Wish I could get my head around the Zone

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by TPPhotog, Sep 3, 2004.

  1. TPPhotog

    TPPhotog Member

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    OK I consider myself of average intelligence, qualifications in business management, sciences, mathematics and too many years in IT before I dumped it to be a starvibg artist. But for some reason no matter how hard I try my eyes glaze over and my brain cells head for the cover of the nearest blanket like a Garfield cartoon strip when I try to understand the zone.

    Now imagin the scene - my wife and I decide to have a nice walk and maybe a little picnic over the fields near to where we live. Just in case of emergencies I of course take my camera gear. Then it happens, not a very spectacular scene but a challenge. A long hedge rich in wonderful tonal shades and shadows with just enough detail to see into. But the challenge is theres a farm gate which the hedge forms a wonderful natural arch over framing a bright sky with those illusive fluffy clouds. Like any reasonable person I have to have the picture. So I spot meter on the shadaws, do a bit of mental guessamatics and just for good measure braket like a demon. When I get home a little more guessamatics and I pull the development and feel wonderfully happy when I see the negatives.

    So today I think lets give that one a go in the darkroom. Well although I knew as always there would be some dodging and burning, this one was my hardest but probably most satisfying to print. When I finished (that is until it dries and I spot some more tweaks) I calculated that the most dodged area's only received 8 seconds and the most burned got 48 seconds.

    Would this variation have happended if I could understand using zone and anyone got a suggestion other than bidding for new brain cells on Ebay how I can get rid of this block.

    BTW I will post the results as soon as what I hope is a beauty has dried :wink:


    Kind regards Tony
     
  2. bobfowler

    bobfowler Subscriber

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    I know your pain. I struggled with the zone system 30 years ago, trying hard to "be like Ansel". What I wound up doing was developing my own methodology of metering and developing that, while not perfect, works well for my shooting style.

    My hardest obstacle to overcome was learning how to see in monochrome, and how different filters change the tonal rendition of different colors. A viewing filter is a big help, but it can also become a crutch (not to mention one more thing hanging around your neck).
     
  3. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Hi Tony,
    To answer your questions the Zone System is probably better suited for sheet film cameras. However, it's principles can be utilized to some degree in 35 mm roll film applications. So yes it would help you. To utilize it one is best served if they do the testing required to understand the characteristics of the materials used.

    The way that I suggest roll film users utilize it is to expose for the shadows and to develop for the highlights. Since 35 mm needs all of the help that it can receive, in terms of grain, I recommend developing the film to fit on grade three paper.

    Now not all scenes are of the same luminance and brightness ratios (contrast). That means that one does one of several things since one can not alter development mid roll. The first is to bulk load short rolls (to allow different rolls for different brightness ratios). The other is to shoot with several camera bodies. Typically a normal development roll supplemented with a minus development roll and a plus development roll will suffice.

    The rule is that one exposes for shadows and develops for the highlights. For the testing procedures, I suggest the "Negative" by Ansel Adams.
     
  4. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    If you're using the Zone System as described in Adams' _The Negative_, you will have done tests to determine your personal film speed and development times for normal, expansion (+ development to increase contrast for a flat scene), and contraction (- development to decrease contrast for a contrasty scene, like this one) development, targeted for your printing process. You'll meter for the shadows, usually placing the darkest area where you want to see detail on Zone III, and you'll see where the highlights fall. If you meter the brightest highlight where you want detail, and it falls on Zone VIII, you can probably use N development, and if they fall on, say, Zone X, you'll use N-2. You might find that you need to employ different development techniques for more than -2 (a compensating developer, or stand development), or you might take a different approach, like an ND grad filter or colored filter to reduce contrast between the land and the sky.

    The goal is to get all the information on the neg. You still might have to do some dodging and burning to get it all just the way you want it in the final print, or you might use another method to adjust contrast in the print. Having a range of around 2.5 stops worth of dodging and burning as you describe in your example from the part of the print that gets the least amoung of exposure to the amount that gets the most exposure isn't so outrageous, really. If you've got a print you're satisfied with, then you've succeeded.
     
  5. geraldatwork

    geraldatwork Member

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    I also consider myself of at least average intelligence and also can't seem to get myself to embrace the zone system. When I make exposure judgments possibly I'm using the system without knowing. Maybe it is laziness. I don't know. I'm primarily a 35mm shooter and I would think getting the exposure right would be of more importance on large format shooting where you can't easily and economically just go ahead and take 7 or 8 shots of something.
     
  6. bobfowler

    bobfowler Subscriber

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    The problem with bracketing like crazy is that if the scene requires minus development, you just wind up with a lot more exposures of the same scene, each with different degrees of problems! Sure, one may be "closer", but unless you compensate in the development process (assuming that you've enough exposure for the shadow detail), you'll wind up with a negative that either requires a lower contrast paper, or a heck of a lot of manipulation to get the desired result.
     
  7. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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    I know long ago I mentioned Gordon Hutchings zone system. It is more the cow pattie theory of zones. He use to live on a ranch. How he mastered learning the zone system was to extrapolate the different zones to cow patties. (Manure piles) Zone 3 was a fresh cow pattie. Zone 8 was a well aged and very old cow pattie. The various dry down effects of said pattie, becaome the steps in the zones.

    Short of having a field of cows, you can look about you and find what best fits the different zones in your world. My world, it becomes the Himilayan cat zones. Between my seal points, and my blue point, I have a range of 2 to 8.

    Make it fun, and don't stress over it. It is a lot simplier than you think. Once that old brain cell understand your world system, you wonder how you ever had a hard time with it. BTW, I struggled until Gordon explained it to me.
     
  8. TPPhotog

    TPPhotog Member

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    Many thanks for the prompt replies folks, I don't fee quite so stupid for the moment. Looks like I need to do some more testing and take it one step at a time. I actually shot some pictures of Aggie's "cow patties" that day as well but mine were covered with horse flies (well the cows actually). I really must get my brain to understand this system as I want to upgrade to MF once I can find the additional funds :smile:

    Kind regards Tony
     
  9. Joe Lipka

    Joe Lipka Member

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    Some more thoughts to keep you sane on your journey to being a zonista ---

    "The zone system doesn't work, but no one has figured out an alternate."

    As Ted Orland (one of Ansel's assistants) claims, "Expose for secrets, develop for surprises."

    In all seriousness (OK maybe a little bit of seriousness) David Goldfarb has it right, ya gotta do the tests and the calibrations and then the ZS works like a champ. Do the whole thing once, just to say to you did it, then get back to making photographs.

    That's what is important.
     
  10. DrPhil

    DrPhil Member

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    Using the zone system is only a tool to get the details onto the negative. It doesn't guarantee that the negative will print perfectly. The trick is to simply know how to expose the film to record everything. In the darkroom you can burn, dodge, mask, bleach, and adjust to show the scene as you visualized it.
     
  11. John_Brewer

    John_Brewer Member

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    The current issue of Black and White Photography (UK) has an article you may find interesting Tony. The zone system is a lot simpler that it initially seems. :smile:
     
  12. lee

    lee Member

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    there are several books available that attempt to demystify the process. when metering remember that photo meters see the world in gray. So, if you want to meter the shadows (always a good idea) remember that for the proper exposure you will need to close the lens fstops down 2 stops to actually expose for Zone III. Some people use the Zone VIII as the highlight but I think it is more useful to use Zone VII. With that I use a time that thru testing I found to be a normal development time. I used a densitometer to determine the my personal film speed with my equipment and found a .10 density above film base + fog. The film base + fog density is subtracted from the first hint of exposure and where the densitometer needs to read .10. That exposure is the film speed. This is considered Zone I (4 stops below what the meter reads). (Meter reads Zone V then stop down one and that is zone IV and then stopping down one more stop is Zone III and so on until you get to Zone I) In my example, that value came at exactly one half the box speed. If I have to test any film now a days I always start there.

    Finding a normal development time is just a simple. After you have an effective film speed then re-meter the card and OPEN up the lens 3 stops and make your exposure there. Then develop the film at the recommended time from the manufacture. Read the film and if you have a condenser enlarger look for a density around 1.2 and if you are using a diffused light source 1.3. If you are off then more development time will increase that zone 8 number and less time will decrease that time. You might find it handy to reduce the manufactures time by 20% the first time. When you get to those numbers the film is said to be set up for normal exposure and normal development. Use those speeds and dev times for a while to get some experience in metering and seeing those values.

    It is not rocket medicine. It is pretty easy actually.

    lee\c
     
  13. bobfowler

    bobfowler Subscriber

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    That is an interesting concept... I'll have to spot meter the cats when I get home. I have a Chocolate Persian, a Shaded Silver Persian, a Seal Point Himmie, a Chocolate Point Himmie, and a basic b-flat gray tiger DSH. Should be interesting...

    hehehe
     
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  15. TPPhotog

    TPPhotog Member

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    John - Thank you I usually read it cover to cover but for some reason only got around to reading Les McLean's feature. I'll did it out and see if I can make any sense of it.

    DrPhil - Well I guess I managed to get the detail on the negative, but it's the most extream one in terms of latitude I've ever tried and hopefully managed to print. Maybe today was a success after all as I have a print from this negative and easier negatives gave me a chance to print on FB which I loved. Maybe I'll try this negative on FB when I have the odd 2 hours to spare.

    Thanks to all the replies here with the magazine and your replies I just might be able to get at least a basic understanding. Then I can dig deeper by supporting my local book store.

    Also thank you all for another APUG sensible range of replies, I can think of one or two other places where this post would not have been so rewardingly responded to.

    Kind regards Tony
     
  16. sanking

    sanking Member

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    Is the zone system, or other systems of negative control, worth the time and energy that must be expended to master them? In my opinion the answer depends on whether you are working with 35mm and medium format or sheet film, and upon whether you plan to make prints by enlargement or contact printing.

    For sheet film and contact printing my opinion is yes, the time and effort is definitely worth the trouble because a contact print from a large format negative is the best that one can do in terms of authenticity and image information. You might be able to scan a large format negative, adjust the file in Photoshop and make a better looking print, but it unlikely that you could improve significantly on a contact print from the original negative, assuming of course that you are prepared to burn, dodge and make whatever other tonal corrections are necessary in making the print. So for large format film and contact printing getting the very best negative possible for the printing process is important both to final image quality and because it will save time in printing.

    What follows is in the hybrid category and if there is further discussion it might be better to shift it to the gray area of the alternative section.

    For 35 mm and medium format my opinion is that it is not worth the trouble to use the zone system. What I have determined works best for me is to simply expose the film to get good shadow detail, develop the film to a CI of about 1.05, scan the negative, make a digital negative, and from that a contact print onto the process. The quality of contact prints from digital negatives up to about 16X20" in size I have been able to make from 6X9 original negatives is better than I have been able to make by projection printing negatives of this size with an enlarger. There are no doubt valid reasons others may have for choosing to not work this way but in my opinion the quality of the final image can not be one of them.

    Sandy
     
  17. 127

    127 Member

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    The best thing I got from Zone was a vocabulary, and set of tools for thinking about tones.

    I read the books enthusiastically, decided I should try it, then never really got round to actually following the system. Pretty much all my exposures are done by skill and judgement (aka luck, and a bit of sunny 16) - I very rarely even get the meter out of the bag. It works close enough for me - others are of course more particular.

    Despite absolutly NOT following the system, I can ABSOLUTLY say my shots are better as a result. I recommend the Adams books to anyone who'll listen - they are fantastic. They give you a mechanism for thinking about images.

    With that mechanism in place you can meter or not meter - work however you are happy. If you never even TAKE another picture, Zone lets you look at images and (technically at least) deconstruct them.

    Learn the principles then go off and ignore it - you'll be better for it.

    Ian
     
  18. DrPhil

    DrPhil Member

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    Tony,

    For your book reading pleasure I will suggest a few that I have enjoyed. First, Les McLean's book is really good. Being that you are shooting roll film I would say this is a really good place to start. Ansel's "The Negative" and "The Print" are also good. My current favorite is Lambrecht and Woodhouse's "Way Beyond Monochrome" I purchased it thinking that it would be the typical 1/2 inch thick photo book. However, it is over an inch thick!! It is organized as a collection of short articles.

    Good Luck,

    Phil
     
  19. wdemere

    wdemere Member

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  20. John_Brewer

    John_Brewer Member

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    That sure is a meaty tome and one of my faves too.
     
  21. KenM

    KenM Member

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    Ralph and Chris' book,while a great reference, can be overwhelming for the newbie, especially considering that you are assaulted with sensitometry in the first chapter. That would stop most people dead in their tracks right there.

    Personally, my favourite 'teaching' book on photography is Bruce Barnbaum's book The Art of Photography - if you want to learn the zone system, this is a very good book to read.

    However, as has already been pointed out, serious application of the zone system is really only applicable to sheet film and medium format where you can have interchangeable backs. Unless you have multiple bodies for your 35mm system, you have to develop the entire roll at one time, which means that all images, regardless of exposure, will get the same development. The ZS is all about applying the correct development to a given image.

    But, as with all things, you can use the Zone system to assist in exposure.

    I would also point out that exposing shadows on zone III may not always be a good thing. If you want good tonal separation in the shadows then you should expose your shadows on zone IV. See, the thing is that if you expose shadows on zone III, some of the shadow areas will fall on zone II 1/2 (or less), and some on zone III 1/2 - so, unless you're metering a tonally smooth area, there will be variances. So, if part of the shadow area falls on zone II, then you'll be exposing on the toe of the film, where there is very little separation - in other words, you get blocked, or flat, shadows. If you expose on zone IV, then you should get most of the shadow area well up off the toe of film, thereby ensuring good tonal separation. Yes, this will lead to denser negatives, but at the benefit of greater tonal separation in the shadows.

    Adams mentioned this, as does Les McLean in his book on page 21 (although there is a typo, where he indicates shadow exposure should be on zone VI - oops). Barnbaum advises this, as do a few other fine art photographers.
     
  22. DrPhil

    DrPhil Member

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    Barnbaum has a new version out. Has anyone seen it? Is there enough new stuff to justify purchasing a newer edition?
     
  23. djklmnop

    djklmnop Member

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    DRPhil,

    I don't think this is true. The whole idea of the zone system is to calibrate it to correctly give an absolute value at grade 2 in reverse. If you get a .12 for Zone I and have confirmed it with the type of paper you are using, then every negative that is interpreted to Zone I will get a .12 and will print as zone I. Just like if you were to print off the film base, you're gonna get pure black, every time!!! The variables don't change. That's the whole idea of the zone system, not simply to make something acceptable, but to make it absolute.

    If your negatives don't land on grade 2 (or normal grade for your enlarger), by printing it through a higher grade to make up for the underdevelopment of the negative, it will present deficencies in value preservation (grain increase, tonal separation).



     
  24. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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    Like many have said before, the two books that are a must have are; Les Mcleans book, and Bruce Barnbaums. Throw in a cook book or two and you will be set. Now just stock the freezer with film and beer.
     
  25. voceumana

    voceumana Member

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    In short, this might even have happened if you used the zone system. The system's goal is to get all the light values from the scene into a printable negative without losing information you want.

    Ansel dodged & burned heavily. Though I personally prefer his earlier printings, which often showed softer contrast versions of images he later printed for more drama.

    To simplify the zone system, try Fred Picker's "Zone VI Workshop". It's a slim volume, and explains it in easy to understand terms.

    Charlie
     
  26. ThomHarrop

    ThomHarrop Member

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    I teach the Zone System to 20 somethings for a living. Maybe I should do some workshops because I have a way to teach it that anyone can understand in a weekend or two.