Guy Tal’s Creative B&W Processing Techniques

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I am a citizen of the Pacific Northwest (thank you, Greg Russell, for the notion) where, between the months of November and May, our skies are reliably overcast. Fall through Spring, when most people in the PNW see overcast and drizzle, photographers see softbox. And rightly so – these seven or eight months out the year provide for fantastic monochromatic exploration across a spectrum of landscapes.

Early in my journey as a photographer, this seasonal inevitability guided me to black and white photography, a consequence of both curiosity and the irresistible light we experience. Soon thereafter, I struck out on a parallel path of discovery about digital conversion to monochrome.

In my studio today remains the pile of books and materials digested in my quest to establish a sound conversion methodology. I now have a good workflow, derived mainly from experimentation informed by these materials. Guy Tal’s superb ebook Creative B&W Processing Techniques has added new dimensions to my knowledge.

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That pile of B&W material I referenced consists mainly of technical manuals. This is a well-traveled path – a focus on the conversion techniques that software makes available (and there are many). These are excellent resources, well written and edited, but all mainly about technique. In this regard, Guy’s ebook goes far beyond the standard manual.

Creative B&W Processing Techniques is an exploration not simply of how; it addresses why by examining our choices in the field – our decisions as photographers while engaged in the creative process that occur long before we sit before our computers to manipulate bytes of data. In this ebook, Guy tells a story about photography and the photographer, and in so doing separates his work from nearly any other manual I’ve read.

His ebook is not all about why, of course – there’s plenty of how. He covers a lot of ground in only 59 pages, in fact, addressing the notion of seeing color as tone, and rooting this in a comparison of how photographers have managed color traditionally to the contemporary digital paradigm. Other vital subjects covered include capture best practices, RAW conversion, Lightroom and Photoshop workflow, and printing. Spread liberally throughout the ebook’s pages are Guy’s images and, equally as instructive, parables about his beliefs and habits as a photographer.

Guy’s ebook stops short of covering all possible options for B&W conversion. This is not a soup-to-nuts technical manual – technically speaking, it is a concise, well-crafted and illustrated explanation of Guy’s workflow, within which the photographer has full freedom for creative expression.

His workflow ultimately is a specific (and sound) approach to producing digital black and white images, but a key takeaway of Creative B&W Processing Techniques is that Guy’s workflow – any workflow – is effective only to the extent that the photographer pursues the creation of B&W images with sincere dedication, and that this practice begins long before the lens cap is removed. This essence separates Guy’s manual from others, in my opinion.

I hasten to add that Guy explains the technology photographers use for digital capture and conversion so the reader can understand how the captured data of what we see is used by the software we employ. This section of his ebook provides information that is vital to any photographer who is serious about producing fine images through a deliberate creative process (similar to understanding how characteristics of film types affect the print, and how this knowledge is leveraged during the creative process to make deliberate decisions about the end result).

The Writing Life

One final, personal note regarding this ebook. I’ve written all my life. I wrote my first short story at the age of 12. I write for my profession and personally, with a deep appreciation for story-telling. This appreciation (and devotion) has spawned a few pet peeves. Bear with me – this is not a rant about grammar…

I have a simple expectation for any book I buy – the author presents material in a thoughtful, logical, concise, professional, and polished manner. Not too much to ask when you’re shelling out hard-earned dollars, right?

If, as a photographer, you charge money for the written word, your product had better represent the same value you attribute to your photographs. A portfolio of fine images and renown as a photographer, in other words, does not give you a pass on delivering anything less than an equivalent quality in a written format. Unfortunately, I’ve purchased such books from notable photographers and experienced sincere disappointment over sloppy writing and editing. To place a fine point on this, I felt ripped off.

Now, I acknowledge that not everyone approaches the written word with the same opinions, but whatever your expectations for value, Guy’s ebook will not disappoint. Creative B&W Processing Techniques will introduce you to a fantastic writer, instructor, and photographer (I assume the same about the other titles in his Creative Series, none of which I have read). And at the price of only $9.95, in comparison to the multitude of B&W conversion books out there, Creative B&W Processing Techniques is an unbeatable value.

To purchase Guy’s Creative B&W Processing Techniques, click here.

To learn about all of Guy’s ebooks, click here.

To see Guy’s wonderful photography, click here.