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Book Review: “Outdoor Flash Photography,” by John Gerlach and Barbara Eddy

Suggested

What this book is in great need of, in my opinion, is experienced, professional, objective, editing

Catching Up …..

Wow.  My last post was at the beginning of May, 2 full months ago. I guess I have fallen into one of those “lulls.” Nothing new and notable on the shooting front, and nothing much unique to say.

Over the winter, I played around with B&W and “painting.” I read several books on those subjects, and reviewed a couple of them. More recently, something got me realizing that I needed to renew my acquaintance with supplemental and artificial light; and particularly, flash – the stroboscopic variety.

New Gear and Flash …..

Several years ago, I made a monumental (for me, anyway) change in my “gear.” Having been “married” to Nikon for nearly 40 years, I made a complete changeover to Sony mirrorless cameras. The primary reason for my changeover was not creative or technical. It was convenience; and in particular, size and weight. Along the way, I discovered some creative and technical advantages. These are not really attributable to brand, but to “new” and to features. Every manufacturer seems to have certain areas they do better than anyone else. If only I could build my own ala carte camera.

One thing Nikon did better than anyone else (in my view) and Sony seems to do worse than anyone else (again, in my view) is flash. I got spoiled with Nikon’s creative flash system. You see, flash involves math, and there is very little about math that is either appealing or comes naturally to me :-). Nikon took the math out of it and let me not have to “think” about it. Maybe that wasn’t such a good thing.

A detractor for many of us is cost. Brand-dedicated flash units are ungodly expensive. As much as a good lens. And sometimes you want to use multiple units – as much, or more than the camera!  And, flash units are complex, and befuddling: right?

I have absolutely no doubt that the authors of this book are consummate, professional photographers and workshop leaders, and that they really, really know their craft – in particular – the ins and outs of everything “flash.”

During my 40+ years of shooting, I have shot 98% natural light. I have, for sure, used flash (I even remember those big, blue, “lightbulbs” that bayoneted into a reflector on my Asahiflex, popped once and ejected – hot!). But I think it is time for me to start expanding my shooting, to include supplemental lighting.

So, I started reading. Always my go-to. And I learned that there are less expensive, after-market units out there (some good/some not so good).  Sure, they have compromises. My friend, Kerry Leibowitz, once said to me in an e-mail exchange, “everything about photography is a compromise. .. Everything.” So I am good with that. For 1/4 the cost (or less), I was able to find a Sony-compatible flash to play with.  Maybe I will review it at some point (after I understand more about it 🙂 ).

There is a lot out there to read. I am a book person. Hence, the review. But before I do, let me recommend the website, strobist. There is a huge amount of information, free for the reader, here. I have just begun to dig into it, but some would say it is all you need.  Me? I am still a book guy. I like to read and highlight and flag, and go back from time to time. I already had Bryan Peterson’s “Understanding Flash Photography,” so I started there (I highly recommend two other Peterson books: “Understanding Exposure” and “Learning to See Creatively“).

There is some really good material.  But you you really have to work for it.  And to me, that is off-putting, particularly in an “instructional book.” With some work, this book could be made into a pithy, useful, field guide that someone like me just might carry around with him. But not in its current version

So, The Book …..

Wanting to dig deeper, I started researching on Amazon. I have long known of John Gerlach, and his workshops, and the bulk of the reviews liked his book “Outdoor Flash Photography.” I had read some of his other books over the years, and was familiar with him, as he originally lived in my “backyard;” the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. As many readers know, I have spent some time up there and my “Photographing Michigan’s Upper Peninsula,” is a guide to many of the wonderful shooting opportunities there. So I bought the book.

“Suggested” …..

This book is in my “suggested” category (meaning, I don’t necessarily believe every shooter should have or read this, but I have it, or have owned it, and found some useful material there). But what makes this a “suggested” book rather than a “recommended” book is largely editorial style, unfortunately. There is some really good material in there.  But you you really have to work for it.  And to me, that is off-putting, particularly in an “instructional book.” With some work, this book could be made into a pithy, useful, field guide that someone like me just might carry around with him. But not in its current version.

As I looked at the different offerings, and the editorial reviews, I was struck at how often the description said something like, “demystifies” flash, or “contains unique material, not found anywhere else.” This book suggests that there is something unique about “outdoor flash photography,” and that there is no other resource out there that covers these topics.  But my research and experience demonstrates otherwise. To be sure, many, if not most of the resources out there have a heavy concentration on portraiture and even sometimes studio lighting techniques. But my conclusion is that there are some basic lighting principles that really apply to photography in general, and they are not that unique from genre to genre.

I would have no hesitancy to sign up for, and attend one of their workshops

Need For Objective Professional Editing

Readers here know I am good at digression.  But I want to say something here, to put my “critical” (“Critical: expressing or involving an analysis of the merits and faults of a work ….“) comments in context.  I have absolutely no doubt that the authors of this book are consummate, professional photographers and workshop leaders, and that they really, really know their craft – in particular – the ins and outs of everything “flash.”  And you only need to go to their website to see that their imagery is first class, and their workshops well-attended and widely praised.  I had the fortune of bumping into one of their workshops a couple years ago, while shooting fall colors and researching locations for my own Photographing Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and introduced myself to John.  He is a very nice man, with an undoubted bank of technical and locational knowledge.  One thing that really impressed me:  neither he nor Barbara had cameras in-hand.  It was their workshop and they were there to be a resource to the attendees.  I would have no hesitancy to sign up for, and attend one of their workshops!  I also studied nearly everything their own “mentors” (the late, Larry West, and John Shaw – both former Michigan residents themselves ) wrote and know the authors’ pedigree is estimable. Knowing this, I was mildly disappointed in this product.

What I was looking for was more of a hands-on, practical, experience-based text. How is “outdoor flash photography” different from “flash photography?” This book partially hits that mark, but it is a difficult path to get there! What the book is in great need of, in my opinion, is experienced, professional, objective editing. The term I would use to describe the current text is: “rambling.”

I would describe the author’s (while both John and Barbara are listed as authors, it is clearly primarily written in John’s voice) style as conversational.  Too conversational. It feels like maybe a day in the field, or in the lecture facility with John speaking. This style probably works well in person (he is said to be engaging and entertaining).  It doesn’t work in written form. As anyone reading here knows, I am all for an informal written presentation. But in written communication (especially instruction), there needs to be a certain level of formality, structure and organization. This book lacks that structure – in a way that makes it difficult to stay with it. Here are some specifics:

Style – The “conversational” style, as noted above, is off-putting. Sentences throughout the book are replete with misplaced modifiers, which I suspect is a matter of conversational usage, but is jarring when repeatedly read. This doesn’t affect the technical presentation of information, but it certainly makes it less effective. The frequent attempts at humor fall flat. Again, they probably work well as one-liners in an oral presentation, but they come across as borderline lame in a more formal, written text.

And words and phrases……..  I have always been a firm believer that good, strong writing and clear communication means simple, direct writing. It is good to vary word choice from time to time to make the writing less repetitive and more interesting (I use a Thesaurus frequently, when I feel that I have been repeating a single word too much). But the use of “big” words, or flowery phrases does not automatically make writing better or more interesting. Sometimes it is just best to say the word that applies in common usage – direct and simple. I have to believe that an objective, professional editor would eliminate the majority of these issues, and create a more straightforward, informative and readable text.

Relevance – Too often, the author wanders “off the reservation,” getting into totally irrelevant commentary which, while perhaps anecdotally interesting, takes us away from the subject matter of the book – flash photography. While some of it may have nominal relevance, a quick reference to it and “move on,” would be, in my view, much more effective. There is too much “Cannon vs. Nikon” philosophy, for example (I appreciate that these authors each use one of these systems, as do perhaps the majority of their audience, and surely there is some relevance to how these makers handle flash issues – but again, “just the facts ma’am” and then move on would be a good thing here). 🙂

Organization – The book is divided into 14 chapters. Respectfully, I do not believe there are 14 separate chapters of material here. I am not sure about publishing requirements and standards, never having personally done more than my own eBooks (which may not be models of clarity either). I have written enough to know that organization is not always an easy path, and there are always choices about how, where and when to present materials. But I truly believe this book could be condensed down to no more than 5 chapters. What we instead find here is a lot of needless (and I think, confusing) repetition.  In an effort to distinguish terminology and techniques, the author ends up repeating the same materials under different topics. The implication is that there is something different, and yet, there really isn’t (a great example is the segue from “fill flash,” “main flash” and “balanced flash.” After 3 long, repetitive chapters, it really boils down (and is implied, in my reading, by the book) that they are not really different categories. They are just applications of the flash fundamental that every flash exposure is composed of two exposures, one being the ambient light exposure and the other being the flash exposure. The rest is just understanding the relationships of the light sources, and how the technology in the units and cameras handle it.

There are many Positives …..

Having been critical, I have to say there are many positives to take away from this book. It is why I “suggest” it. I believe it is worth the work to slog through it and try to distill the very good information that is in there. I will go back and re-read, and take personal notes on this information and hopefully add it to my own kind of “field guide.” Here are some items I think are worthwhile information/tips from my first reading of the book:

  • The author gives one of the better explanations of how the strobe flash works, including flash duration, that I have read.
  • There are a couple comments regarding the use of flash when shooting waterfalls that I had not previously considered – particularly the ability to “freeze” water droplets while maintaining the “silky” look of the main waterfall in the image.  You can be sure I am going to experiment with that.
  • While most experienced users are aware of this, his explanation of how TTL in the flash unit relates to automatic and manual control of the camera was helpful.  He re-inforces why those of us who rely on “automatic” modes, because we don’t know better (or in my case, because we have become lazy), don’t get the results we expect.
  • There are some helpful tips on the placement of flash (particularly in close subjects) to maximize color and texture.

I could see it being transformed from an “eh” book, to one I would put on my “must own” list

The Takeaway …..

The paperback cost just under $27.00.  Today, that is a rather modest cost for a full, published, hard copy book. So I certainly didn’t feel put off or cheated by the purchase. And there was enough in it for me to keep it rather then send it back. But it would not go on my list of “must own under any circumstances” books.

What I think might be a dynamite re-work of this book would be to have some heavy editing, drilling down to the relevant, useful information in the book, perhaps adding some more practical and experiential information, into a shorter and perhaps smaller format (think “field guide”). I could see it being transformed from an “eh” book, to one I would put on my “must own” list.

Suggested

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Life and the Learning Curve

Beginning with the Ephesian Philosopher, Heraclitus, it has often been famously said that “change is the only constant.”  I recently purchased yet another version of my preferred textbook on Photoshop by Martin Evening: “Adobe Photoshop CC for photographers” (formerly “Adobe Photoshop for Photographers”); now “version 2018”.  My last version was purchased only 4 years ago, and yes, there has been that much change in this program!  I had been refreshing my memory on a couple of the tool settings and realized that there are options on my screen that weren’t covered by my bookThat got me thinking about change and the learning curve.

it has been my thesis over the years that although we now have some pretty amazing digital cameras at reasonable prices, it was consumer “point & shoot” digital cameras that drove the revolution

Thomas and John Knoll first created their “Photoshop” software, to display grayscale images on computers, in 1987.  Not yet “ready for prime time” or for retail consumption, the early “Knoll Software” company’s program was first known simply as “Display.”  It was shortly changed to “Image-Pro.”  But when they finally found a buyer and it went to the commercial/retail market in 1988, having been licensed to the Adobe Software Company, it became “Photoshop,” and continues to this day, to be the benchmark everyone is trying to meet or beat.

Nikon DCS 100

While the very first useable digital camera was probably created by Kodak in 1975, the real “revolution” began in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.  During that time period some DSLR cameras were produced but were too expensive for general consumption.  Smaller “digicams” began to appear, however, and it has been my thesis over the years that although we now have some pretty amazing digital cameras at reasonable prices, it was these consumer “point & shoot” digital cameras that drove the revolution.  The 1991 Nikon D1 was probably the first semi-affordable enthusiast/pro camera and still cost a healthy $5,000 (while weighing in at nearly 3 pounds and delivering a whopping 2.7 megapixels).  Canon and Fujifilm followed shortly.  Then the Canon 3 megapixel, D30 debuted in 2000 as the first real “prosumer” DLSR.  In 2002, they followed with a 6 megapixel D60 and Nikon matched with their own 6 megapixel D100, both coming in just under $2,000, and the “prosumer” DSLR revolution was in full swing.

Sony RX100

For the next nearly 20 years, we saw a continuous lineup of new digital cameras, beginning with “APS” sized sensors, to so-called “full-frame” 35mm-equivalent sensors, and from traditional SLR-styled bodies, to the newer mirrorless models.  Of course, there were also larger format digital bodies, but because of a mix of expense and size and limitations on ISO, they have never caught on with the masses.

Along with the evolution of digital cameras, there was a need/demand for pixel-editing software.  And while there have certainly been numerous participants in the mix, Photoshop has been the benchmark to meet or beat.  From 1990 on, there were new editions released approximately every two years.  When first released, Photoshop was written for MAC computers and only available on Apple’s platform until version 2.5, released in 1992.  Clearly this was in response to demand.  Since version 2.5, new releases have essentially been parallel for Window and Mac.  And over time, some pretty impressive new features were added every few years.  Originally having notable features like levels, curves, the clone tool, color balance, hue and saturation adjustments, in 1994, layers were added to version 3.0.

with the evolution of digital cameras, there was a need/demand for pixel-editing software

In 2003, for reasons really known only to Adobe, Photoshop dropped the version numbers in the title (with version 7.0 being the last) and became “Photoshop CS” (versions are still retained, however).  CS introduced ACR (Adobe Camera Raw decoding engine) 2x.  CS2, in 2007, added a new user interface and some additional bells and whistles.  CS3 continued the “new and improved” feature set.  In 2008, CS4 was released with lots of “refinements,” but nothing new and exciting. Though we are up to, I believe, “version 7 or 8 of ACR, there is little or no change from version number to version number.  The real changes occurred in what Adobe refers to as their “process version.”  In 2003, we were working with process version 1.  Process version 2 was rolled out in 2010.  It may have been the most dramatic change.  Process version 3 came in 2012, and we are now working with process version 4, since 2017.

My LightCentric Logo Image in the current Photoshop CC version of Camera Raw

At the same time, Adobe released Lightroom 1.0 in 2007, following with version 2.0 in 2008.  This program was aimed squarely at photographers. Photoshop is a very robust graphics editing and creating program, which was Adobe’s only in depth pixel editing offering for serious photographers (Elements and other versions of “Photoshop – Lite” type software were available, but were in my experience, woefully inadequate to the task).  In the meantime, many of us photographers found that the continuing stream of new versions often did not justify the cost of the upgrade.  We often skipped a version (or two or three).  Then, when the CS series came along, Adobe began to essentially require sequential upgrading.  Shortly after that, Adobe announced the discontinuation of the stand-alone version of Photoshop,with the roll-out of cloud-based Photoshop CC (in lieu of CS7).  Unlike the former Photoshop model, “owners” of the full program installed on their computer (well, at least owners of the right to use it 🙂 ) have now become “subscribers,” paying a monthly fee and working in “the cloud” (on the internet).  This, in all probability, has motivated some new, competing “complete photo-editing” programs, which tout the fact that they are still stand-alone.  And some of them are pretty darn good.

Screenshot from my Lightroom catalog

Lightroom has continued to develop (pun intended) as a stand-alone photographers’ alternative to Photoshop.  Apple’s now-discontinued Aperture was also a parallel Lightroom alternative for Apple owners (I am not an Apple user, but I understand that part of the decision involved Apple’s roll-out of a new program called “Photos” which will integrate with its iCloud – it appears that iPhotos and Aperture will not, including the legacy software, which should still work stand-alone).  Meanwhile, it seems that everyone is jumping on the raw editor “bandwagon.”  A quick online search reveals at least 10 (and I am sure there are more) names that have some familiarity out there.  Some of them started out as Photoshop “plugins.”  I have played around with a couple of them, including ON1, Capture 1, and Topaz Labs.  They are all up-and-coming Photoshop competitors.  There are those who say one or the other of them does some things better than Photoshop.  Sounds a bit like the “camera wars” we have all come to know.  Every “flavor” is going to have do some things better than the others, and some things not so well.  I will continue to look at these alternative (or in some cases supplemental) programs.  But for now, Photoshop still does the overall combination of things that works best for me (and at this time, I believe, the majority of others doing digital post-processing).

owners of Photoshop have now become subscribers

All of these software programs (though they have many similarities) have a new and different “learning curve.”  Photoshop is — perhaps — the most daunting of all of them, and once a person has put as much time as many of us have into learning its “ins and outs,” it is hard to shift to a different program.  As for Photoshop, I have owned many “how too” texts for Photoshop (as well as Lightroom and some of the plug-ins for Photoshop and Lightroom).  I feel like I have contributed my part to the publishing industry’s well-being 🙂 (though it looks more and more like they are going to be eclipsed by digital media).  The Martin Evening Book is over 700 pages and only attempts to cover the photographer-aspect of this very complex and very robust program.  It is a $50.00 book and that is an expensive addition to the already healthy cost of acquiring and maintaining Photoshop.  But is the only comprehensive “textbook” guide available of its kind (that is not intended to be a lukewarm endorsement – it really is a very good book).  There is a lot of material available free on the internet.  But there is no real organized source to have as a desktop companion when working with the program.  The Adobe site’s so-called “help” program is not really very good, in my opinion.  It is too general, and there is as much of a chance of not finding the item you need explained or expounded as not.  Unfortunately, most of this text are 80% repetition from past versions.  It would really be nice if the writers and publishers would offer a smaller (and cheaper) version that is kind of a “What’s New In Version x.0” (which is done now, only on a website).  But here it is.  And again, change is going to continue, and therefore apparently so is cost – if you want to move with the change. 🙂

for now, Photoshop still does the overall combination of things that works best for me

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.

Summary

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

COVERED BRIDGES NORTHFIELD VERMONT 100620100008

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.
eBook
Copyright 2016 Andy Richards and Kerry Leibowitz

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

Bookbaby_Cover_thumbnail
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 LEDGES LAKE SUPERIOR SHORELINE 042120120048

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

index

Recommended

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.
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