BOOK REVIEW: Four More Photography Books From Rocky Nook

Early this year I reviewed four books from Rocky Nook, an independent publisher partnered with O’Reilly. I have four more books to introduce to you:

  • Fine Art Printing for Photographers, 2nd Edition by Uwe Steinmueller and Juergen Gulbins
  • Digital Photography from the Ground Up by Juergen Gulbins
  • The Art of Black and White Photography by Torsten Andreas Hoffmann
  • The Photograph by Harald Mante

If you are familiar with my past review, some of these names will be familiar: Gulbins and Steinmueller wrote the Photoshop Lightroom book I covered last time. As before, the other writers—Mante and Hoffmann— are both good writers and the books carry a lot of information through their words. The one thing that strikes me is, after reading through a variety of digital photography books over the years, the Rocky Nook writers are more dry and have a writing style ideal for textbooks. This isn’t a bad thing, but if you are looking for Scott Kelby’s humor or Joe McNally’s stories then these books will disappoint you. You’ll feel like you’re in school again when you read these books. Mante is particularly strong in this regard and reading The Photograph reminds me of those textbooks I had to read in college. It’s not a bad thing, and in fact it can be a relief to photographers who want to analyze and study their craft to the utmost.

The Photograph: Detailed analysis, dense material

The Photograph

The Photograph is a detailed book covering composition and color design for photographers. Like Visual Communication in Digital Design, the topics are very basic: point, line, shape, contrast in both grays and colors, and using special composition elements such as vertical formats and photographic series and sequences. I picked on Visual Communication because I felt these basic design elements were not well-applied to digital design which was its goal, but The Photograph does a better job because on every page it applies these basic elements to a variety of photographs. You can see how the elements are applied, and if you study the book well you will not look at photographs the same way again. It’s given me a newfound appreciation for the subliminal composition rules we are all using when we photograph, whether we do it consciously or not.

I mentioned the variety of photographs in The Photograph: every spread has at least five photographs, which is more than enough to thoroughly illustrate every rule and technique in this book. Most digital photography books have only one or two images per page—Rick Sammon’s recent book Face to Face used a couple at the most—so it was refreshing to get such a good compilation of images to supplement the reading material. However, this created a couple problems when it came to the book design. Firstly, the text is crammed into small, too-narrow columns at the bottoms of the pages, and many times the text refers to an image that is not on the page and the reader must stop and find the image in question. Secondly, the book is designed around a grid system that is applied to almost every spread in the book, making the layout very static and uniform to the point where it becomes stale. Photos go on the top, text and illustrations go on the bottom, and the way the photos are laid out is almost exactly the same throughout all 190 pages. I’m not a big fan of both strictly structured layouts and unpredictable, “creative” layouts. The Photograph adopts the former.

Still, The Photograph does a fine job of deconstructing the most basic elements of composition and then reapplying them to many examples to help readers understand what makes some photos convey harmony while others do not. I would recommend this book to both novice and expert photographers alike, because we all need to be reminded of the basics sometimes.

Fine Art Printing: Good book, but technology changes fast

Fine Art Printing for Photographers

Fine Art Printing for Photographers tackles the subject of printing photographs, which handles a variety of topics including ink and paper, color management, workflow, printers and raster image processors (RIPs), and more. There’s nothing wrong with the quality of the writing or the illustrations: Gulbins and Steinmueller know their stuff and do a good job of covering a wide range of material, all of which is important to know. Designers like myself who do some photography as a side venture will get a lot out of the chapter on RIPs and print presentation, which we don’t usually deal with. It goes without saying that, if you don’t already shoot, print and present your own prints, there is something in this book that will be new to you.

The difficulty with a book like this is that it deals with technology such as Photoshop, printers, calibration devices, RIP software and more. These products always change over time as new features are added and upgrades become available. Fine Art Printing covers Photoshop CS, which is a few years old already, and also CS2 and CS3, which is the current version. However, if Adobe follows its usual schedule then the next version of Photoshop and its Creative Suite will be coming very soon, in a matter of months if not weeks. This book is 2007–2008, but we’ll soon be in 2009 and who knows what printers, RIPs and other software will be available? As these things change, this book becomes outdated.

I am always impressed by the amount and the depth of information covered in Rocky Nook’s books. Fine Art Printing not only covers the nuts and bolts of handling printers, paper and inks but it also have decent coverage of Photoshop tricks such as working with Hue/Saturation and Levels, working with layers to improve image quality and more. There is also a little bit of coverage of Photoshop Lightroom, but be forewarned that it is relatively slight and it doesn’t yet cover the newly-released Lightroom 2 or its new features.