Zone System - WTF?

Discussion in 'Exposure Discussion' started by zenrhino, Dec 12, 2005.

  1. zenrhino

    zenrhino Member

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    So the book I needed for last semester's class finally came in. One of the things the book ([size=-1]Beyond Basic Photography: A Technical Manual by Henry Horenstein) discusses is the Zone System.

    Ok, is this some sort of really elaborate Rube Goldberg hoax or do shooters actually try and figure out their exposures like this? How does this system get used in any practical sort of way?
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  2. Dave Parker

    Dave Parker Inactive

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    If class requires is, you better read and understand it, the Zone system has been around and used by a lot of photographers for many years now, it is probably one of the most mis understood methods for determining exposure in the photographic world, but is a good system to learn and can make a difference in your exposures, both in picture taking and darkroom work.

    Dave
     
  3. laz

    laz Member

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    You're not kidding are you? While you might or might not want to use it, it is something any serious photographer should know. I assure you that at least occassionally you will be setting up a shot and realize that it's principals will help you.

    -Bob
     
  4. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    The ZS definitely works and is well worth your time to learn the principles. I recommend reading "The Negative" by Adams----some claim it is difficult reading, but that is certainly a matter of opinion. One word of advice that I have is to not get caught up in all the negativity surrounding the ZS, believe me you will see it if you bother to search some threads in this forum. It is probably hated just as much as it is liked, if not more. I have found that some of those that really dislike it appear to not really understand it. Once you understand it, the whole process becomes very intuitive and fluid in thought. I will tell you that it has really helped me in many ways.

    Good Luck!

    Chuck
     
  5. Andre R. de Avillez

    Andre R. de Avillez Member

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    A quick, and perhaps wrong, way to describe the ZS would be as follows:

    First you find out the correct fim speed (e.i.) and developing time for your film of choice. Once this is done, a "normal" scence should give you a negative with a 10 stop range from black to white.

    Having that, you know how to meter a scene to have certain tones in certain objects (for example, having white skin one or two stop over neutral, black skin one or two stop under it, or making sure that your shadow areas will have as much detail as you want). This would also allow you to compensate development for a long range scene (11 or more stops) or a low range scene (9 stops or less). If I'm not mistaken a rule of thumb for compensating development is adding or subtracting 15-20% time for each stop.

    Of course, you will probably test all this and have the exact numbers to back it up.

    I don't use the ZS, but had to test a film using it in one of my photography classes, once. If nothing else, this taught me what a correctly exposed and developed neg looks like. I looks pretty good :smile: . Prints even better.

    Like I said, I don't use the ZS, but I apply the basic principles when metering reflected light (like in my 35mm SLR).

    Hope this helps,

    André
     
  6. Lee L

    Lee L Member

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    Cast aside the jargon and learning the zone system is analogous to a musician learning and practicing scales, and learning a little music theory. It's about intentional tone placement. You can learn the same things haphazardly or intuitively, or with a system. I like to listen to musicians with both craft (technique) and musicality, and ideally, I like my photography the same way.

    The best photographers who don't use the zone system have their own way of understanding the same basic concepts that the zone system teaches. A photographer with a message, but no understanding of how to get that message across through the materials, is not often that great, or does good work when things fall into place by chance or habit, and often inconsistently.

    In other words, you can get where you're going a lot faster and more effectively if you know how to get there on purpose. The zone system is one way of getting where you want to go effectively, and the basic concepts aren't that hard to grasp.

    Lee
     
  7. photobackpacker

    photobackpacker Advertiser Advertiser

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    Since you have been a member since 2004, I wonder if your question is asked with tongue tucked firmly in cheek. It is, after all, entertaining to watch pro and con Z-S folks duke it out.

    If, on the other hand, you are looking for information from someone who uses the ZS (well, I think,) I would be pleased to buy you a cup of coffee and answer your questions first hand. I'll even bore you with a few prints to illustrate my points.

    The zone system is not a match with everyone's personal style. It is with mine. I have been using it for 25 years now and have attended two of John Sexton's seminars to refine my skills. In the same breath, there are many outstanding photographers for whom the ZS is as valuable as a flatulent darkroom assistant. :sad:

    If you are looking for an information exchange and honest enquiry - I'm available. ZS debate/dogma defense - I'm too busy. :smile: PM me and I will give you a phone number.

    Bruce L
     
  8. seadrive

    seadrive Member

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    The Zone System is all about determining what EI/ASA to set on your meter for a particular film, to render minimal exposure densities in the "dark but still important" areas of a scene, and, having determined that, how long to develop your film to allow you to capture the full spectrum of a normal-to-high-contrast scene, so that you can print it on #2 paper.

    The rest of it is a bunch of excuses, developed (pun intended) by people who test films, to avoid having to put their egos on the line by actually trying to make good photographs.

    Read Fred Picker's "Zone VI Workshop". It's all you'll ever need to know about the Zone System.
     
  9. johnnywalker

    johnnywalker Subscriber

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    I recently purchased the Henry Horenstein and Fred Picker books mentioned above. I really don't understand what all the fuss is about, and why some people dislike what appears to be, from these two books at least, a very common-sense approach to taking pictures. I haven't had a chance to put all of this into practice yet, but in theory at least it looks easy enough that it makes me wonder if I've missed some complications.
     
  10. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    you'd be surprised, some people are so "zone'd out" they forget to go out and take the photographs!


    john
     
  11. rbarker

    rbarker Member

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    The Zone System is actually a fairly simple system of managing exposure and development to squeeze what you want out of the scene first onto the film, and then onto your preferred paper - ideally consistent with what you wanted in the first place. Once you understand the core concepts, the practical application amounts to taking a couple of readings to determine exposure and corresponding development.

    The problem is that the basic concepts leave room for a lot of technical precision, and a wide range of interpretations of what is necessary to get to the desired result. The details relating to the technical precision can get confusing, so various people have made money from writing "better" explanations, or devising related, but somewhat different, systems. Consistent with human nature, fanaticism for one approach over another tends to creep in, too. :wink:
     
  12. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    The basis of the Zone System is really quite simple:

    In the days of developing by inspection, the rule was "expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights". That was easy, because you could see the highlights developing. Some of us still do it that way.

    Then along came panchromatic film, and developing in total darkness... The ZS was an attempt to answer the logical question "all right, but how long is that? How do you know how much to develop the highlights?"

    And that's all it is. No mystery, no magic, no mumbo-jumbo.

    Since there are some people who blanch at the sight of a logarithm, BTZS was devised. It's just as good a system, but in 1% of the cases it just doesn't work. It shouldn't trouble you, since that 1% all ends up on my films (extreme contrast ranges seem to be normal whenever I'm out with a camera!).
     
  13. severian

    severian Member

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    zs

    Agreed. The ZS is how the science of our art works. You can determine iso, dev time etc. in one afternoon. Practice with real photographs until you can intuit the exposure. Then throw away your meter and any previsualization concepts and enjoy the act of making photographs. Phil Davis books should only be approached while wearing a wreath of garlic around your neck
    Jack B
     
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  15. haris

    haris Guest

    I asked simmilaer question (expose for shadows, develop for highlights), thread http://www.apug.org/forums/showthread.php?t=21044

    Read all, but especially Les Mclean's answer on my question. His writting will make things much more clear and simple. Thanks Les.
     
  16. noseoil

    noseoil Member

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    Whatever system you decide to try, there must be a way of dealing with light, film and paper. After working with the zs and btzs, I'm staying with the btzs approach. If you don't figure out a way of handling other than "normal" scenes, your results will be hit or miss at best. tim
     
  17. gbroadbridge

    gbroadbridge Member

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    I sorta always use a zone system. I expose for the shadows, but then as I'm using a 120 roll camera typically don't worry about the highlights.

    I shoot Ilford FP4+, this film has more than 5 stops of over-exposure capability, so why on earth would I pull development time by 2 stops (the famous N-2 development).

    I just adjust when printing, and use dodge/burn techniques to get the result I desire on paper. End result is the same, the image is still not in the knee of the film or the paper, and happy customers send me christmas bouquets.

    Understanding the zone system is worth the effort, blindly foillowing it is the task of a puppet.


    Graham.
     
  18. severian

    severian Member

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    The words of a master
     
  19. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council Council

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    The zone system gives you an overview of how everything between film, exposure, film development, paper, and paper development exist in a kind of symbiotic relationship. Change one thing, and it gives you an understanding how all the other links in the chain may be affected.

    As for the myth it will allow you to print everything on grade 2...check out Ansel's many examples in his books to see how often he used other grades.

    No system is better than experience. Here's an example; you come upon a creek at dusk with a mountain in the background. The sun has set behind the mountain making high wispy clouds glow orange, and everything in the foreground is illuminated by deep blue skylight. You don't have long because the clouds are just moving into position and the mosquitoes are insane.

    As you're setting up the camera you think, if I use a red or orange filter the foreground trees in shadow are gonna crap out, so a yellow one is probably better, but it's not gonna deepen the blue sky enough to make those clouds pop out, but that's OK because I'm not gonna give this one minus development but give it normal development because of the weak shadow contrast, so I'll expose and develop for the shadow contrast and let the clouds land somewhere around zone X or XI as they are orange and with the filter factor applied the clouds are going to expose the film proportionally more than any other element, which is OK because I'm gonna burn in the sky and the mountain anyway to get some detail in that glacier, so that'll darken the blue parts of the sky while I'm burning in the cloud detail and then those clouds are just gonna sing! Then you meter it to confirm your hunches, and add a bit to the filter factor just in case you're wrong about the shadow detail.

    They don't teach that in books. (Like I really know what I'm talking about!)

    Murray
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 13, 2005
  20. smieglitz

    smieglitz Member

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    The zone system is about visualizing your image before you snap the shutter. All the rest of the testing, endless discussions/arguments on the subject, numbers and graphs, etc., only serve to help you understand your materials and limitations which may or may not validate your visualization.

    As Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry once remarked: "A man's got to know his limitations." In another film he also queried: "Ask yourself: Do you feel lucky? Well, do you, Punk?"

    The first is the Zone System and the second is trial-and-error.
     
  21. Baxter Bradford

    Baxter Bradford Member

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    Don't you think this is a nifty little wind up Gents? I suggest hanging fire.

    If zenrhino is not prepared to read the book which has the benefit of illustrations/photos over a text orientated forum, probably hasn't asked the lecturer, hasn't read any wider from AA or whoever for B+W, so far hasn't managed to reply to the thread......

    Has he even bothered to read your efforts?

    Have to give credit - It is a good thread title though.
     
  22. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council Council

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    What Baxter said plus;

    Guess he failed that part of the course from last semester!

    Anyways...it's fun to kick this stuff around every month or so. I can remember 20+ years ago when I actually believed I could print everything on grade 2 once I learned the zone system :wink:

    Murray
     
  23. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I used to print everything on grade 2, but then I learned the zone system...
     
  24. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    Only partly true. The latitude mentioned is not a fail safe mechanism by any means; it greatly depends on the brightness range of the scene. The exoposure latitude that any film posseses works for the photographer when the subject brightness range is rather flat i.e., the film provides some latitude for varying the exposure and development for manipulation of the final contrast rendered. Latitude declines as the subject brightness range increases; therefore, your exposure and development becomes much more critical in such scenes, there is little, if any, latitude to utilize.

    To tie this point in with the original thought behind the thread so as to try and avoid its hijacking-----well, I would take advantage of the fact that studying the ZS in the class should greatly help you understand such an important concept in understanding exposure and development. But, I guess in the end, a person will get out of it what one puts into it. Just don't become negative about it, accept it for what it is and try to learn from it, then decide.

    Regards,
    Chuck
     
  25. zenrhino

    zenrhino Member

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    Wow. Talk about your active discussions!

    Actually, I was serious. But the book came in just this week for a Fall semester class, and ZS wasn't part of that class. (Intermediate Photo at MCAD, fwiw) I like to think I'm a pretty smart cookie, but the explanation of it in the book was a touch...Byzantine.

    I'll give it another go sometime before spring semester starts and go through the posts here about how to make it a bit easier to digest.
     
  26. zenrhino

    zenrhino Member

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    Actually the book just came in this week for last semester's class, but it was recommended (not required) reading. ZS wasn't part of the class, but discussed quite a bit by those more experienced than myself. I had my hands full between my first printing sessions and a recalcitrant shutter on my cheap Chinese TLR.

    I guess what I'm wondering more than anything is I can see this being something really useful to LF shooters (for the money you want to get every exposure perfect) and shooters in really controlled circumstances, but is it something one could use in street shooting or sports photography or photojournalism?

    Thanks!