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Book Review: From Oz To Kansas: Almost Every Black And White Conversion Technique Known To Man By Vincent Versace

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From Oz To Kansas is the newest book from the author of the bestselling Welcome to Oz 2.0. Now Vincent Versace shows how a well-crafted black and white image remains the finest of the fine arts and how the skill to create one is one of photography’s most aspirational abilities.

From Oz To Kansas is not a manual that tells you what to do and why to do it; rather it is more of a guide that gives you the foundation for learning how to walk into a scene or an image and know just what to do, as well the reason why you would want to do it. Each lesson builds on the previous so it is meant to be followed in progression to obtain the fullest benefit. From Oz To Kansas is 272 pages and divided into eight chapters.

Chapter 1, “The Black and White on All the Gray Areas of Black and White,” begins by looking at some of the terms that you will need to know when working with the book. It goes on to look at what RGB is and what it is not. Next the author looks at desaturation and how it affects the color image. You will look at creating and using actions, how to add drama to an image, and seeing the way the eye sees what it saw.

Chapter 2, “Variations on a Theme,” looks at some of the things you would never think to do to create a truly memorable black and white photograph. In this lesson you will learn about three different approaches to digitally replicating the black and white look that came out on film using the Film and Filter approach. You will also learn about masking techniques and using Nik Software’s Contrast Only and Blend modes.

Chapter 3, “Defying Logic,” examines the fact that a black and white file is not a black and white file, but rather a chromatic grayscale file. Unlike back in the film days when camera makers did not make the media that the camera recorded on, they do now, in that they make the camera’s CMOS or CCD sensor. This is both a blessing and a curse. This lesson looks at the RAW file, in-camera conversion, RAW processor conversions, and working with RAW files in Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture, and Capture NX.

Chapter 4, “Defying Reason,” looks at destructive techniques for getting a black and white conversion. While these may not be the conversions that you want to use all the time, they are worth the exploration for the simple understanding of how Photoshop tools can affect the image editing process. Here you will work with black and white conversion to grayscale, split channel conversions, and using the LAB color space to create your conversion, as well as read an explanation of LAB vs. RGB.

Chapter 5, “Somewhere Over the Grayscale,” is all about getting the most shades of gray from your conversion from color to chromatic grayscale. This chapter works with Photoshop and the use of the Black and White adjustment layer for your conversion. Here you will find out what kinds of images are best when using this conversion as well as what limitations this conversion contains.

Chapter 6, “The Black and White Zone System,” provides a necessary discussion of what was a staple of black and white film creation, the Zone System, and according to the author, it is a must to understand even in the digital age. This system when practiced correctly allows you to expose and develop an image such that what you visualized at capture can be rendered in your print. This lesson provides an overview of the Zone System and how you can use it to create better images and prints.

Chapter 7, “The Black and White on the Channel Mixer Adjustment Layer,” looks at converting to black and white through the use of the Channel Mixer. In analog photography black and white came first and then color, and thus black and white always remained the more refined and had better contrasts. In digital it is the opposite, so now you have to use the colors to bring out the quality in black and white. In this chapter you will learn about the use of Channels, the Channel Mixer Adjustment Layer, and how you can use them to get the most from each of the color channels.

Chapter 8, “The Black and White on Silver Efex Pro 2,” looks at something other than just Photoshop for converting to black and white. Now you will examine conversions with Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro, a product that the author has been working with since its first alpha versions. The work here builds on the knowledge you have gained through the preceding chapter and in fact uses the same images; it will end with an image that you create here and combine with an image you worked with in Chapter 7.

I have read a number of books on converting to black and white and From Oz To Kansas is one of the most complete treatises on the topic. While I think that anyone with a reasonable knowledge of photography and Photoshop can work with this book, it is really geared for the intermediate to advanced user.

From Oz To Kansas is well written and, with time and practice, will improve your black and white imagery. There is a lot of detailed knowledge and information about digital as well as analog film with regard to where we have come from and how we need to work to recreate that look to photography. There are even a lot of inspirational interludes sprinkled throughout that are meant to make you think.

If you want to learn how to recreate the black and white work of the classic film age in your digital work, if you want to become a better black and white photographer, or even if you are a latecomer to digital photography and want to learn more about the relationships between the two, I can very highly recommend From Oz To Kansas.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.