Zone system question

Discussion in 'Exposure Discussion' started by Alex Muir, Jan 15, 2013.

  1. Alex Muir

    Alex Muir Member

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    I was out in Saturday making some landscape images. I used a spot meter to measure the area I visualised as zone III and set an exposure of two stops less on the camera. To make the initial print, I exposed a test strip of the film rebate against a portion of empty carrier to determine maximum black. I then made the print at grade 2 using the same time for max black. The zone III came out too dark, more like zoneII. Assuming my choice of Zone III was sound, does this suggest my meter is prone to over, or under exposure? I have tried, but can't figure this out in my head! Alex
     
  2. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    Complex, lengthy topic of tone reproduction. There are lots of variables at work here. Film speed, the meter, flare in the scene, film curve, paper curve and on and on. And there are different interpretations of what "Zone" actually means when it comes to the exposure placement versus the negative density versus the paper tone (reflection density). Remember that just because you expose two stops below metered, doesn't mean the resulting negative density will produce a Zone III tone on the paper.

    I suppose a simplistic answer in this case is to give more exposure to the film (ie use a lower exposure index).
     
  3. Alex Muir

    Alex Muir Member

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    I was hoping my zoneIII would be dark, but with full texture/detail. It was a large piece of brown sandstone. I do have two shots of the same scene, one stop apart. One is too light, and the other too dark. Perhaps a new EI between the two would be the answer? I thought I had my EI sorted out for this film, but maybe further testing is needed.
     
  4. Kevin Kehler

    Kevin Kehler Member

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    Did you expose at box speed or a personal speed? I know one of my camera's shutter is consistently 1/3 less than it should be. Most advocates of the zone system (myself included) stress the need to test equipment/development routines prior to "fully embracing" the zone system to account for just such things. Thus, I know (from testing) that my 90mm lens will require a slightly different setting from my 65mm lens when shooting the same scene (and wanting the same zones).

    It is possible your meter is wrong or your equipment is faulty - it is also possible your development routine is different than what the film actually requires or that the box speed of the film is more optimistic than your situation warrants. Either adjust the meter for next time, remember the difference and adjust the exposure next time or test another camera to make sure it is not a mechanical issue with the first camera. The simplest answer is to adjust the speed of the film, as Michael suggested.
     
  5. Mainecoonmaniac

    Mainecoonmaniac Subscriber

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    As you probably already know, the foundation is expose for shadows and develop for highlights. You probably under exposed your film. Did you test out the true speed of the film with your developer?
     
  6. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    Remember that a "Zone" is a uniform density or "tone". A single tone has no texture. In the context of typical Zone System testing, usage etc, where (for example) "Zone III" is supposed to have full detail, is often helpful to think of Zone III as an average of all the different tones that together would show textured sandstone. A detailed/textured Zone III, therefore must contain minute areas of varying density - probably ranging from at least Zone II to Zone IV, and probably wider than that. So, to get a good detailed Zone III, you need to make sure there is good contrast between all the Zones below and above it. The "speed" point of your film is therefore typically one that ensures there is good contrast from below Zone I upward.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 15, 2013
  7. juan

    juan Subscriber

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    Try cutting your film speed in half - meter again for Zone III and see if you like the results. If so, you've found your personal film speed for that film, camera and meter.
    juan
     
  8. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Member

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    alex, from my experience, this is a very commoninitial result. i think it has to do with the fact that it is not easy to visualize a Zone III.IT IS MUCH DARKER THAN MOST PEOPLE THINK. JOHN SEXTON AND OTHERS HAve suggested to visualAND FIND A ZoneIV Instead.without testing much,just half your film speed and try again.don't give up. it's not easy but you'll get there,and then, the rewards of the zone system are great.all the best and good luck.
     
  9. Alex Muir

    Alex Muir Member

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    Thanks for the prompt replies. I was using Tri-X rated at 200. I had previously carried out an EI test which suggested 200. I used the method described in a Kodak publication which requires a densitometer. Developer is Ilfosol 3 for 7.00mins. Recently, despite my test results, I felt that my negatives of real life scenes were overexposed. I was bracketing, therefore at personal EI and one stop under. The 200 negs print too light at the maximum black time, and look quite dense. The 400 negs lack detail in darker areas. Perhaps this is not a good developer choice for this film. I use it largely out of convenience.
     
  10. Kevin Kehler

    Kevin Kehler Member

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    If you have already worked out an EI which you are satisfied with, I suggest the problem is either as Ralph suggests, that Zone III is actually darker than you are visualizing or that you are measuring the real life scenes incorrectly. For example, Canadian winters are full of snow and if I meter for shadows while taking a winter shot, all of my highlights are blocked up because the snow is so bright. I could reduce the development (N-1, N-2), try a compensating developer (stand development or a water bath) or I can accept the fact that the scene exceeds what my film/paper is capable of reproducing and make a decision as to what the most important zone in the scene is and use that as my baseline. Often (in winter snow scenes), I use the snow as my zone VIII basis and let the shadows fall where they may. I do this as snow without texture/detail looks worse than shadows with insufficient detail for a winter scene, in my opinion. For summer scenes, I can't live without the shadows.

    Thus, I am not trying to criticize your method but if you slavishly adhere to zone III being the only important zone (as many "zoners" are apt to do), I think you miss the point of the system. You need to decide what the final print is supposed to look like, what tones are going to be important in that print and then meter for what is important. While "expose for shadows, develop for highlights" is a good start (and end point), it is not a final methodology in itself. No one here is advocating having too rigorous a mindset that photographers too often fall into. If you read St. Adams books and printing methods, he often metered for something else besides zone III because that was what he wanted the final print to emphasize.

    That said, zone III is much darker than most people realize.
     
  11. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Member

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    amen to that
     
  12. Alex Muir

    Alex Muir Member

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    I'm re-visualising zone III as a darker tone in future. I will also try metering different zones, depending on subject matter. There was some fast-flowing water in some of my scenes, and this has come out virtually white. I suppose this is similar to snow, and requires to be carefully rendered in order to avoid large, featureless white areas in the print. Metering tones above zone V, and adjusting accordingly may have given better results. Thank you for all the helpful advice.
     
  13. ParkerSmithPhoto

    ParkerSmithPhoto Subscriber

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    Alex, One thing that has helped me in my recent film tests is to shoot a white brick wall at my tested film speed, expose for 10 zones, and then print a 4x5 of each one of the negs, using the film base/max black time for every single frame. In the New Zone System Manual, they suggest a white towel as the subject. Adding some relatively uniform area with texture gets you out of thinking of the zones as solid patches of gray.

    Wow! Bind them together and you have a portable Zone Book that shows the exact tone you will get when you meter and shoot that film/dev combo. It's pretty cool.
     
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  15. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    I've no idea what the toe of the curve looks like with a Tri-X / Ilfosol combination........a long toe or a short toe, the shape of the toe will influence the tone reproduced at a given low zone, with a long toe on III being darker than a short toe on III. You're being given so many things to think about, but here's something, straight out of The Negative. You can know what the tone should be at Zone III with the film/dev combo you state (rated EI 200) by making a Zone V exposure of a uniformly textured surface that is evenly and diffusely illuminated, also make a Zone III exposure too. Do all zones if you like.

    Develop the film normally, print the Zone V frame so that the dried print precisely matches the tone of a gray card. Now print the Zone III frame for the same printing exposure time----this is the tone value for that combination. I would definitely do this for Zone II as well, if you have the "slightest suggestion of texture" in that printed frame, then an effective speed of 200 is good for that combination and your process. In the II frame, if the rendering of texture is more akin to full texture, then perhaps the EI is too low, bump it up by 1/3or so. It does not take long, I've done it and it works wonderfully.
     
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  16. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Have you tried less print exposure or a different grade?
     
  17. David Allen

    David Allen Member

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    Hi Alex,

    the key to your problem is the method you are using to test for minimum black exposure. The rebate of a film has not received any in-lens flair and is generally totally clear whereas a true Zone 0 area of a negative will have received flair during exposure and this is compounded by the affect on this tone during development. In effect your minimum black time is too long resulting in your Zone III coming out too dark.

    As you are clearly aware, the key to achieving consistently good negatives is the correct placement of your shadows when exposing the film and ascertaining the correct development time for achieving good separation without losing the highlights. A simple and relatively quick way to way to pin all this down for the future is to do the following (WARNING: reading these instructions is more time consuming and a lot more laborious than actually doing it!!):

    1. Find a scene with with a good range of tones
    2. Using the box speed, meter the darkest area in which you wish to retain shadow detail
    3. Move the camera so that you are only photographing this shadow area
    4. From the meter's reading close down the aperture by 2 stops or increase the shutter speed by two stops and then expose 6 frames at: the given exposure then +1 stop, +2 stops, -1 stop, -2 stops and -3 stops less than the meter has indicated

    5. Process the film

    6. Using the frame that was exposed at -3 stops less than the meter indicated (which should be practically clear but will have received lens flair and fogging - i.e a real world maximum black rather than an exposed piece of film that has processing fog) and do a test strip to find out what is the minimum exposure to achieve maximum black - Print must be fully dry before assessing this
    7. Do another test strip with the first exposure being what you have selected for achieving maximum black minus your dry-down compensation then plus 1 second, 2 seconds, etc
    8. The time that achieves full black inclusive of compensation for dry-down is you minimum exposure to achieve maximum black for all future printing sessions - print must be fully dry before assessing
    9 You now know the minimum time to achieve full black inclusive of exposure reduction to accommodate dry-down
    10. Using this minimum exposure to achieve maximum black exposure time, expose all of the other test frames.
    11. The test print that has good shadow detail indicates which exposure will render good shadow detail and achieve maximum black and provides you with your personal EI for the tested film/developer combination

    12 If the negative exposed at the meter reading gives good shadows, your EI is (when metering shadows where you wish to retain good detail) the box speed (i.e. for 400 film you need to set your meter at 400)
    13. If the negative exposed at +1 stop more than the meter reading gives good shadows, your EI is (when metering shadows where you wish to retain good detail) 1/2 the box speed (i.e. for 400 film you need to set your meter at 200)
    14. If the negative exposed at +2 stops more than the meter reading gives good shadows, you EI is (when metering shadows where you wish to retain good detail) 1/4 box speed (i.e. for 400 film you need to set your meter at 100)
    15. If the negative exposed at -1 stop less than the meter reading gives good shadows, you EI is (when metering shadows where you wish to retain good detail) double the box speed (i.e. for 400 film you need to set your meter at 800)
    16. If the negative exposed at -2 stop less than the meter reading gives good shadows, you EI is (when metering shadows where you wish to retain good detail) 4x the box speed (i.e. for 400 film you need to set your meter at 1600)

    You have now fixed your personal EI but there is one more testing stage to go.

    1. Find a scene with with a good range of tones
    2. Using your EI, meter the brightest area in which you wish to retain highlight detail
    3. Move the camera so that you are only photographing this highlight area
    4. From the meter's reading open up the aperture by 3 stops or decrease the shutter speed by three stops
    5. Expose the whole roll at this setting
    6. In the darkroom, process one third of the film for recommended development time

    7. When dry put negative in the enlarger and make a three section test strip exposing for half the minimum black time established earlier, for the established minimum black time and for double the minimum black time.
    8. Process print and dry it.
    9. If the section of the test strip exposed for 1/2 the minimum black time gives bright highlights with a trace of detail then the film requires 20% more development
    10. If the section of the test strip exposed for the minimum black time gives bright highlights with a trace of detail then the film is correctly developed
    11. If the section of the test strip exposed for double the minimum black time gives bright highlights with a trace of detail then the film requires 20% less development
    12. You can use the rest of the exposed highlight test film to fine tune the development time.

    YES - it is VERY boring but . . .for the investment of minimal materials and a few of hours you will have pinned down so many variables that it is really worth doing.

    Back in the real world, all you need to do in future is meter the shadows that you wish to retain good detail with meter set at your EI and then stop down the aperture 2 stops or increase the shutter speed by 2 stops (i.e. what you have previously done but with an incorrect minimum black time). In the darkroom start your first test print with the minimum exposure to achieve maximum black (inclusive of dry-down compensation) and go from there.

    Hope this is of some help and can I suggest that you try using Barry Thornton's Two-Bath developer as this will ensure that your highlights (such as the fast flowing water that you mentioned in a later post) always remain printable

    David
    www.dsallen.de
     
  18. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    It is also worth noting Richard Henry's tests showed that (at least for graded paper) the "maximum back" exposure time is not a reliable way to determine the proper print exposure to produce the expected print densities from negative densities.
     
  19. mark

    mark Member

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    Michael has a good point. I think you had two issues. One you understood. 3 is pretty freaking dark. The second is the printing technique you used. You say you printed at grade 2 but did not say if that was on graded of VC paper. When I shot and printed 35mm (I assume you shot 35mm b/c your profile says 35mm shooter) I discovered that grade two never really gave me what I wanted but grade three did when using VC papers. When I split printed the angels began to sing. 35mm is not super conducive to zone system exposure, and when I realized this I began to aim for maximum information on the neg and split printing in the darkroom.

    In the darkroom you lose contrast as the image is enlarged. Not only do you make the image larger you make the spaces between the silver crystals larger as well. Tri-X was the biggest culprit of this and one of the reasons I stopped using it. Because of this contrast loss you need to bump the paper grade up one as the image gets over say 4x5, or you split print and get better overall more successful prints. JMT on the matter.
     
  20. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Subscriber

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    I did something similar. I read a lot of articles about finding your personal film speed and almost all of them came to the conclusion that half the box speed (double the exposure) combined with a 20% reduction was the ideal method.

    So rather than do the tests myself, I just tried out that method and liked the results.


    Steve.
     
  21. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    The Zone System is an approximation model only, allowing you to get a ballpark worthy negative,
    and not a religion! Zone III can mean completely different things with different films, depending on
    the lower part of the characteristic curve. With straight-line films appropriatedly developed, it can
    be quite open. I've gotten good shadow separation clear down to Zone 1 or even 0 with some films
    at box speed! With something like Trix-X or HP5, you've got a substantial toe, so either have to rate it at a lower speed to get the exposure further up on the curve, or else end up with III and below relatively blocked up in shadow. But overdo it, and you'll get problems reproducing the highlights.
    There are way too many variables to make an oversimplified explanation here. Just experiment and
    practice based on all the advice you're getting until things make sense. Then perhaps look at other
    film and developer options if you're still having issues.
     
  22. Mainecoonmaniac

    Mainecoonmaniac Subscriber

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    I completely agree. Just like a religion, it must be useful and approach it in our own way and don't be dogmatic about it.
     
  23. ParkerSmithPhoto

    ParkerSmithPhoto Subscriber

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    Michael,

    I assume you are referring to Henry's "Controls in Black and White Photography." Can you briefly recap the methodology/logic here? Thanks.

    P
     
  24. Alex Muir

    Alex Muir Member

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    Thanks for all advice and suggestions. A number of points have been made which clarify things I have read, but perhaps not fully understood. I went back into the darkroom tonight and worked on a couple of the negs, trying to achieve prints that expressed what I had originally intended. I'm pleased to say that I had some success. I used the split-grade printing technique and managed to get sufficient detail into my highlights, without turning my shadows flat black. I had been using a faster than normal film because I was working with a medium format camera. I will now be examining the curves of other film/dev combos to see what may be more appropriate for my images. I'm also trying to concentrate on the images and not getting too tied down with technical issues. Alex
     
  25. Kevin Kehler

    Kevin Kehler Member

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    In the end, this is all that matters.

    The zone system (and split grade printing, and different developers, and...and...and) are all there to help you create the image you want in the simplest way possible. As St. Ansel said "there is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept". One of the reasons I like film is I find it simpler (even when using a 5x7 camera) since I am less tempted to play with settings and more focused on the image itself. For me, I want to know enough to make the images I want without knowing enough to worry if I am doing it right. I got into the technical aspects so it would be easier to make images, not because it would make better images - that only comes from doing photography.
     
  26. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Member

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    these are wise words, but let's be honest, we love our tools and all the gadgets too:smile: