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If you’re interested in black and white photography, the names Joel Tjintjelaar and Julia Anna Gospodarou will probably need no introduction. The work of both photographers has helped define, and push the boundaries of long exposure photography, a relatively new genre in the fine art world.
Julia and Joel have joined forces to write a new ebook called From Basics to Fine Art: Black and White Photography – Architecture and Beyond. It is principally aimed at photographers interested in using long exposure techniques to photograph buildings, with some chapters being more general and having a wider appeal.
The ebook starts with personal statements from the authors exploring their interpretations of the word vision as it relates to architectural black and white photography. For me, the most interesting concept here is expressed by Joel. He talks about long exposure black and white photography as being several steps removed from reality. It is an interpretation, not a reproduction. The intent is not to capture the scene as it looked to the eye, but to present it in a way that represents the artist’s vision.
This theme is continued in the later chapters where Joel explains his post-processing techniques. Take a good look at his photos (follow the link to see some) and think about whether you could achieve similar results. The likely answer is no, because Joel has developed his processing techniques beyond the level that most photographers achieve. Be warned – Joel takes a long time to process his photos and this section of the ebook reflects that. If you’re looking for quick fixes or shortcuts you will need to look elsewhere.
But if you’re looking for a detailed explanation of black and white post-processing techniques that you won’t find anywhere else, then you’re in the right place. Joel explains his workflow, demonstrating how he uses Lightroom and Photoshop, along with plug-ins such as Silver Efex Pro. Most importantly, he shows you how to use what he calls Iterative Selective Gradient Masks, a technique he developed himself, to create the unique look of his black and white images.
He also explores fairly complex techniques modelled on what the calls: the 10 monochromatic commandments for good black and white photography. The idea is that you can create presence and depth in photographs by altering contrast, tonal relationships and defining edges in a way that adds volume, depth and luminosity to the subject.
Don’t be surprised if you don’t understand what this means as it’s an intricate topic that represents a fairly new way of looking at black and white photography. Joel is ahead of everybody else in this respect so you won’t find this information anywhere else. However, the examples in the ebook, and the clear presentation, makes it simple. By the way, the 10 monochromatic commandments I just mentioned are essential reading for anybody interested in black and white photography, regardless of genre.
For me, the aspects covered in the previous paragraphs are the most interesting part of the ebook. There’s more, including some interesting thoughts from Julia (a trained architect) on using light to render the form and volume of buildings. She draws on techniques used in drawing and applies them to photography to get you thinking in a new way about rendering three-dimensional objects in photography.
There’s also an extensive chapter from Joel about long exposure photography, and the equipment (including a detailed look at neutral density filters) and techniques required to get results.
Included is more of the usual stuff that you would expect from a book about architectural photography, including composition, the practical aspects of photographing architecture and a chapter on using tilt-shift lenses. There’s also a useful chapter on pricing your work that will be of interest to professionals (or aspiring professionals).
A niggle: the discussions about composition contain a heavy emphasis on rules that continues throughout the ebook. I’m always suspicious of anybody that claims a certain way of things is a rule, and I’m certainly not convinced of the veracity of using (just to give an example) Fibonacci spirals and then stating that there’s a rule attached to it. I’m a strong believer in principles, rather than rules, and I don’t think Fibonacci spirals are going to help readers improve their composition. This minor complaint aside, there is plenty of good and practical information in this ebook.
I came away from reading this ebook with mixed feelings. On one hand, you have two photographers whose work I admire immensely explaining how they create their images, from their general philosophy to the specifics of long exposures and post-processing.
If you’re ever looked at their photos and wondered how they achieved the results they do then this ebook has the answers. It’s a tremendous act of generosity and sharing. No one else seems to be doing this stuff yet, or at least doing it and teaching it, so that makes some of the content unique. If you’re a fan of either of these authors, and want to learn the secrets behind their work, then it’s a must buy.
My main misgiving comes from the price. It’s an expensive ebook and it would be a shame if this information reaches a limited audience because of that. I realize that expense is a relative concept; the ebook is much cheaper than taking a workshop and you will learn things here that you wouldn’t from any other source. It’s a unique resource, and ultimately the buying audience will decide whether it has a fair value.
I have to admit that what I’d really like to see is a print version of this ebook, properly designed to give precedence to the photos of both authors. Their images would be better enjoyed on the printed page, and a book has the potential to become a lasting testament to their body of work and teachings.
You can learn more about or buy From Basics to Fine Art: Black and White Photography – Architecture and Beyond by clicking the link. The price is €49 for those of you in the Eurozone, £39 for anybody in the UK and $US59 for the rest of the world.
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