BOOK REVIEW: Four More Photography Books From Rocky Nook

From the Ground Up: Very thorough, and Photoshop Elements coverage to boot

Digital Photography from the Ground Up

That’s right: Digital Photography from the Ground Up covers Photoshop Elements more than it does Photoshop, and I don’t think this is a bad thing at all. This book is written for passionate beginner photographers, and I think Photoshop Elements is a good solution for the same group. You can see my review of Photoshop Elements 6 here, in which I gave the application high marks for its great value for the money and also for its strong digital asset management component, the Organizer.

I would highly recommend this book for the photographer who is just beginning his/her craft but is creative, passionate about taking good photos, and isn’t afraid to dig through a load of reading material. I’d say this book has six times the content of Face to Face, though that book serves a niche subject and speaks to a different audience. In any case, From the Ground Up is a comprehensive course in cameras and media, accessories, basic composition, varieties of photographic subjects and settings, image editing, working with RAW, printing and presenting, and workflow and management. This book would be enough for the aforementioned “passionate photographer” to set up a complete method for capturing, handling and presenting his/her photography.

Note that this book cannot thoroughly cover everything—The Photograph trumps From the Ground Up in composition study, and Fine Art Printing trumps it in printing and presentation. That’s to be expected—no book can cover so many subjects and do it exhaustively. I should also point out that Photoshop Elements is an application that a user can “grow out of” once they reach a certain point, and some of the techniques shown in the book are not always the best. Compared to advanced Photoshop books, From the Ground Up focuses too much on Levels and not enough on Curves, nor does it really demonstrate the extent of Curves’ power to improve images.

I believe From the Ground Up can only get a photographer so far in his/her development, but it is one of the most comprehensive books out there on the subject. It takes a particular kind of person to slog through 350 pages of dense reading and learning, but the end result is a photographer who has a keen grasp of most aspects of digital photography. I would put From the Ground Up on the short list of any aspiring digital photographer with the proper motivation to succeed.

The Art of Black and White Photography: Studies in black and white

The Art of B/W Photography

Can the subject of black-and-white photography support an entire book? The Art of Black and White Photography was written for this subject, but much of the content ends up being a study of various black-and-white photographs in terms of composition and effects, and loses its focus.

I thought the book started out well, with some introductory material on digital cameras, the RAW format and (most important) the use of filters to control black-and-white photography. The writing is clear and thorough and the photos used to illustrate the concepts do their job well. But by page 31 the book moves to covering photographic genrés and concepts such as street photography, architecture, surrealism and panoramas, and while some subjects are discussed in terms of black-and-white (see chapter 9, “The Graphic Element in Black and White Photography”) the content really applies to any kind of photography. Ironically, this is one of the most erudite books on digital photography out there—Hoffmann mentions many other important photographers and artists who influenced design and composition of art in the early 20th century. Later on the book explores composition with a sequence of photographs and explanation of the various composition forces at work in each one. This is good stuff, but it is not often linked directly to the black-and-white photograph.

It’s only when you reach section 4 in the back of the book that you look at the “digital darkroom” and return to black-and-white—most of the section discusses how to convert color images to black-and-white, how to select parts of an image and change the values with Levels (no mention of Curves is made), and how to retouch and correct distortions. Photoshop CS3’s Black and White conversion feature is given its own chapter at the end of the book. Some of this material applies to both color and black-and-white photography, another example of how this book does not always restrict its focus to black-and-white photography. In the end I feel The Art of Black and White Photography does not have enough focus on its subject and ends up being a good book about a larger subject—the art of photography in general. However, I was disappointed because this book, if it had remained true to its subject, could have been an even better book. Perhaps black-and-white photography itself isn’t a large enough subject to support such a book.


The Rocky Nook books have always been some of the most exhaustive photography resources I have encountered. I usually review books with flashy tips and tricks or a lot of photographs that show off some Photoshop features, but these four books are more like true textbooks and are for those who are devoted to learning their craft. I would recommend Rocky Nook books to high school and college instructors, and also to photographers who have the drive to dig through as much material as they can. There is always more to learn and these books alone do not make a great photographer, but they sure don’t hurt.

The Photograph
Harald Mante
Rating: 8/10

Fine Art Printing for Photographers
Uwe Steinmueller and Juergen Gulbins
Rating: 9/10

Digital Photography from the Ground Up
Juergen Gulbins
Rating: 9/10

The Art of Black and White Photography
Torsten Andreas Hoffmann
Rating: 7/10

All books published by Rocky Nook.