm afraid it's just not good enough, especially in a book that purports to help you "master" such a specialized area.

Everyone is going to come to this book with different experience levels (and I'll admit that my digital B&W experience is cursory ... which is why I bought a copy in the first place) but I think the mistake here is to think that you've even started to scratch the surface of the topic with superficial books like this. You would have thought that in the apparently huge market for Photoshop books there'd be scope for books by those that know what they're talking about and give real insights, even if you had to read it a number of times to absorb what amounts to be years of concentrated experience.

Anyway, I don't want to put people off getting this as it's obviously of benefit to some (many?). Just be prepared to discard some of what the book says as your skills fly past that of the author. This should take about a week or two :-).

I am, indeed, the same fellow that wrote that review of this book at amazon in May, 2007. I do own the book and worked through it, to the extent possible, before I wrote that review. I stand by the opinions I expressed at that time.

I would, however, like to emphasize a point I obliquely in that review. My primary criticisms are not aimed at Mr. Diallo whatsoever. He is clearly a very skilled photographer and photographic post-processor. His knowledge shines through despite the impediments presented by the book's truly awful design.

That design resonates from the book's publisher, a small shop that basically specializes in computer technology instruction materials and has no apparent background in much else. So the flow of the book is somewhat similar to that of a poor computer how-to manual, which is to say that there is little real flow at all. Each chapter and section is crammed with little whispering side-bars and subtexts that often completely obscure the main topic.

(Side story: I've been told by two book designers and one publisher that today's digital photography books are, in the main, designed in the basic mold of computer tech books. Theoretically this improves their appeal to the never-ending wave of computer technicians attracted to digital photography who have spent years reading "Mastering C++" -type of books.)

Personally I would love to see Diallo dump this publisher and designer, trim-out most of the already-stale basic gear content, trim-out or integrate 75% of the side-bar content, get a good designer more experienced with art-oriented content, and republish his book for the advanced intermediate photographer. There's gold in them thar hills but you have to be a very hungry prospector to find it.

As Mike noted, however, mine is but one opinion no more or less significant than Geoffrey's. Geoffrey clearly feels that he gleaned benefits from the book so you might, too.

I bought this book after doing black and white inkjet printing with MIS inks for over a year. I wish the book had been written when I had started, as I would have had a much clearer grasp of the main concepts and approaches.

I recommend this to any moderately adept digital photographer interested in figuring out digital black and white, as Diallo takes you from capture/scanning to editing to the final print and display. Most books relegate B&W to a footnote or brief introduction to channel mixer. Diallo gives some needed perspective.

"1. Those that contain original content. Margulis' Photoshop LAB Color and Professional Photoshop are about the only exemplars I've yet come across."
I'd add this book to the list for being the only modern digital B&W book I know of that really takes the implications of digital seriously. Most of what's out there is just scattered across web forums.

I would say that once you have the basics down there's plenty more to refine, and would love Diallo to do a more in-depth sequel. Until then I'll browse DigitalBlackandwhitetheprint on Yahoo groups.

Hello all. Longtime reader, first time poster (or maybe second time poster?).

Given the flaws that many of the commenters have pointed out in this book -- and these are flaws that I've seen in many digital photography books, so I don't doubt that they would be here as well -- is there a good alternative book on digital black and white? As a relatively experienced digital photographer and photoshop practitioner who is self taught, I would be really interested in ways to improve on my technique, and especially in ways to get more information out of my RAW files. Over time, I've discovered a lot of little things on my own, but it would be interesting and useful to get another perspective by somebody who has gone and figured things out more systematically than I.

Firstly, I guess I should have specified who might benefit from this book. If you're already using QuadTone RIP to make your own monochrome ICC profiles and have a selection of favorite papers for black & white printing on your Epson 7800, then you obviously don't need this book. You probably get most of your information from the Internet or fellow printers. On the other hand, if you're trying to figure out how to make a decent black & white print on your Epson 2400 or HP B9180, Diallo's book is a much better starting point than anything else out there on the consumer level. If you find it beneath you, then you likely don't need any book to help you.

Secondly, I think you're setting a pretty high bar for instructional books if you think this one is badly designed. Frequent side-bars can be distracting if you're using a textbook, but for the average digital darkroom "serious amateur" they do break up long stretches of intimidating text. All the other digital black & white books I've seen (with the exception of the fascinating self-published "Elements of Transition" by the late Barry Thornton) are basically books of pretty pictures with some superficial text. None reach the level of technical detail Diallo's book provides. Certainly a beautifully designed large format textbook on digital black & white for really serious printers would be nice; but after everyone in this tiny demographic buys their copy, the rest get remaindered, and the publisher goes bankrupt.

Just my 2¢; I'm always eager to learn from others' perspective.

Geoff.

I looked at the book but did not buy it because, as others have said, it was too basic and also seemed oriented toward matte paper prints made with monochrome inks, which I view as an aesthetic that has been generated by the initial limitation a few years ago of the use of (long-lasting or archival) pigment inks to matte papers: many photographers fell in love with the weight and textures of "fine-art" papers and have not moved on to the glossy-type papers that now offer much deeper blacks and better dynamic range with the new inks, like Epson's inks.

Of course, that is the problems with books in the that are based on digital technology: they become out of date faster than they are rewritten. My inclination would be to limit digital book purchases to specific manuals, like a good book on Photoshop — but I now use LightZone, on which I'm not aware of a good book.

For people interested in learning B&W printing who don't have extensive darkroom experience I would recommend reading Ansel Adams' two books, "The Negative" and "The Print", which will introduce them to the concepts of "visualization" and the "value" of a fine print as well as the following darkroom book, which I think is the best thing that has been written on how to manipulate prints through selective burning and dodging, to gain an understanding of what can really be done to create an expressive print — some thing that is entirely applicable to digital printing:

http://www.amazon.com/Larry-Bartletts-Photographic-Printing-Workshop/dp/0863433669/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1197937864&sr=8-6

And taking a workshop in B&W darkroom printing is also useful.

—Mitch/Bangkok

I own and have read "Mastering Digital Black and White" in entirety several times.

Make no mistake. This book, like virtually all photography books these days, is aimed at the beginner. It reviews the technology and tools required to make b/w prints better than most books, but that is about all. The quality of the print reproductions in this book is horrible, especially the image on the cover. What were they thinking? One look at the cover almost convinced me that the author knew nothing about printing.

While there is a chapter on photoshop that admittedly does go into blending modes in some detail, its treatment of other essential topics like sharpening is non-existent. Basically, he says someone else wrote a good book on the subject, so I will not cover it here. I found it a thinly-disguised technique to sell more books. The same with noise reduction. The answer: buy so-and-so plug-in.

There's nothing new here on black and white conversions or PS technique, except an advertisement for CS3's new tools aimed at the b/w photographer.

Overall, very little discussion of the craft of print-making. Very little artistic discussion at all, which it somewhat unfortunate if you think print-making is an art. Is you are looking for a review of what technology you will need to convert to digital, this may be just the book to get you started. But, unfortunately, no book you read is going to make you a master at making black and white prints by digital means, as the title implies.

Okay... Interesting if differing opinions.

How about George DeWolfe's Digital Photography Fine Print Workshop? Anybody has any opinions on that one? Seems to be interesting.

BTW, Mike, I included a link to amazon UK, but Typepad says the post was flagged as potential content spam. :-/

I'm no beginner, and I found a lot in Diallo's book that was helpful. This same discussion occurred on another blog with the same mixed reviews. I'm not sure what folks are expecting from photo books, but it's not realistic to expect them to be all-encompassing nor attuned to the needs of each and every photographer.

As for George DeWolfe's book, there could be a lot to learn as he is very talented and has some unique ideas. His method of working on an image within a single adjustment layer combined with the history brush is a bit limiting in my humble opinion, but it certainly works well for him. I know another photographer who does something similar and likes the simplicity. Different strokes.

If it matters any, George was on the development/planning team for Lightroom.

If I may chime is on the DeWolfe book... He has interesting/instructive things to say about the goals of creating a print which I found useful. A couple of beefs: he uses plug-ins to accomplish some of these goals. Also he dismisses layer masks in favor of the history brush, he presents a line of reasoning to justify this which is not steel trap convincing. Further some of the actual instruction is thin ie the steps aren't particularly clear. In summary, the first part of the book which is more about what we are trying to achieve in correcting or interpreting the image to produce a final result are useful, but the nut and bolts, how do we actually get there are weak.

I'm coming late to the conversation about this book. I bought it some time ago, having seen it praised - highly - on various photography websites.
While I've generally found Mike's book recommendations to be solid, I live overseas and order books online, sight unseen, and the experience of this book and of a huge Martin Evening - once over lightly - Photoshop book that I bought earlier after website praise has made me more cautious.
I usually judge a book more by its subtitle than its title, the subtitle usually being more about the nitty gritty of the subject at hand.
Diallo's book does not succeed as a "guide" to B+W printing at all, I'm afraid.
A more honest description might have been "a survey of B+W equipment and techniques."
It's a quick and friendly overview of this, and little more.
That's not bad if its what you're looking for (I wasn't). But if you're looking for a real exploration of technique, with detailed guidance about methods and sequencing (I was), you'll very likely be as disappointed as I was.

Howard French

I'm new to all this, and don't want to buy Photoshop CS3. It's just so large & complex, it's intimidating to me, and I think there's too many features in such an expensive product that I won't need or use. I think I would prefer to use Picture Window Pro. I only shoot film, and am new to digital. I plan on scanning my b&w (I never shoot color) medium format negs for printing.... and then.... what next?
If I'm using PWP will this book help me? If not, are there any books or workshops more focused on PWP? I"ve only found Norman Koren's website!
Instead of going with CS3, would Lightroom or another Adobe product be sufficient for what I want to do?
Thanks in advance for any suggestions you may offer or any help you may give.

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