The Zone system!?

Discussion in 'Exposure Discussion' started by AndersPS, Jan 11, 2010.

  1. AndersPS

    AndersPS Member

    Messages:
    62
    Joined:
    Jul 30, 2009
    Location:
    Öckerö, Swed
    Shooter:
    35mm
    I´ve read about the Zone system and understanding there are many photografers that use this meteringsystem. I think it was Fred Picker who invented the system, am I right?

    Now to the question; How does it work and what do I need to use it? Is just for those who shoot in midformat and largeformat? :confused:

    ///Anders S
     
  2. mpirie

    mpirie Subscriber

    Messages:
    199
    Joined:
    Sep 19, 2005
    Location:
    Highlands of Scotland
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    I'm not sure there are many exponents of the Zone System that frequent this forum, but I suspect there may be one or two :D

    The Zone System is a repeatable method of capturing your previsualised interpretation of a subject on film. It allows you to predict (with some certainty) what each tone in the scene will look like in relation to the other tones through the use of exposure, processing and printing controls.

    It applies equally to all formats, but because it's use calls for the processing of each negative to be tailored to the subject and this is easier when using sheet films. If it's applied to roll film, then (unless you cut the roll) the entire film is processed in the same way, thus removing the option to over or under develop according to the scene and your visualisation.

    You'll get lots of advice on what you "need" to apply the Zone System, but you already have what you need.......eyes and brain.

    It's just a case of applying your existing tools in the correct way.

    I doubt this will be the only answer you get! :D

    Mike
     
  3. sandholm

    sandholm Subscriber

    Messages:
    232
    Joined:
    Nov 17, 2009
    Location:
    Switzerland
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Hej Anders

    Well, the zone system is (according to me) the power of black and white photographing. It was developed by Ansel Adams and Fred Archer in 1941, and it involved the study of negatives and what a developer can do during the development. Actually its very easy to sum up the zone system, expose for shadows develop for highlights. This mean that you measure for zone 3 (areas where you want deep shadows with texture) and expose according to this, then you measure where you want to have your high lights and measure this with your light meter, either they fall into your normal development time, or you have to push/pull the film.

    So there is no manual that you can use, because it depends on your equipment, your film, light meter, temperatur, developer, how you agitate, but you can very very easy find out these values for yourself and start exploring the zone system very fast. I would recomend that you get the book

    The Practical Zone System: For Film and Digital Photography, Chris Johnson
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0240807561/ref=ox_ya_oh_product

    it will explain the zone system using a hands on approach, and it includes detail description on how to figure out your own normal developing time, and push/pull. Its an excellent book (and the new edition also include a digital part, if you dont want that you can go for the earlier editions)

    Also, look into a spot meter, you dont need one (can use a build in meter) but it become so much easier,

    Har du några frågor får du mer än gärna skicka ett medelande, lycka till.

    cheers
    Anders
     
  4. bdial

    bdial Subscriber

    Messages:
    5,433
    Joined:
    Jan 2, 2005
    Location:
    NE U.S.
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    A good way to start is to understand your light meter, whether it is built into the camera or separate, and how to use it effectively.
    Then develop an understanding of how the film reacts to light and processing variables.
    The zone system was established as a way to systematically control those factors.

    Trying to understand the zone system without a good understanding of how the film reacts is difficult, at least IMHO.

    Another good book to look at is The Zone VI Workshop by Fred Picker.
    AA wrote about the zone system as well, of course, but I'd recommend you avoid his books until you've read more in general, or have gone through the Picker or Johnson books.

    The Zone system isn't remotely essential to making good photographs, but it helps in achieving more control, and translating what you see to a print, which is really what it's all about.
     
  5. Willie Jan

    Willie Jan Member

    Messages:
    1,935
    Joined:
    Jun 11, 2004
    Location:
    Best/The Net
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    The biggest failure people make is at the start. We light measure a scene and think this is the right value.

    You must find the best value for your situation.
    For instance when your light meter measures 1 stop less than the real value, you will have to adjust something to compensate. Most people say than that their film is rated as 50 asa (when it is a 100) in their situation. Others say probably a different value. Each developer is different and developer A is capable of getting a better shadow detail than developer B.

    Measuring with a spotmeter build in the camera compared to for example a pentax spotmeter gives a very different value.
    I now work only with a spotmeter to find out how the scene is build up in zones. It took me a year to get everything where i wanted it to be, but it was worth the trouble.

    So saying that the darkest value that must contain some texture place it in zone 3 is right, but who says that what you measure is right?
     
  6. Toffle

    Toffle Member

    Messages:
    1,850
    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2007
    Location:
    Point Pelee,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    The simplest explanation I have ever seen is by Gem Singer, a member over on the LF pages. http://www.largeformatphotography.info/forum/showpost.php?p=531354&postcount=2

    After all the charts and graphs and chest pounding, this simple explanation really brings the fundamentals into reach of the average photographer who wants to take better pictures. Once you have this concept under your belt, you can get into the whole libraries of books written on the subject.

    I've quoted his whole post below...

    Aim the one degree spot at the darkest area in the scene where you still want to see some detail. Close down two stops.

    You have just placed the shadow area in Zone III.

    That's usually the proper exposure for the scene.

    Now, aim the spot at the brightest area in the scene.

    If it's a five stop range between the darkest and brightest reading, use normal development.

    Less than five, increase development.

    More than five, decrease development.

    No need to take a whole series of meter readings and average them. That's defeating the purpose.

    Just make certain that you have given enough exposure to get some detail in the shadows. Then, develop for the highlights.

    That's the Zone System in a nut shell.

    Cheers,
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 11, 2010
  7. Willie Jan

    Willie Jan Member

    Messages:
    1,935
    Joined:
    Jun 11, 2004
    Location:
    Best/The Net
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    But,
    when decreasing the development, your zone III will be downgraded to for instance a zone II because it needs the complete development time. So this will lose details in the shadow, therefor you will have to overexpose a little to compensate the development time loss.
     
  8. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Subscriber

    Messages:
    8,246
    Joined:
    Sep 19, 2003
    Location:
    Florida
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I would not worry about the three Ansel Adams books. They are pretty simple and from the horse's mouth when it comes from the Zone System. But, don't expect to find too much about the Zone System. It is only covered in one chapter in the second volume. This, by the way, shows how easy it is and how little is involved in understanding it. Many tried to make a science out of it and went beyond what Ansel developed it for.
     
  9. sandholm

    sandholm Subscriber

    Messages:
    232
    Joined:
    Nov 17, 2009
    Location:
    Switzerland
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Well, yes and no. Its true that your zone III will be effected but not as much as your highlights, so you might lose maximum 1/4 of a zone.... never tried it out with a densitometer but for me it changes more or less nothing. I should also say that i only "use" five options,
    n-2
    n-1
    normal development (5 zones between shadows and highlights)
    n+1
    n+2

    so if you do something like n-3 (have anyone tried?) you might have to start compensating for underdevelopment. For n-1, n and n+1 I cant see any changes (not even on my test rolls which i just checked)

    I really recommend the book, he Practical Zone System: For Film and Digital Photography, Chris Johnson
    because he explain how to start using and calculate the developing times for your methods the film you use.

    cheers
    Anders
     
  10. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

    Messages:
    3,341
    Joined:
    Jul 16, 2005
    Location:
    Dearborn,Mic
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    The Basis of the Zone System is the concept of Visualisation,
    which, after all the spot meters, densitometers, computers and workshops are washed down the drain,
    remains the most elusive part of the Zone System to master,
    because it is the most repellent part of the ZS for propeller heads to accept.

    Visualisation is the process of forming an image in your mind's eye which will create in the viewer
    the same sensation you experienced when you looked at the scene before you.

    Visualisation is the process of interpreting the range and brightnesses of the scene
    into the negative necessary to make the print with the emotional power to move the viewer.

    Visualisation is, therefore, the transformation of a physical reality into an emotional image.

    The technical stuff is the ensuing process of altering the tonal relationship of the scene into a negative which will probably be very different from reality.

    Adams devised the methodical approach to give himself a way to fully express himself as his intuitive friends and mentors (Stieglitz, Strand, and Edw Weston) could do. The Zone System as we began to know it was taught when Adams began the Photography Department at the San Francisco Art Institute.

    If you wrap your head around Adam's Preface to the ZS before you go on to the testing, the graphs, the numbers and stuff, it will make a lot of sense.
     
  11. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

    Messages:
    20,648
    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2007
    Location:
    Southern California
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    To get the results of the Zone System without all the complications and rhetoric:

    1. Shoot the film at box speed.
    2. Take an average scene reading without the sky [This is for reference].
    3. Take the brightest reading where you want to maintain the texture.
    4. Take the darkest reading where you want to maintain the texture.
    5. Adjust the exposure to cover the range of #3 and #4.
    6. If the range in #5 is too great reduce the developing time and decreasing the exposed range and decreasing the contrast. If there is room to spare in the dynamic range of the film increase the processing and expand the used range [pushing the overall range of the film into the toe and the shoulder] and increasing the contrast.
    Steve
     
  12. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

    Messages:
    8,003
    Joined:
    Apr 29, 2008
    Location:
    Los Angeles,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    It is a way of simplifying the making of exposure and development decisions that will give you negatives you need to get prints you want. Ralph is correct: It is horrendously simple. That is the whole point of it, IMO. If it ceases to be a simplification, forget it. If you are confused in any way by it, forget it. It is not for you, and there are many other ways to work that will let you do just fine.

    I know how to use it....quite well, in fact. I still use it sometimes, and used to use it a lot. However, I do not hold it up on a pedestal. My problem with it is not technical, but "conceptual", you might say. My problem lies in the initial testing for "normality". The way I see it, it is not the testing of what a film's natural characteristics are so that they can be harnessed and used artistically. IMO, it forces films into a pre-defined box as to what "normality" is. The initial procedures take every film, and tweaks it into the same basic film, in terms of rough contrast. In Zone System methods, every film is manipulated into behaving a certain way from the start. All films are forced into the same mold with the initial testing procedures. All films are tweaked such that, when printed, they provide a certain low-toned and high-toned value at a certain amount of exposure and development, respectively. As such, I feel that Zone System methods take away much of the individual characteristics of films, instead of just letting them be what they are naturally, and learning to work with them. I feel that learning each film inside and out, metering for a midtone (incident metering), and judging the brightness range of the composition in order to make exposure and development tweaks works faster, is far less prone to "operator error", and in 90% of cases, gives the same exact exposure and development that your basic Zone System methods would call for. The difference is that the incident method requires understanding and being able to judge light to get what you want, while with the Zone System method, the spot meter hands you everything you need to know on a silver platter, and you specifically decide what tones certain elements of the composition will be. For the 10% of situations in which I know an incident meter will not be the ideal tool to give me what I want, I use the straight Zone System.

    Personally, when I have time, I use a combination of both methods. First things first: I calibrate my incident meter to my spot meter. Next, I take an incident reading and get my "base" exposure. Then, I set the spot meter to this exposure. This gives me an EV that lines up with the red dash. Then, I meter whatever luminance values within the composition that I want to measure. When I measure them, I am looking at how far from the "base" EV they are. Since I already know how my film behaves, I know what sort of a range it will capture at the "base" exposure, and what it will not. If it will not capture what I want, I manipulate exposure and development so that it will. This is so quick, and even if misjudgments are made, there is a printable negative anyhow, because the base reading was for middle grey (incident). IMO, straight tonal placement with a spot meter alone is far more error prone and has a steeper learning curve.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 11, 2010
  13. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

    Messages:
    20,648
    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2007
    Location:
    Southern California
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Well said.

    Each film is different. Learn the differences and choose your films accordingly.

    Steve
     
  14. Sponsored Ad
  15. Anscojohn

    Anscojohn Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,727
    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2006
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    *******
    Hallo Anders,
    Because the Zone System works best with single sheets of film, it is most often associated with larger format.
    My advice is forget it. One of my favorite photographers, Winn Bullock, tried it and threw the meter into the trash.
    The essence of the system was taught to me by old, cigar-chewing professional photographers who practiced the dictum "Expose for the shadows; develop for the highlights."
    I keep it even simpler: I make sure my film get's enough exposure for the shadows in which I want detail; then I develop my film in a forgiving developer which helps to keep the highlights from "blocking up." I use D23. Others might suggest Rodinal, a "compensating" developer.
    Oh, and FWIW, Ansel Adams is usually associated with developing:wink: the Zone System.
     
  16. Toffle

    Toffle Member

    Messages:
    1,850
    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2007
    Location:
    Point Pelee,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Or simpler still... make sure there's film in your camera. You only need to find yourself 50 miles into a national park without film once to learn that lesson for a lifetime. :rolleyes: (true story... 1985, Algoma Central Railway. Breathtaking scenery. :sad: )
     
  17. Galah

    Galah Member

    Messages:
    481
    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2009
    Location:
    Oz
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
  18. AndersPS

    AndersPS Member

    Messages:
    62
    Joined:
    Jul 30, 2009
    Location:
    Öckerö, Swed
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Right now I'm shooting with 35mm, but want to learn as much as possible about many things in the world of photography. Sometimes, if I get any good, in the future I want to shoot with largeformat and ask things I wonder about when I still remember them. Then I can go back in time and see what you people answered :smile:

    Thank you again all for your fast and many answers!!!

    ///Anders S
     
  19. jeffreyg

    jeffreyg Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,390
    Joined:
    Jun 12, 2008
    Location:
    florida
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Regardless of which system mentioned above you follow, if you are applying it to roll film make sure you don't need plus or minus developing times on the same roll. Each exposure should need the same development: n or n-plus(es) or n-minus(es). It is more easily applied to sheet film because you can label the film holders as to what development is called for.
     
  20. Anscojohn

    Anscojohn Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,727
    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2006
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Anders,
    What Jeffrey G says is correct. Long ago it was recommended to me that one of the advantages of D23 is that it is 'semi'-compensating. Because it seems to be a "forgiving" developer, there is less need to be concerned about "checkerboard" rolls of film containing both high and low contrast scenes.
    Use whatever system for exposing which gives you adequate shadow detail where desired, give full development of the film, and allow the "semi-compensating" nature of the developer keep the high tones from getting so dense they are not easily printable. Contrast adjustments then can be made using paper and paper development.
     
  21. CPorter

    CPorter Member

    Messages:
    1,662
    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2004
    Location:
    West KY
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    Development is completed in the shadows much sooner than in the highlights, this is why exposure is the primary control mechanism for the shadows while the highlight areas are controlled by exposure and development, but the development time is the primary control mechanism for the final density in the negative.

    With extreme development modifications like +2, -2, -3, etc...the low values can shift. For the OP, no use going into great detail here, but I would get The Negative and dive in-------your photography will improve.
     
  22. Q.G.

    Q.G. Inactive

    Messages:
    5,682
    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2007
    Location:
    Netherlands
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Not only that, but exposure also controls what - in the dark parts - will be developable and what not. Too little exposure, and things just aren't registered.
    So exposure also determines what at the dark end of the range will be rendered as featureless black, and where detail in the dark bits begins to show.
     
  23. DLawson

    DLawson Member

    Messages:
    324
    Joined:
    Jun 17, 2009
    Location:
    Dayton, Ohio
    Shooter:
    35mm
    I wanted to comment that I found the "expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights" line to be a meaningless bumper sticker comment until I read The Negative. After that, the intended message was clear.

    Learning that wasn't a huge task, but the message was far from obvious to a beginner before learning it.
     
  24. Toffle

    Toffle Member

    Messages:
    1,850
    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2007
    Location:
    Point Pelee,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Very much agreed. It is a concept that shouldn't be that difficult, but for some reason it befuddled me for far too long. Once I put it together with the idea of expanded/contracted development it made a lot more sense. Now that I understand the theory a little better, I am working to put it into practice. (not easy without a spot meter, but not impossible, either.)
     
  25. Christopher Walrath

    Christopher Walrath Member

    Messages:
    7,114
    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2005
    Location:
    In a darkroo
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
  26. Jim Noel

    Jim Noel Member

    Messages:
    2,159
    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2005
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    "I´ve read about the Zone system and understanding there are many photografers that use this meteringsystem. I think it was Fred Picker who invented the system, am I right?"

    Absolutely NOT! Fred would have liked to take the credit but the Zone System was formalized by Fred Archer and Ansel Adams.

    If you want the simplest explanation find a copy of "Fred Archer on Portraiture".