Black and White From Snapshots to Great Shots by John Batdorff. Book Review

Black and White From Snapshots to Great Shots by John Batdorff. Book Review

I’ve always preferred black and white photography to color. Landscapes take a more dramatic look, portraits become timeless. B&W images can also look flat and boring and it’s all up to you to create magic in the digital darkroom. It’s a daunting task for some but, with a little training and lots of practice, you can take your black and white photography to the next level.

The author, John Batdorff, is a landscape and travel photographer. He has learned to see the world in black and white and shares his knowledge and expertise in this easy to read book. Like any other book in the ‘From Snapshots to Great Shots’ series, this one is geared towards beginning to intermediate photographers using a dSLR.

The first few chapters will cover fundamentals such as equipment, settings, monitor calibration followed by composition, light and exposure. One great tip in the book I want to share with you now is to set your camera LCD to monochrome. This simple step will help you see your subjects without color and train your eye to see the different tones. As long as you shoot RAW you can still decide to process the image in color later.

Each chapter consistently starts with a short intro followed by a double spread B&W image ‘Poring over the picture’ which includes a few words about the different elements in the image as well as the settings and lens used. Each chapter ends with a series of assignments and an invitation to share your images on a Flickr group.

Once you understand the importance and the techniques of getting the image right in camera, you are ready for chapter four titled ‘Postprocessing’. If you are new to Adobe Lightroom, this chapter can serve as a great tutorial to get started. John takes a step by step approach through his workflow with plenty of sample images and screen shots to explain each adjustment. I’ve been using Lightroom since it first came out but I keep learning new and exciting features about this fantastic software.

Chapter five goes into fine tuning mode and defining your style with the Silver Efex Pro plugin by Nik Sotware. John Batdorff’s excitement about Silver Efex Pro is contagious. Although I’ve been wanting to download it for quite a while, I kept putting it off because it’s one more thing to learn and master. I’m done procrastinating and I am determined to bite the bullet and add it to my workflow in the near future!

Finally, everything you’ve ever wanted to know about printing, posting and sharing your work is covered in the final chapter of the book.

Is this a book for you? Whether you are new to black and white photography or wish to finally define a style of your own, this is a great resource. It’s technical but in a ‘gentle’ way. With plenty of screen shots and beautiful images to illustrate each step of the process. It’s one of those books that may never make it to your bookshelf but will sit near your computer with sticky tabs on key pages for future reference.

You can learn more about John Batdorff and a free B&W contest he is currently running here.

Black and White From Snapshots to Great Shots is published by Peachpit Press and retails for US $24.99. It is usually available through for a really good price.

Read more from our category

Valerie Jardin I live and breathe in pixels! Photography is more than a passion, it's an obsession, almost an addiction. When I'm not shooting or writing, I spend my time teaching this beautiful craft during photo workshops all over the world! I am also thrilled to be an official X Photographer for Fujifilm USA. Visit my Website Follow me on Facebook , Twitter , Instagram. And listen to my Podcast!

Some Older Comments

  • Margaret September 9, 2011 01:40 am

    I've had my eye on this book for a while. Thanks for convincing me! I'm headed to Amazon right now.

  • bycostello September 7, 2011 07:20 pm

    just ordering on amazon now.. thanks...

  • Fuzzypiggy September 7, 2011 06:08 pm

    Doesn't the human eye have something like only 10% ability to see colour, the rest is all in BW? This makes us appreciate BW far more than blinding colour images, we appreciate the subtle tones and contrast in BW.

    I have a severe dislike of those hideous landscape shots where some photographer just thinks that cranking up the saturation slider instantly gives them a "Joe Cornish" or "David Noton" style shot, they care little for subtle tone or contrast.

    I love shooting and working in BW it's far harder to find a good subject with the enough contrast to give enough to work with. BW makes you work harder to get images and makes your viewers work harder to understand the image, you have more clearly define your intentions and understand the subtlety of constrast and tone. If I work in colour I tend to favour very high-key or pastel images, where you still have to work hrd with your contrasts and make more suggestion than simply smacking the image into the viewers face.

  • Josh Shroy September 7, 2011 05:08 pm

    I love editing in B&W. It brings so many new challenges to the table. Seems so simple yet is a complex art form in itself. Lately i have found using "curves" to add so much life and smoothness i've been trying to achieve for quite sometime now.

  • Scott September 7, 2011 01:31 pm

    Excellent book so far. I'm only 50 pages in, but here's a quick sample. My favorite part is the clouds. I took this picture the first day I had the new lens, so I was just trying to run it at it extremes and see what it would do.

    Canon Rebel XS and 50mm f/1.8 II
    ISO 100

  • Bill September 7, 2011 12:52 pm

    This is a great book. I'm just starting to do more and B&W and I picked up many good ideas and tips from this book. Between NIK Silver Efex Pro and Lightroom 3, I'm getting some great B&W's.

  • Scottc September 7, 2011 08:53 am

    Thanks for sharing this, I'll purchase this one. Love B&W, the only reason don't do more of it is because I'm just not good at it.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck September 7, 2011 08:16 am


    I have shot B&W for ever with film and have now become a convert to NIK Silver Efex Pro. Often after shooting a session I scan through to check what would look interesting in B&W. Dramatic Landscapes, like this shot of El Capitain in Yosemite are just cool!

    I am stoked that someone is focussing on B&W!

  • SalukiJim September 7, 2011 06:29 am

    Sorry, but as an old-timer, b&w reminds me of the days when b&w meant you were too poor to buy color...