Victoms of the Zone System

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by CPorter, Jan 28, 2005.

  1. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    Hello all,

    I was skimming through some of my books to find some info on toning RC papers. I came across a statement in "The Variable Contrast Printing Manual" by Steve Anchell that, I guess, I had not seen in the book before. I know this book is familiar to some of you and there may have previously been some discussion about it in some burried thread somewhere. So, my apologies if it is one of those beating the dead horse issues.

    Page 140, he is discussing Kodak Sepia Toner and why it is not as popular as it once was; his first reason is that lots of photographers have stopped mixing their own toner solutions and therefore have resorted to using Kodak's brand of sepia toner. He goes on to postulate that it has been associated with the antique look and therefore is simply not as desired as it use to be. His second reason is because of Zone System users, who, according to him, prefer neutral tones (I know that I prefer neutral tones which is the whole reason I found myself thinking about it and for writing this post; I was asking myself if I am falling into some kind of trap by trying to seriously understand the ZS method and principles, personally, I don't feel that way). Your thoughts on the following:

    Quote:

    "As good as the ZS has been for teaching photographic methods and principles (the purpose for which is was designed), it has had the unfortunate side effect of hindering the growth and indiviuality among photographers. Photographers who learn their craft through the ZS are often inclined to codify all their methods so they "don't have to think about technique, just creating." They attempt to tightly control their methods of exposure, development, and print processing so they can produce a finished, dry-mounted print as expediently as possible."

    Have a safe weekend,

    Chuck
     
  2. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    Oops, I just realized I mispelled "Victims"
     
  3. Jan Pietrzak

    Jan Pietrzak Member

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    Chuck,

    The photographer that can get past the Zone System is the photographer that can make hers/his own images. The Zone System is a tool and not a way of life. Lots of photographers spend time fitting the image into the photograph and not the other way around. Seeing is responding and making the image. Knowing how to get it on film is a matter of fact.

    Testing film all the time is not a thing that I want to do. Seeing and having the tools to do it with, is what I teach to may students.

    I will get down from the soap box.

    My mentor Al Weber has taught me a lot. One day when I asked him about information that I needed to teach a 16 week Zone class. He said 'what are you planning to do for the other 15 weeks'

    Jan Pietrzak
     
  4. rbarker

    rbarker Member

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    I consider myself to be a "liberatee" of the Zone System, not a victim. By just considering the technique as one other tool in the box, and applying elements of it where appropriate, it often helps me do what I want with individual images.
     
  5. Bob F.

    Bob F. Member

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    Odd - I would say he is wrong on both counts....

    The reason Kodak Sepia Toner is not used much is because it is sulphide based - stinks and fogs photographic emulsions! Much better to use a thiocarbamide based toner...

    I also don't see how understanding your materials leads to "hindering the growth and indiviuality among photographers".

    Nor do I believe the purpose of the ZS is simply "for teaching photographic methods and principles (the purpose for which is was designed) ". It's a practical working tool - one that I wish I had the temperament to apply rather less haphazardly than I do at present...:sad:

    Bob.
     
  6. Les McLean

    Les McLean Subscriber

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    Jan is absolutely spot on. The ZS is simply a tool and can be mastered in 1 day. It will help your confidence and free the mind to deal with the important issues of seeing and making meaningful images.
     
  7. Jorge

    Jorge Inactive

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    Besides, what is wrong with taking care of all the desicions when you take the shot and then have an easy print to make? I would like to know what is his point. If he is implying that a print that was made quick because it was easy to print lacks quality/emotion/artistic expression, then I think he is wrong, and if he is not implying this...then what is the point of that comment.
     
  8. mark

    mark Member

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    Yeah....What Jorge said.
     
  9. BruceN

    BruceN Member

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    A funny thing happened the other day at the camera store - I was visiting with the proprietor when a photography student came in with some negs and a contact sheet. They were a mess, looked to be both overexposed and overdeveloped. With some type of super-contrast-enhancer added. He was having trouble printing them and wanted the shopkeeper's advice. It was kind of fun listening to all the printing advice that bounced back and forth for the next 20 minutes. Then I cleared my throat and said "I can fix that for you, easy."
    "How?"
    "Well, that tree is still there, ain't it?"
    "Well, yeah."
    So I reached into my camera bag and handed him a roll of J&C Pro 100 and said "Go back in better light and shoot better negatives. Bracket 'em a stop to each side. Give 'em 13 1/2 minutes in 1:50 Rodinal and then go make GOOD prints."
    He left with a smile, the roll of film I gave him and a brand new bottle of Rodinal. My work there was finished. You'd of been proud of me, Morten!
     
  10. Canuck

    Canuck Member

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    Too funny and sadly so true. Up in our neck of the woods, the local higher education establishment has decided the analog world is the wrong direction, so darkrooms are gone (or nearly) and it will be full speed digital :sad:. Too much theory and not enough shooting with a bit of practicality thrown in.
     
  11. gchpaco

    gchpaco Member

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    I saw Anchell's statement as distinguishing between "using the tool" and "being used by the tool", or if you prefer the difference between proficiency and mastery.

    All the Zone System can do is take a scene and put it onto a negative without blowing the shadows or the highlights; that's all it is designed to do. This does not excuse you the artist from the job of interpreting that negative into a print; some of that interpretation can include toning, artistic dodging and burning, whatnot. This interpretation can be easy, or it can be very hard, but it should not be discarded in the name of expediency.

    As an example, in Adams's Examples book, several of the forty negatives were cited as highly troublesome because of processing errors. But many of the negatives that were perfectly fine were still troublesome to print; I recall Clearing Winter Storm as being a fine negative but still requiring an enormous amount of work in the printing cycle to get the result Adams desired.

    An additional thing that Anchell claims is that there was a cult of personality surrounding Adams and the ZS that, for example, eschewed warm tone papers and sulfide toners because he did. I cannot confirm or deny this speculation--I simply wasn't around at the time--but it gives his claim more context.
     
  12. Sjixxxy

    Sjixxxy Member

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    Further evidence: My roomate is taking a photo II class this semester. They are not even required to take their own photos, just have some they can work on in photoshop. ugh. :sad:
     
  13. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council Council

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    The last lesson you learn when learning to use the Zone System, sometimes years later, is that the Zone System doesn't work. (If you base your exposure on Zone III and give - or + development, Zone III moves from it's place on the curve and you have to change paper grade or paper development to get it back) It does ensure, however, that your negatives are at least "in the ball park".

    I think the ZS gets a bad rap because of the glassy eyed cultish zeal of those learning and new to the system...I can remember actually believing that it would be possible to make prints only on grade 2!!!!! This devotion to technique is all part of the process; it's how you muster the long neglected technical portion of your artists brain to understanding film/developer, paper/developer, interdependance.

    Anchell is right, in that if you blindly adopt the selenium toned Fine Print just because Ansel did, without questioning what printing methods/qualities are most appropriate for your own work, is wrong.

    Murray
     
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  15. Bill Mitchell

    Bill Mitchell Member

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    The Zone System is just that -- a SYSTEM -- not just an exposure/developing guide. It begns with visualizing the image as a finished print -- it cannot be taught in a day, or a week.
     
  16. SteveGangi

    SteveGangi Member

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    The zone system is a method, nothing more. It is supposed to make the rest of the process easier. There are people who use it, and people who don't. I use a modified or abbreviated version. Other people use it much more properly, as it was spelled out by White and Adams. Occasionally I have to live with the consequences (an impossible print), but not too often..

    Zone work does not stop anyone from making sepia prints, it's the sulphurous stink that does. My answer to that was to wait until the weather is good - not a long wait in California, and then do the toning in the backyard. That way the house doesn't smell like bad eggs. I've only done one sepia that I really like so far, but a real master can do beautiful things with it.
     
  17. Peter Schrager

    Peter Schrager Subscriber

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    ZS

    I started out as a faithful follower of the Fred Picker method of exposing and developing negatives. I was always able to come back with photographs. Only after reading Bruce Barnbaum's book did I come to realize that in proofing my negatives I needed to take a more relaxed attitude. Not all negatives are the same due to SBR and the proof will show that. Now I proof for Grade 1 to actually "SEE" what information is on the negative. I do not proof ALL negatives for exactly the same time anymore.My negatives and my prints have substantially improved. No actually, there is NO comparison. Getting stuck by proofing for Grade 2 will always render a denser negative. That was Mr. Pickers way. But I still use my meter that has been zoned and modified by him.
    You have to learn to walk before you can run. It doesn't matter if it's the ZS or BTZS or the BS system. What counts is getting enough information on the negative to make a fine print. If I lived in the sunny Sothwest I doubt I would even have reason to use a meter. The light is very consistant. Just find a method that makes YOU comfortable and use it.
    Peter
     
  18. SteveGangi

    SteveGangi Member

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    You still would, I guarantee. One of the prices of living out here is, the amount of contrast you get. It can be pretty harsh sometimes. Other times, not so much.
     
  19. phfitz

    phfitz Member

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    Hi there,

    I think most people do not use toners because they smell like death or change the print too far and must reprint. I think too many people took the 'Zone System' too far and tried to make A.A.'s pictures A.A.'s way instead of thinking for themselves.

    'Victims of the Zone System'= anyone who used it, it's defective. I did not roll the whole thing up and throw it at the world like a snowball, A.A. did that. It does not take into account too many variables to be useful.

    1)There is NO SHOULDER on the film unless you put it there. Yes there are specialty films that will shoulder and yes you can use a staining developer but in general use there is no shoulder, no reason to fear blocking-up the highlights and NO GOOD REASON to compress the mid-tones. Just use more volume of developer.

    2)There IS a definite max. exposure value for any film/camera combo after which you are not increasing exposure, you will inflict over-exposure and burn out the fine details the film can register. I am NOT refering to gross over-exposure and solarization. It is very easy to find with a fine resolution chart, an exposure series and a 50X microscope, just keep notes and place it to whichever zone you wish.

    3)Standard Z.S. film tests do NOT indicate lens flare, baffle flare, bellows flare or light thru the view finder; F/stops are not T/stops and are not always accurate for exposure. The only way to test is to stop testing and take more pictures and make more photographs.

    4)Any paper has limited RANGE of densities and a proper C.I. that looks correct. Basing film speed on .1 over base/fog only serves to make the thinnest possible negs and risks under-exposure.

    Too many old favorite films are disappearing and Z.S. testing is not very useful for getting 'up to speed' with the new films.

    Just a thought.
     
  20. titrisol

    titrisol Member

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    ZS is a great method to previsualize an image. It helps placing the midtones, highlights and shadows where they should be.
    Unfortunaley for us 35mm users it makes life very hard, since we can't porcess each negative individually.....
    Thanks to VC papers/split-filtering, etc. we can achiveve good prints, no matter if we did a n+1 or n-2 exposure and the film got developed to n .

    I think we should be talking about a newer system
     
  21. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    Good evening, and thanks to all who have responded, even the AA haters, at least that's what it seems like. No sense of sarcasim here as I do appreciate the post, but I find it strange to read such things as shown above and feel that I must respond to it.

    I believe in the ZS, I think it is entirely valid "method", "tool", "system", etc....I'm getting better at it all the time. Gotta tell ya though, I don't understand such thoughts of contempt for another individuals success. I'm certainly not trying to become an AA emulator (actually, landscapes are the last thing that I want to photograph), but gaining a firm grasp of methods that have obviously been proven successful can only make me better, as I see it.

    AA wrote: The Negative, page X in Introduction

    "When I began teaching photography I found that I had little to impart other than the way I worked, and I was aware of the danger of merely encouraging groups of imitators. Only the strongest minds and imaginations can overcome this form of "parrot" education. It became obvious to me that there must be some bridge between the basic theory of the medium and potentially creative means of application. I felt it essential to translate the arcane principles of sensitometry into a system of applied craft which would be both precise and adaptable by the individual to any practical or expressive aspect of photography. Out of this need was born the Zone System,......."

    So, if you don't like it, then don't use it, but please don't be so arrogant as to berate it, and give less experienced 'analogers' and immediate sense its uselessness (as you see it). Seems your touting of its failure is equal to the very arrogance with which you accuse AA of "throwing" the ZS to the world. C'mon man, is that any way to be?

    Regarding your statement on older vs. newer films. AA's thoughts on this were addressed, it seems to me, starting at the bottom of page 87 and continuing on page 88.

    Sorry for the quotes and page references, but some things are better left unparaphrased.

    Regards to all

    Chuck
     
  22. c6h6o3

    c6h6o3 Member

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    Actually, it was many thoughts and I agree with the fourth one.

    I have always thought the .1 over f+b for Zone I benchmark to be absurd. In the first place, even films which do not exhibit pronounced shoulders have pronounced toes and Zone I is always way below the straight line portion of the curve. If you're wrong, how do you adjust it? Even when you get it exactly .1 over f+b, you have acquired exactly zero information about any portion of the pictorial scale which will have tone. If you're going to use a densitometer to determine your film speed, at least shoot for a density which gets Zone III up off of the toe, like around 0.4. Then you'll have a speed which is above the straight line threshold and your adjustments will be close to linear. (i.e., +1 stop adds 1 zone). At Zone I you have no idea what you're doing.

    I no longer agree with Adams' statement that "the correct exposure is the minimum exposure necessary to yield sufficient shadow detail". As often as not it's the maximum exposure one can give the film without blowing the highlights. But in any case Zone I tells you absolutely nothing about shadow detail. Meaningful shadow detail is at least two zones higher.

    Making a good print is mostly about matching the contrast of the paper to that of the negative. I don't see how it has anything to do with whether or not the film is new or old. 400TMax has a very straight line response curve out to a density of well over 2.5, much like that of Super XX. With both films the key is still matching the CI of the paper (or printing process) to that of the negative.
     
  23. Bill Mitchell

    Bill Mitchell Member

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    For some time I've wondered if AA (and whatshisname) would have "invented" the Zone System if he'd lived in the Northeastern US or Europe rather than in the West where the extreme contrasts of the clear high altitude light almost necessitate exact contrast control. Having photographed in the East for over 50 years (even in the days of Kodachrome I), I can count on my fingers the number of times when simple exposure bracketing didn't give me a fully printable negative.
     
  24. Stephen Benskin

    Stephen Benskin Member

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    If we stick with the topic that Chuck started with, I'd say he is right. Many people simply say if Ansel said so, it must be right. Chuck is only bring up an observation. I don't think this is limited to Adams either. Almost everybody imitates their mentor at one time. How many posts are questions about how this photographer works or what film that photographer uses? At one time artists were required to copy the masters before they were allowed to paint subjects of their own choosing. There is nothing wrong with imitating artists that inspire you when you are learning. You just need to find your own voice at some point. Those who do become artists. What I think Chuck is wondering about is those who never find their own voice, may be limited to simply copying the masters.

    For all the others who are questioning the merits of the Zone System, it's a simplification of tone reproduction theory. Anytime anything is simplified, information is either lost or compromised. If you want to understand how photography really works, read about tone reproduction.
     
  25. Tom Stanworth

    Tom Stanworth Member

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    Absolutely! I have often been astonished at how difficult some people make it in their convoluted explanations....which leads me to suspect that those doing the explaining probably do not understand it that well themselves. If they did, the simplicity would be blindingly obvious and their explanations much simpler.

    Tom
     
  26. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    On the other hand, I find the bright sunny - and the bright rainy - days in Norway quite often require at least a passing thought to the ZS. A 14 stop contrast range is not uncommon at all around here.