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B&W printing - DeWolfeBook Review
Digital Masters: B&W printing
by George DeWolfe

Keith Cooper reviews a 'guide to producing exhibition quality black and white prints'

There are relatively few specialist books addressing advanced digital Black and White photography. It's more usually covered as just one aspect of learning digital, in the "why not try B/W for a change?" style.

I've been looking for books that will specifically address issues relating to black and white, so was pleased to see a title aimed squarely at producing B/W prints.

So, how does it do, and is it something you can learn from?

Digital Black and White

Looking back on my own photography, I can definitely say that moving to digital has worked wonders for both technical and artistic aspects of my photography.

There are plenty of related articles and reviews on this site, with significant B&W content, but I'm always looking to learn more.

digital black and white logoKeith runs a LinkedIn group (~7900 members) for people interested in any aspects of modern Black and White photography: Digital Black and White

What did I find in George DeWolfe's book?

Well, first up, relatively little about the mechanics of making high quality prints - a few pages about printer choices, ink and even paper.

What you do get is a thoughtful approach to creating the image files that will make your prints.

Starting with aspects of perception, the author moves through elements of image editing and processing to get to a point where you can print (and evaluate) your work.

The quality of illustrations and reproduction makes the book one that you can learn much from, even just looking through the pictures. It has a good selection of photographs from the author and others to illustrate various concepts and their execution.

If you use Adobe Lightroom, then the section on workflow will be particularly relevant, and even if like myself, you don't use it, then there are many important aspects of workflow design that transcend software choices.

I found it a little heavy handed in promoting particular software solutions in places (including one the author himself sells). For example, I'm nowhere near as enamoured of the expensive ImagePrint RIP he chooses for printing, but as someone who gets to review some of the latest printers, I realise how quickly such things can change and date.

However, with any book like this you need to be able to rise above the precise hammer that author chooses and think more about why a hammer is suggested.

I noted this in the 'How to design a workflow' sidebox (p.67) and would agree...

  • "Continue to change methods as technology changes without redesigning the basic concept of which features need to be addressed when: simply adjust the way you manipulate them with any new tools made available to you."

I currently like to use Nik Silver Efex Pro when producing my B&W prints - it's not changed what I'm trying to do, just made some aspects easier and (to me) more intuitive (it includes some aspects of localised contrast enhancement not dissimilar to the Perceptool software sold by the author).

You are reading a book by an excellent photographer about things that are important to him - this doesn't always make it an easy read. For myself, I could do without comments such as where the author describes an image as:

  • "...a masterpiece beyond many photographers comprehension" (p.73).

If you're looking for a 'cookbook' approach, then I suspect that many would be disappointed - this is a book where you have to think. There are, for example, a whole series of perceptual exercises that you should try, if only to help realise some of the limitations and capabilities of our own perception of monochrome images.

Fortunately this is not a vastly expensive book, so despite some of my personal gripes, I'm happy to recommend it, since it made me think - even if I didn't quite agree with it all.

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Book details

Review History - first published July 2011

Some B&W info on this site

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