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Book Review; Black & White Digital Processing

Creative Black & White; Digital Photography Tips & Techniques – Harold Davis  –  Recommended

Black & White Photography; The Timeless Art of Monochrome – Michael Freeman  –  Suggested

It has been a while since I reviewed a book here.  Indeed, these days, to think the ever younger population would even be interested in a hard-copy book might be simply quixotic.

Followers here know that I have recently ventured back into the genre of B&W imagery.  Rather than review one book here, I am going to tackle two books:  “Black & White Photography; The Timeless Art of Monochrome,” by Michael Freeman; and “Creative Black & White; Digital Photography Tips & Techniques,” by Harold Davis.  I have a rationale for reviewing these together.  For one thing, I think reviewing them separately will cover already “ploughed” ground, and would make for a couple of repetitive blog posts.

There is no such thing as a “complete” textbook – on any subject

But perhaps more importantly, if fits with a philosophy of learning that I will espouse.  I should first acknowledge (as I may have alluded to at the beginning of this post) that we all learn differently.  I have many friends who shoot, and who have never (or at least rarely) picked up a book on any photographic topic.  I suppose I am not preaching to them, but in some cases, I still believe they might be pleasantly surprised at what the “deeper dive” might reveal in terms of pleasure and interest in topics photographic.  But for those of us who are students and learn by books and written materials – either because they learn best that way, or because they have too, I hope my thinking resonates.

I am not a fan of the “star” rating system Amazon uses

There is no such thing as a complete textbook in any subject.  Indeed, when I see “The Complete….” anything, in a book, its credibility immediately erodes a bit (though it is just a title, and I do try to keep an open mind about what might be between the covers).  As a teacher and writer (both on a relatively small scale, but nonetheless contributing to some hands-on experience and knowledge), I know that it is not possible to find a “textbook” that is complete in its coverage.  Every subject needs to be supplemented and augmented by other materials; often written.  As a college student, my more rigorous instructors routinely assigned a “reading list” of books which were not the institution-chosen and assigned textbooks.  This is because they knew none of them alone were going to really impart the rounded subject knowledge necessary to become proficient.

I reviewed these books on Amazon and made the same observation.  I gave them both 5 stars because I thought they both deserved it.  As an aside, I am not a fan of the “star” rating system Amazon uses.  As a writer of two eBooks, myself, I have seen how that rating system can severely skew the perception of the book and I suspect skew sales in the same way.  That is why my rating system is different, and I think more useful to the purchase decision.  In so doing, I am not suggesting that either book is complete, perfect, or even without some shortcomings.  They both have them.  But what I want to know as a reader is are they worth the purchase?  Will they be a worthy addition to my resource library, and is there enough worthy material to justify the purchase of the book.  In both cases, I believe the answer is yes.

  My rating system is different, and I think more useful to the purchase decision

Freeman and Davis are both accomplished professional photographers and writers.  The former does not automatically beget the latter J.  There is some pretty pedestrian stuff out there.  Too many books today are just a re-hash of basic photography and Photoshop principles, in the guise of something specialized.  They may have their place, but I tire of picking up a book that purports to “take my – you fill in the blank – to the next level,” and then spends 75% of the book telling me how “f-stops” work, what the depth of field and focal length relationship is and how focal length relates to sensor size.  I also tire of the books spend an inordinate portion of their pages on basic techniques in Photoshop and other software.

Don’t get me wrong.  We need books on those topics.  I keep Martin Evening’s “text” on Photoshop CC right next to my computer and consult it often (“Adobe Photoshop CC for Photographers;”).  But it does not purport to be a specialized book.

So it is a pleasant plus to note that both of these authors tell you these are not “Photoshop How-To” books.  And other than showing us steps as they specifically relate to the topic, they require at least an intermediate knowledge of the underlying software (mostly Photoshop and Lightroom).  I found myself lacking some of that knowledge at times and having to consult my Photoshop generalist book(s).  That’s ok.  My knowledge base is from numerous accumulated sources.

I bought and will keep both of these books in my library

What I am looking for in books like these are whether they impart what they purport to – in this case, teach me something about Black and White imagery, in the context of digital photography.  And, when they do, do they impart enough (quantity and quality) to justify their purchase.  I think both of these books clearly do.

Black and White Photography; Michael Freeman – Suggested

Interestingly, both of these authors chose to divide their books into 3 major sections, dealing with some of the background of B&W photography; Digital theory and Techniques; and then a “Creative” section.  In Freeman’s case, they are chapters 1 -3.

The first “Chapter,” entitled “The Black and White Tradition,” covers some history of black and white photography.  But it does so in a manner that is brief enough not to lose the reader, who – after all – probably bought the book to learn about digital black and white techniques.  But there is enough information there to bring context.  I think Freeman does this really well.  He also talks about the “theory” of black and white, and how concepts like tonality, shape, texture, and lighting greatly affect the black and white image.

Chapter 2, entitled “Digital Monochrome,” delves more deeply into the digital side of things.  As a base for understanding, Freeman explains how the digital capture sensor is built and notes the difference between the “linear” response curve of digital capture and the traditional response “curve” of film.  While this may seem overly technical for the stated purpose of the book, I think it is important to understand why we make the digital “moves” we do when operating the software.  This is well done and illustrated, with again, just enough information without overwhelming the reader.

Freeman spends a little time mentioning some of the software applications available other than Photoshop, including the NIK Silver Efex and the ON1 programs, among others.  This is a nice, if small, departure from what is the “norm” in books with an overwhelming emphasis on Photoshop.  I have Photoshop and am not sure I could “live” without it.  But I sure know a lot of photographers who do not have it and get along perfectly well.  So it is nice for a change to at least have some “honorable mention” of alternatives out there.  I think that Adobe Lightroom and the up and coming ON1 RAW suite are going to give most photographers every tool they really need.  And today, if I were going to have to pick, I would lean toward ON1.

The next few sections dealing with black and white processing are really the meat of the text.  They describe several methods for conversion of digital images to B&W, and a number of useful adjustment techniques using the powerful tools available in software.

It is here where the book should shine.  And content-wise, is does not disappoint.  However, the presentation, unfortunately, leaves a little tarnish on the shine.  There are numerous instances where the author makes reference to an illustration, or a Photoshop tool that he relies on, as if it were presented as an illustration in the book.  But the illustration is nowhere to be found.  At times it seems like it should be an illustration and it is just plain missing, leaving the reader at first searching for it and then scratching her head, wondering what the ….? For example, he will often say something like, “as the histogram in this image illustrates …..” and then rather than having a histogram as an illustration for the image, the book will show the image and occasionally some sliders for the suggested adjustment.

A number of times, he walks us through the process he uses to enhance an original image, and notes that the final image is “better” because …. And then the original image is not shown to us in the book.  It just seems logical that you would do that in order for the reader to see the beginning and the result of the steps he has taken us through.  Sometimes the “stages” are illustrated but not the original image.  This is not consistent throughout the book.  Perhaps some more rigorous editing would be in order here.

But look, both of these books warn the reader that they are not Photoshop tutorial books, and that the reader should have at least an intermediate grasp of Photoshop and digital post-processing.  So it is easy enough to “infer” in the above instances, and I certainly would not let it deter me from purchasing, reading and using the book as a reference.  On balance I felt there was a lot of knowledge imparted, and a fair amount of inspiration to forge out on my own.

Creative Black & White; Harold Davis –Recommended

I think this is a book that is well worth the price for any photographer who (like I do) likes to learn by reading and likes to “get under the hood” a little bit, and wants to work with Black and White digital processing of their images.  Interestingly, this is a 2010 book (while Freeman’s is a 2017 publication).  One would think it is becoming dated, but it is not, it is still very much applicable and useful.

Much like the Freeman book, this book is divided into 3 major sections.  Freeman goes into some detail about B&W photography history comparing film to digital capture.  Davis, instead, uses his first section more as a “philosophy of B&W shooting” piece.

I thought the first section in Davis’ book could be thinned by about 2/3.  It just seems to repeat itself, and repeat itself.  He also has a tendency toward “flowery” language.  At times, I found myself noticing that, instead of the information it was trying to impart.  To me, that detracts from the mission.  But we all speak and write our own way – and to each his own.  None of the criticism here should, in my opinion, deter a purchaser.  This is a very good addition to my own library, and I learned (and will no doubt continue to learn) a lot from it.

Once I got into the second section – which is really the “meat” of the book in my opinion, I forgot about any negative tendencies and it very much held my attention.  Davis does a great job – almost in a “cookbook” formula, of illustrating a number of ways to handle B&W conversion, along with the whys and hows.  He gives – in most instances – a step by step explanation of how he does the processing (mostly in Photoshop) with enough information to see and accomplish the result, without getting into an “in-the-weeds” tutorial on Photoshop.  I like that.  The second 2/3 of this book did everything it promised and was everything I expected.  I will have this book on my bookshelf next to my workstation and will no doubt consult it often.  I am looking forward to experimenting with the techniques I learned in the book and truly believe it is worth a photographer having in his or her library.


I bought and will keep both of these books in my library.  You may have noticed that I rated the Davis book higher.  It is a book that has a lot of “hands-on,” practical information and applicability to what the prospective reader is likely looking for:  how to process my images to B&W in the best technical way.  In that sense, I think a photographer who is looking at learning about B&W conversion of digital images (and maybe even an experienced person) will find this an immediately useful “cookbook” for this purpose.  That is why I recommend it.

The Freeman book, much like all of his books, is more theoretical, and in my view looks more to inspiration and aesthetics.  That is why I “suggest,” rather than recommend it.  It will not be everyone’s cup of tea.  In one sense, it may get a little too far “under the hood.”  That is something I like because I am wired that way.  But many people would rather let someone else do the mechanics and concentrate on the driving.  I think Davis’ book fits the latter bill better.  I personally look for inspiration and some of that detail, and I enjoyed Freeman’s book every bit as much as the Davis book.  I will keep them both and both rated 5 stars on the Amazon review process.  To use a currently popular “texting” phrase, YMMV.

As always, thanks for reading and I would welcome comments.


The Colorful Fall Foliage of Vermont

Vermont eBook

Vermont eBook

In 1965, Leslie Gore crooned “Its my Party and I’ll Cry if I Want To.”  Well.  Its my Blog and I’ll brag if I want to :-).  Or Plug.  In 2012, I published my first e-Book:  Photographing Vermont’s Fall Foliage.

This book is a one-of-a-kind resource for photographers seeking guidance on how to find and get to some of the best photography opportunities in the world.

Craftsbury Common, Craftsbury, Vermont Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

Craftsbury Common, Craftsbury, Vermont
Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

Photographers, it is time (if not already too late) to plan your fall foliage trip and there is no better destination than Vermont, nor better shooting guide than Photographing Vermont’s Fall Foliage.  We are just a month away from September 15 and the beginning of the 2016 season!

Burton Hill Road Barton, Vermont Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

Burton Hill Road
Barton, Vermont
Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

I have traveled to Vermont during its foliage season (generally between September 15 and October 15) for many years.  I lived there for about 4 years back in the 1970s.  Returning in the 2000’s to photograph there, I was disappointed and surprised to find very little real useful information about shooting locations and conditions.  There are a number of very good books by some top-drawer professional photographers, but they seemed to either be designed primarily to showcase the writer’s own work, or to concentrate too narrowly on a geographic region, or type of image.

Lake Willoughby in Vermont's "Northeast Kingdom" Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Lake Willoughby in Vermont’s “Northeast Kingdom”
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

In the early years of my trips, I began to keep notes of not only the shooting conditions, but specific directions for locating the shooting vantage point, parking, and time of day considerations.  Over time this morphed from my personal notes, to a PDF document offered on my first website, to its culmination in the e-Book in 2012.  Due for a refresh in 2017, my friend, talented photographer, and sometime Vermont resident, Carol Smith, will be joining me as co-author.  We will be adding new destinations to the book (many of which she has found and shown me, including the Burton Hill Road farm shot above).

Grandview Farm Stowe, Vermont Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

Grandview Farm
Stowe, Vermont
Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

This Blog is designed to promote my book and to give a few examples of the near-unlimited photographic opportunities Vermont offers.

Waits River, Vermont Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Waits River, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

There are a large number of barn scenes, and “New England” churches and villages to be photographed in Vermont.

Bragg Hill Road, Waitsfield, Vermont

Bragg Hill Road, Waitsfield, Vermont

Hillside Acres Farm, West Barnet, VT Copyright 2006 Andy Richards

Hillside Acres Farm, West Barnet, VT
Copyright 2006 Andy Richards

Stowe, Vermont Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Stowe, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

The Village of East Orange, Vermont

The Village of East Orange, Vermont Copyright Andy Richards 2006

Windham County Courthouse, Newfane, Vermont

Windham County Courthouse, Newfane, Vermont

Vermont also has the distinction of being one of the states with the most wooden covered bridges (I believe it ranks third) in the U.S.  Many of these bridges are very photogenic.

Covered Bridge Cabot Plains Road, Cabot, VT Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Covered Bridge
Cabot Plains Road, Cabot, VT
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Dummerston Covered Bridge

Dummerston Covered Bridge Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Longley Covered Bridge Montgomery, VT Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Longley Covered Bridge
Montgomery, VT
Copyright Andy Richards 2005


Bridge in a Bridge Copyright Andy Richards 2010

For Waterfallers, there are hundreds of great falls; many of them virtually unknown.  The mountain brooks and streams provide many exploring and shooting opportunities.

The Mad River Warren, Vermont Copyright Andy Richards 2016

The Mad River
Warren, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Bartlett Falls, Bristol, Vermont: Getting a "just right" shutter speed in difficult, but dramatic lighting conditions makes this image unique

Bartlett Falls, Bristol, Vermont: Getting a “just right” shutter speed in difficult, but dramatic lighting conditions makes this image unique

This shot involved a pre-sunrise, 20 minute hike down a very steep mountain trail on a Sunday morning. I'd rather be here than in church any day! Copyright Andy Richards 2008

This shot involved a pre-sunrise, 20 minute hike down a very steep mountain trail on a Sunday morning. I’d rather be here than in church any day! Copyright Andy Richards 2008

There are also numerous small lakes and ponds creating reflection, cloud and atmospheric opportunities.

Noyes Pond Seyon Ranch State Park Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Noyes Pond
Seyon Ranch State Park
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Cool (32 degree) temperatures following a very wet period created wonderful steam and colorful morning cloud conditions on this pond near Barton, Vermont Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Cool (32 degree) temperatures following a very wet period created wonderful steam and colorful morning cloud conditions on this pond near Barton, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Vermont also has a large number of state parks and recreational facilities.

Noyes Pond Seyon Ranch State Park Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Noyes Pond
Seyon Ranch State Park
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Kettle Pond from Owl's Head Overlook

Kettle Pond from Owl’s Head Overlook; Copyright Andy Richards 2006

I hope you will visit the eBook page and go to your favorite online retailer (the book is available on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes and Noble and Kobo, among others), and download this guideComments and reviews are very much welcome.  Hope to see you out there somewhere this fall!

Foliage; Michigan vs. New England

Photographing the U.P. eBook Copyright 2016 Andy Richards and Kerry Leibowitz

Photographing the U.P.
Copyright 2016 Andy Richards and Kerry Leibowitz

No, this is not a poll :-). But it is about my Fall Foliage E-books.

I want to use the next couple blogs as a blatant pitch for my books.  They are easy to download, and I truly believe, one-of a kind reference guides to two magical fall destinations for photographersJust click the cover shot above, or any of the hot-links in the body of this blog to go to the book page for direct links to the Amazon, iTunes, and Barnes & Noble versions of the e-Book.

Presque Isle River, Porcupine Mountain State Park; Michigan U.P. Copyright 1997 Andy Richards

Presque Isle River, Porcupine Mountain State Park; Michigan U.P.
Copyright 1997 Andy Richards

This is a blatant pitch for my 2 e-Books

I have been regaling (or perhaps boring 🙂 ) you with shots from years past.  We are quickly closing in on the present, but at this point, I feel the urge to divert from that effort and talk about my favorite time of the year.  Fall is right around the corner.  And I want to use the next couple blogs to highlight what my 2 e-Books do to help photographers who want to visit arguably the 2 finest foliage destinations; Vermont and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Miner's Castle; Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Michigan U.P. Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Miner’s Castle; Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Michigan U.P.
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Foliage is still a month and a half away.  But for shooters, that is right around the corner.  Many photographers who will be making a Fall Foliage Shooting Excursion probably already have plans made.  But some are just starting to firm them up.  I have been making trips for fall foliage photography for many years now, and most of my trips have been to the 2 above destinations.  My familiarity with them has made it possible to create two very useful resources for photographers wishing to visit these two wonderful destinations.  The books, “Photographing Vermont’s Fall Foliage“; and “Photographing Michigan’s U.P.“, are designed for photographers (though anyone would benefit from them if they just want to travel and view the foliage).  The books have directions to locations; tips for shooting vantage points; time of day and light conditions; and other relevant commentary about places, where warranted.  They are also abundantly illustrated with examples of the images photographers can expect to make.

Fayette State Park

Fayette State Park
Michigan U.P.
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

This week, I’ll showcase some of my best and favorite images of the U.P.  If you like what you see, please go to your favorite eBook provider (the books are on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo, among others) and take a look at the book.  If you do purchase and download it, please review it.  We (me and my co-author, Kerry Leibowitz) are always open to comments and hoping to be able to make the next addition better.


Sandstone Reef; Lake Superior Michigan U.P. Copyright Andy Richards 2012

The U.P. is a fairly small geographic space that is literally packed with photographic opportunities.  From “pure nature,” to more “travel” oriented subjects, there is something for everybody with a camera in hand, or just wanting to see the wonders of nature.

Pete's Lake Moon Set Hiawatha NF, Michigan U.P. Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Pete’s Lake Moon Set
Hiawatha NF, Michigan U.P.
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

The Hiawatha National Forest covers much of the middle of the U.P. and there are hundreds of small lakes which produce wonderful flat-water reflection opportunities and often great fog and cloud formations to boot.

Red Jack Lake; Hiawatha NF Michigan U.P. Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Red Jack Lake; Hiawatha NF
Michigan U.P.
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Irwin Lake; Hiawatha NF Michigan U.P. Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Irwin Lake; Hiawatha NF
Michigan U.P.
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Sunrise; Mocassin Lake Hiawatha NF Michigan U.P. Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Sunrise; Mocassin Lake
Hiawatha NF
Michigan U.P.
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

In addition to the detailed directions we give to many of the photographic opportunities in the U.P., you can just wander on your own, follow the next road, and see where it leads.

National Forest Road; Hiawatha NF Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

National Forest Road; Hiawatha NF
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

For Waterfallers, the U.P. is a treasure trove.  As the peninsula is surrounded on 3 sides (duh — the definition of a peninsula 🙂 ), there are many rivers and streams that start inland and empty into Lakes Superior and Michigan.

Eliot Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Michigan U.P. Copyright 2009 Andy Richards

Eliot Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Michigan U.P.
Copyright 2009 Andy Richards

Munising Falls Michigan U.P. Copyright Andy Richards 1997

Munising Falls
Michigan U.P.
Copyright Andy Richards 1997

Tahquamenon Falls Michigan U.P. Copyright Andy Richards 2004

Tahquamenon Falls
Michigan U.P.
Copyright Andy Richards 2004

Whitefish Falls Michigan U.P. Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Whitefish Falls
Michigan U.P.
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

The U.P. has for many years been a favorite destination for a number of well-known photo workshop leaders, including John and Barbara Gerlach, John Shaw and Moose Peterson, among others.  It is not unusual to run into some of these groups shooting almost anywhere you go in the U.P.

Photogaphers At Red Jack Lake Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Photogaphers At Red Jack Lake
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Transient Light Photography Workshop October, 2012 Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Transient Light Photography Workshop
October, 2012
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

I hope this very small sampling will intrigue readers enough to wander over to the eBook page here and/or go to your favorite online retailer and download Photographing Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  There is virtually unlimited photographic opportunity there.  I have spent a lot of time in the U.P. (and in Vermont) and have put my familiarity with the area and conditions in writing with hopes that other photographers will find it the useful photographic guide that nobody else seems to have created.  There are certainly other very photogenic places in the U.S. and Canada to find great fall foliage.  I have photographed many of them.  And with that knowledge, I can still state with conviction that the Michigan U.P. is one of the two best!  Next week, the other “best” location; Vermont.  Hope to see you out there somewhere this fall!

The Michigan UP eBook is Finally Here!

Bookbaby_Cover_BlogFor the regular visitors here you have undoubtedly seen the sidebar banner: “Andy’s E-BOOK — Photography Travel Guides” with links to the Vermont eBook and reference to the in-progress, Michigan U.P. eBook. Anyone who has clicked the latter link has seen the disappointing excuse that it is coming soon (which has been there since sometime in 2012 not very “soon” 🙂 ). Those who go way back may recall that I originally offered both these books as PDF files back prior to the publication of the Vermont e-book in 2010. Circumstances after that made it impractical to offer the PDF files anymore.

The reality is that writing an eBook is a lot of work

But in spite of my best intentions, the Michigan UP project languished. Conversion to an ebook meant essentially re-writing the existing material, and substantially expanding it. And for anyone who hasn’t tried this, the reality is that writing a book is a lot of work (even when it is a “labor of love”). This one was no exception and many hours were spent getting it ready to submit for eBook publication. I needed help and some inspiration, and my co-author, Kerry Leibowitz came along at the right time. He had a lot of experience in the U.P., and we talked back and forth about our trips and shooting successes up there over the years. Over the years, Kerry made a number of helpful editorial comments and observations and I ultimately asked him if he would consider co-writing the book with me.

As is not unusual in our electronic age, Kerry and I have been acquaintances, crossing paths on a couple different photography “boards,” for a few years now, and yet, have never had the opportunity of a face to face meeting (though I believe it is just a matter of time before that happens). Some of you are sure to know him, and his work, but if you don’t, I encourage you to take a few minutes to follow the link here and go look at his imagery, and his blog. You will see that he is a very talented and knowledgeable photographer, and you will see just how fortunate that I am that Kerry agreed to co-write this book with me. With as much time on the ground in the UP as I have, Kerry’s addition to the book will be immediately obvious to the reader. And, we believe that our different approaches and the varied UP locations we have visited, conspire to create a more comprehensive and informational book.

The book is a reference guide for photographers to find photo-worthy places in the UP

Anyone who has photographed up there understands that it would not be possible to chronicle all the different places in the UP that are “photo-worthy” and this book does not claim to do that. Rather, it is an informational work (primarily) for photographers who want to make a trip to the UP and need to do some research on the possibilities, and more importantly, reasonably detailed directions for how to get there, and in many instances, when to get there.

We have included driving directions, approximate mileage in many instances, general-area GPS-coordinates (where they make sense), and our individual observations about the locations.

Available on Kindle from Amazon now, and other major e-platforms (iBook, Nook, Kobo and others) at major outlets like Amazon, the iBookstore and Barnes & Noble in the next few days; Kerry and I are very excited to offer the First Edition of “Photographing Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.” You can order this book by going to my link in the upper left corner of this blog page (really – there is a book and the link works now 🙂 ). While you are there, take a look at the Vermont eBook, too. I plan a major update and 2nd Edition in the coming months.

Thanks for reading and for your support!

Book Revew: “The Digital Print,” by Jeff Schewe



This book is the companion to Jeff’s “The Digital Negative” (see my review). I view this 2- volume series as the modern day (“digital”) equivalent of the Ansel Adams 3-volume series, “The Camera,” “The Negative,” and “The Print.” Since these reviews come quite far apart, I recommend a quick read of my review of “The Digital Negative,” which was done way back in 2012.  There are a couple reasons for the long gap.  First, when I read the first book, the second was not out.  Second, though I finished it many month ago, I am just now getting my thoughts together.  🙂

This 2-volume series is a distillation of the essentials for capturing, processing and printing for the digital photographer

While I am not by any means comparing Mr. Schewe, the photographer, with Ansel Adams, the photographer, I can say with some confidence that he, along with the late, great, Bruce Fraser, were two of the foremost pioneers of digital processing of images. I have read a number of other, fairly technical books written by them, this 2-volume series is a distillation of the essentials for a digital photographer, of capturing the best quality image, and printing it.  Like anything in life, some of us will relate to the writing style of certain authors.  This book is far from a “for dummies” style book.  Yet it is not a mind-boggling technical tome, either.  I appreciate Jeff’s conversational style of writing, with some dry humor interjected here and there.  Others like the more entertaining style of a — say Scott Kelby.  To each his own.  If you think you will never have an image printed on paper (or other substrate), read the first book and skip the second.  Most of will want to read them both.

I have previously noted that I am a “get under the hood,” type. For those who just want to get on to printing, today’s printers, with their built-in drivers, will probably produce a satisfying result for you, “out of the box.”  Or perhaps even easier, upload your images to one of the many, very good, commercial printers out there. But if you like to see how to optimize the pixels you have captured on your “mega-pixel” camera, then these two books are a “must read,” in my view – and will probably mean you don’t have to read any other books on post-processing and printing.

I am a “get under the hood,” type

Before executing the “send to print” command, there are a number of (some of them very technical) steps that must occur to get the image ready for printing.  If you are interested in getting the most out of your digital image, this book gives you all the information you need, in a manner that — to my mind — has just the right mix of technical and down to earth.  The companion (first in the series), “The Digital Negative,” covers both the Adobe Photoshop (ACR) engine and the Adobe LightRoom engine thoroughly.  As one might expect from a continuation series, “The Digital Print” does likewise.  But in this book, Schewe goes into a bit more detail about the two.  Toward the end of the book, in the section on actual printing, he opines that Lightroom (generally) is a better place to print from.   But first, he gives us a brief, but interesting history of the development of digital printing technology.  I have become set in my ways.  I need to spend some time in Lightroom.  I have never printed an image from Lightroom, but I will be trying that in the very near future.

You don’t have to read any other books on post-processing and printing

He next gives some insight into choosing a printer and the different “flavors” available today. Printer and ink technology continues to evolve favorably, so look for updates to these texts in time. The book spends a fair amount of time discussing use of printers and drivers on different platforms, and printing from two software sources: LightRoom and Photoshop. He also covers printer-specific settings, and when and how to choose between printer and software drivers. There is also some coverage of B&W printing. Different printer technology creates the print differently and Schewe explains how to “purpose” your digital file for the particular output method.

There is a chapter on color management.  There are a number of great books available on the subject of color management.  Though the term, itself sounds intimidating,  the concept is simple enough.  When we go from one display medium to another we need to have a way to “communicate” the information so the viewable result is consistent.  Because of the different technologies employed in capture, post-processing, and displaying, that is much more easily understood in concept than in actual practice, however.  When you do “look under the hood” of your Photoshop or Lightroom (or any other) printer driver, you see lots of scary words and checkboxes like “color space,” “rendering intent,” “profiles,” etc.).  So most of us need some “plain-English” interpretation.  This book does that.  Schewe does a good, and succinct job of making this very complex subject understandable to us laypersons.

The Digital Print completes the journey following capture and post-processing, to final output

The Digital Print spends some time covering important aspect of post-processing for preparation of a file to print.  For those who did read “The Digital Negative,” there will be some repetition here.  I have two observations about that.  First, a little repetition/review will do most of good.  Second, and more practically, the author had to consider the at least a percentage of his reading audience would not have read the first book.  So he includes the essentials again. :-).  It then moves on to an oft misunderstood topic:  resolution.  Schewe gives us an understandable explanation of image resolution vs. printer resolution and why the really aren’t identical concepts.  Most importantly, he explains how it relates to the final print and how to choose resolution, re-size images for print, etc.

There is coverage at the end for purposing your digital file for a third party printing company.  If there is a weak area in the book, this is it.  I am not sure it matters, given what I percieve to be the intended audience:  those of us serious (geeky 🙂 ) enough to want to do our own printing and own our own printers.  For those who spend significant time and effort getting images ready for the third-party printer, perhaps an entire short text could address the more aptly.  In my case, for the few times I have engaged a third party printer, I have worked closely with them, obtaining specs they want, giving them proofs, and discussing my vision of the final image.  That has worked well for me.  The book concludes with a discussion of inks, papers and other media, viewing distances and environments, longevity, and workflow.

A little repetition/review will do most of good

The Digital Print completes the technical journey following capture and post-processing, to output.  In my view the books are a great companion series, but are not necessarily equally weighted. If I only had the interest, patience, or budget for one of the two books, I would recommend the first book, “The Digital Negative.” But for those who like closure and the whole picture (pun intended), I can wholeheartedly recommend both books in the series.

Book Review – “The Sony a7 and a7R; The Unofficial Quintessential Guide”


I miss the Magic Lantern Series! I know that’s not a ringing endorsement from out of the blocks; but just sayin‘. There was something reassuring about their consistent format, with a lot of information about the particular camera and its features and just enough “how to” photography information without it being a “how to” book. In the nearly 40 years that I have been buying and using photographic gear, I have yet to see a “manual” shipped with the item that was detailed and understandable. So, third party writers had to step in, work with the gear, speak with manufacturers and users, and then give us that detailed, clear “manual” explanation. The best in the business were – in my opinion – the Magic Lantern Series. As print books have largely gone away, so have these useful books 😦 .  The closest thing to this series that I have been able to find for the Sony α7 series cameras is “The Sony α7 and α7R,”  published by rockynook publishers and co-written by authors Brian Matsumoto and Carol Roullard.

I miss the Magic Lantern Series

There are still some print books out there that purport and attempt to do this job. Unfortunately, in my view, they are not as consistent, or as good. They tend to be a hodgepodge. They are often written by different authors and therefore reflect their style of writing and perhaps more than they should, sometimes their particular prejudices based on their own photography.

There are two “series” out there today that seem ubiquitous and I had hopes, would be something like the Magic Lantern Guides. But alas, they were not. The “From Snapshots to Great Shots” series is one. I have purchased a couple of them and they are frankly, disappointing – at least as they relate to the reason I bought them (see above). Their coverage of the equipment is superficial, and they all have the same, beginner “how to” stuff in every chapter. Many, if not most of us who buy the more sophisticated cameras, like the Sony α7 series, really do not need the “how to” stuff that is in every one of these books. The other series is the series by David Busch. There is no doubt that David is a knowledgeable, talented and accomplished photographer. But I can pick up any one of his series and 80% of content is virtually identical. It is “how to” photography (usually beginning to intermediate) stuff. The books are several hundred pages and $40 dollars. I just want the 20% about the camera. That is what the title and marketing says after all. Both of these series seem to me to be a set script in which the editors just go in and put in the 20% part about the cameras. And then, altogether too often, that coverage is superficial and nothing more than what is found in the not so good online pdf files available from the manufacturer.  Did I mention that I miss the Magic Lantern Series? 🙂

I want to see a book that is about the camera – like the titles imply

I really don’t mean to be hypercritical (maybe just critical 🙂 ). I appreciate that the writers of all these series are talented, qualified photographers, and are trying, in many cases, to make a living. I am not saying there is not a place out there for these combination “how to” / “missing manual” books. There are certainly many shooters out there who have not read generic “how to” books and who have the camera and could benefit from the books. But if it is a “how to book,” tell it is a “how to “book and if it’s marketed as a book about the particular camera, then I want to see a book that is mainly about the camera – like the titles imply.

As best I can tell, at the time of writing this, there are 5 published books dedicated to the Sony α7 series. One is in German (Sony Alpha 7/7R) and one is in Japanese (Sony Alfa 7R & Alfa 7 Super Book). Until I brush up on those two languages, I won’t find much utility in them. I would be interested in comments from any readers out there who are conversant in these languages. The other 3 are the David Busch Guide, the Snapshots to Great Shots book, and the book reviewed here, published by rockynook photographic publishers.

The authors are pretty consistent throughout, using a logical “how you would shoot this” approach to how the A7/A7r settings and options handle the situation, and often some unique options that make shooting with the A7 even better or easier

I have several of the rockynook books. I like them. I like the fact that they dedicate their publications to photography. There are some really good volumes of work in the rockynook library and I heartily endorse them. I gave this book my “suggested” rating. I did pick up some good stuff from the book and it will remain on my bookshelves. And, at the moment it is the only one among the English books that comes close to my criteria above. While I would not call it indispensable, it is a nice addition to my library.

The book delivers what its title implies, mostly. It is much more like the old Magic Lantern Guides and is about the α7 series of cameras, how they work, and what they can produce. It is clear from the book that they have both spent significant time shooting with both the α7 and α7R cameras. The authors definitely bring their own shooting style to the book. The book is laid out consistently, with each chapter having an introduction and a “recommendations” section. The authors are pretty consistent throughout, using a logical “how you would shoot this” approach to how the α7/α7R settings and options handle the situation, and often some unique options that make shooting with the α7 even better or easier.

But the authors do tie the general photography concept approach to the specific settings, menus and options on the camera

Chapter 1, “Getting Started,” discusses the camera and its layout and highlights the differences between the α7 and the α7r models. It also gives you enough information about how digital cameras work, in general, so if you were contemplating purchasing the α7, you can see the relative benefits and costs. There are nice photos and diagrams of the camera from front, back, and top, to show the control layout in the introductory section, and then a “walk” through the menu layout in Chapter 1.

If you were looking at the book either in a bookstore or online, based on the Chapter titles, you might be tempted to dismiss the book as just another “how to” book in the guise of a book about a specific model. But the authors do tie the general photography concept approach to the specific settings, menus and options on the camera.

So, even though Chapter 2 is titled, “Basics of Digital Photography,” the subheadings are all camera-specific and relate to the concepts. Chapters on using the camera in its different shooting modes (automatic, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual) follow, along with specific examples of where the authors (an perhaps you) would use different features. Finally, there are chapters on additional customization, downloadable apps, flash, and lens (both Sony mount lenses, and adapted “legacy” lenses).  I thought the chapter on using flash was particularly good, in that it described the various Sony – branded flash units that work with the camera, and under what circumstances a user might purchase the different units.  I appreciate that the book is a “Sony” book.  However, I would like to have heard (and perhaps the authors just haven’t explored this) about third party branded flash units that might work with the camera.

Of course, a lot of the “features” are in-camera processing that can only be done if the user chooses to shoot in the camera’s jpg mode. They generally do not work if you choose to capture images in Sony’s native raw format, and most do not work if you choose the dual option of raw + jpeg. So, for you jpeg shooters, there is a lot of in-depth information.

have some personal “nits” about the book. A few specific examples:

In a couple of places in the text, the authors discuss mounting the camera on a tripod and being required to turn Sony’s OSS (“Optical Steady Shot”) off and to turn it back on when you take the camera off the tripod. But there is no place in the book that discusses OSS, how it works, and when and when not to use it. The Sony 70-200 f4 zoom lens for this camera has a button on the lens to turn OSS on and off. Are we to turn it off in both places or just one of them? To address the issue obliquely, but not directly, seem like a significant omission.

At times the recommendations sections almost imply that the authors’ recommendations are the only way to do things. In one point in the book, for example, they discuss the AF/MF button on the back of the camera. I have used an old John Gerlach technique for many years, programming the AF/MF button to activate AF and turning of AF activation on the shutter button. When you have the camera mounted on a tripod and have framed up a still shot and have focused on the point you want in sharpest focus, the last thing you want is for the lens to “hunt” when you activate the shutter button. This prevents that. The authors do not note this, but the α7/α7r can be programmed to do this. Instead, the authors note that it can be programmed so that it toggles between AF and MF. This is useful in instances like the microscopic images that the author shoots. I would like to have seen them drill down into these options a bit and mention the other potentially useful settings of these buttons.

There are times when I think the rockynook editing process could be better. There are occasions in the book where the authors use a slightly inconsistent approach which to a casual reader, could be confusing. In one place they may speak in terms of minimum and maximum aperture values, and in another they refer to the “smallest value” of the aperture ring, but mean the largest aperture.

“Raw” does not stand for anything other than raw! As in “uncooked”

And, there is on “nails on the blackboard,” pet peeve for me. I know, it is ridiculously nit-picky, but it annoys me. Throughout the text whenever the authors refer to raw capture, they use “RAW” in capital letters. Another prominent rockynook author, in his book, went to some trouble to point out that this is incorrect. When we see TIFF, or JPEG (or JPG), it is because they stand for a phrase (TIFF = Tagged Image File Format, and JPEG = “Joint Photographic Experts Group”). “Raw” does not stand for anything other than raw! As in “uncooked.” So it annoys me when people capitalize it. Why do I continue to bitch about it? Because this is my blog and because I CAN :-).  But funny thing ….. (“Pot, meet kettle”) ….. I have been consistently referring to the subject camera model as the “A7r” (capital “A” and lower case “R”).  As I was again pitching a fit about the capitalization of “raw,” I noted that the authors here (correctly) use the denomination a7R (just the reverse of my incorrect usage).  The “a” of course, is really the greek “alpha” symbol, and this exercise also forced me to figure out how to reproduce it here.  But I now stand corrected (and I have that going for me, and that’s a good thing 🙂 ).

The detailed, multi-page appendices section at the back of the book is a very nice feature with nicely explained, detailed menu settings and commands. It will be a valuable troubleshooting aid and quick reference.

The book delivers what it implies …. mostly

On balance, this is a good book and a good addition to the α7/α7R owner’s arsenal. At this stage, it is the only book I can suggest, as it is the only one that is really, in my view, an “about the α7 series book.” I have not read the David Busch book, and I will probably at least peruse it when I finally see it in a bookstore. I already own a couple of his books, so unless there is a lot of hidden secrets, I probably won’t buy it. But if I do, for the sake of fairness and consistency, I’ll review it.


Review of Bruce Barnbaum’s “The Art of Photography”


I haven’t reviewed a book here for a while. In the past, most of my reviews have been of “how to” or “equipment-oriented” books. Over the years, I have read a number of more inspirational, or “art-oriented” books, but this is the first one I have attempted to review here.

The Art of Photography is published by Rockynook™ publishers, and they have some pretty good, often provocative books for photographers. These days, I (like many purchasers, I am sure) purchase the majority of my books from online sources like Amazon. Photography Books are often the exception, because I like to browse them before I purchase. However, this book was indeed purchased from Amazon. I am not sure what about the promotional material or other reviews drew me to it, but I was looking for some “new inspiration” at the time. I purchased the book a couple years back, now, and read it slowly.

Photographic Fundamentals

The book is laid out nicely and logically, and Bruce gives us a good, solid basic underpinning for photographic composition and exposure. He begins with the fundamentally important stuff, in my view: Composition, light and color. There are 5 full chapters covering visualization, communication, composition, light and color as they relate to photographic art. Barnbaum imparts his considerable experience and knowledge about the art and science of these areas in a very readable format.

Sometimes a Photographer must decide whether to shoot – or not even bother to shoot a scene

He also brings his personal philosophy to bear in his coverage. In the introduction, for example, he emphasizes the importance of the photographer’s personal response to a photographic scene, even suggesting that there are many times when we should not even attempt to capture a scene. So many of us are prone to being “in the moment,” shooting everything in front of our lens (especially since with the advent of digital, we no longer are concerned about film and development costs). This is particularly true when we have spent significant dollars and time to visit a particular destination and may never be there again. I am not espousing not capturing “record” images of places you visit. But artistic shooting requires some thought about subject, place, composition and – frankly – whether it is even worthwhile to trip the shutter. It is, of course, going to depend on the circumstances. Barnbaum is primarily a landscape photographer, and that is a subject which – in my view – requires more circumspection.

I spent a week last fall with the very talented professional landscape photographer, James Moore, in the field. One of the things I brought back from that trip was a new application of the old phrase: “less is more.” I may have made a record in terms of the fewest shutter actuations of any photographic trip (including back in the film days); while at the same time, bringing back the highest percentage of “keeper” images!   That phenomena is directly related to the influence Jim’s thinking has had on me.  So reading Bruce’s comment in the introduction hit a chord for me. I think the upshot of his commentary is that for a photograph to meaningful, the photographer has to “say” something worthwhile with his image.

The chapters on composition include the topics of color, line, shape and form, and balance. Barnbaum artfully explains how to use the tools a photographer has, including light, exposure, direction, color, perspective, lens length, depth of field, cropping, and shutter speed, among other things, to present the image, taking these fundamental items into consideration. At the same time, he cautions against being limited by “rules.”

This is exactly the type of inspirational/informational book I was looking for. The first 6 chapters are, in my view, worth the proverbial price of admission.

The zone system may seem to be anachronistic

Film-Based Materials

Much of his treatment of exposure, however, is from a traditional standpoint. He spends a fair amount of time (2 full chapters) discussing film and the “zone system” of exposure. For many new photographers, and for most of us “older” shooters who have migrated 100% to digital, this may seem to be anachronistic. But although the way it is applied to and with technology has changed, the basic theory of exposure has really not changed over the years. So while it may not seem to apply to modern digital exposure techniques, the basic understanding of the zone system assists us in understanding exposure as it is used with our digital capture today.

Likewise, he spends a full chapter (45 pages) on wet darkroom techniques. Again, this material may be seen to be a bit “dated,” but I have always been of a view that historical context can give us a better understanding (and appreciation for) current-day techniques. It is not unusual, for example, for some of the Photoshop processes and tools to be modeled after and indeed named after a historical film-based process. And, while I believe them to be a decided minority, there are still photographers shooting with film and using wet darkrooms.

In fairness, Barnbaum brings it together in Chapter 11, “The Digital Zone System,” with 30 pages of in-depth and useful coverage of digital exposure and how it relates to the traditional concept. Again, I think knowing how the zone system was developed and works makes understanding the magic (and the limitations) of digital sensor technology just a bit more clear. Barnbaum gives useful detail here on how a digital sensor is made, how it captures images, and importantly, how to use and read the histogram, as a tool for exposure.  See my blog,  “Expose right to Expose Correctly“.   He also explains raw capture. I do have a small nit to pick with Barnbaum (or perhaps more correctly, his editor) here, though. Like so many writers, he mistakenly refers to raw capture using all capital letters (“RAW”). This is a convention for abbreviations of multiple word phrases. “Raw” does not stand for anything—other than just that: “raw” (as in uncooked). It should be correctly referred to as “raw.” Like I said, a nit, but nonetheless, a pet peeve of mine.  🙂

“Raw” is not be capitalized. It does not stand for anything other than just that: raw (as in uncooked)

Chapter 11 also has some very good coverage of blending raw captures to extend dynamic range (one of the wonders of digital capture and digital post-processing, in my view). Thus, as a technical chapter for digital photographers, this one is really very good!

I think the above materials have great educational and historical significance to the photographer interested in understanding the “craft” of photography. Having said that, I do have to confess that I resorted to a more “skimming” approach to the chapters on the zone system and wet darkroom prints. That is to say, I read them, but not with the intensity, or as in-depth as I read the remaining portions of the book.


There is a brief, but very informative chapter on print presentation, which is still timely today. I purchased my dry mount press about the same time I was reading this book, so his commentary on the subject was very useful for me.

Art and Inspiration

The remaining chapters of the book deal with art, personal philosophy and approach, artistic integrity, and Barnbaum’s approach to some popular misconceptions which he refers to as “photographic myths.” The first 5 “myths,” perhaps unfortunately, relate back to his zone system/negative film discussion. But again, they certainly can be related to photography of all kinds. The remaining “myths,” (6-8) which are really 4 more (8 is actually 2 myths), are universal and deal with “rules” and an unreasonable adherence to them. Good stuff.

A favorite Chapter of mine (probably because I agree wholeheartedly J ), though, is Barnbaum’s coverage of “artistic integrity” in Chapter 14. He hits the nail on the head here, with his thoughtful (and thought-provoking) coverage of this sometimes controversial (though I am usually at a loss as to why it is so controversial) topic. I love the passage (important enough that it is an out quote in the text): “When photographers get away from thinking ‘This is what I can do‘ and get to “This is what I can say,’ photography becomes a more mature interpretive medium.”

Barnbaum also makes the point that as art, photography is more about perception than about reality: “One of the strengths of photography has been its perceived realism.

Finally, his final 2 chapters on creativity give the reader much food for thought and introspection about his or her own photographic endeavor. I was looking, in Barnbaum’s book, for some inspiration in my continuing quest to take my own photography to the “next level.” I was satisfied that it did that for me and will continue to do so. I recommend this book.