# Zone System with the Help of Photoshop, I thought I had a system...

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• 02-18-2013, 10:16 PM
Bill Burk
Hey Mark,

I know in a few rounds we could probably come up with an explanation that is clear and simple.

We have these 10 Zones in our subject that the meter says are 10 stops apart from black to white in our scene (give or take).

The black in our scene is blacker than the blackest black on any print. Because the black in our scene is in the shade.

We use the Zone System to make these 10 Zones fit our print so it goes from blackest black paper to whitest white paper on the print.

But you're not supposed to go and use the light meter to measure the print... I want to make it clear that it is not necessary, and that it is absurd.

You're just supposed to see that the print goes black to white (as much as you envisioned).

Anything 2-dimensional in even lighting, will only measure about 7 stops difference. The reason our scene measures 10 stops or more sometimes is that a lot of scenes have parts that are in the shade.
• 02-18-2013, 10:37 PM
Bill Burk
I hope I don't sound like I'm harping, it's just that I don't feel like I explained it very well, so I keep rephrasing
• 02-19-2013, 06:56 AM
markbarendt
Quote:

Originally Posted by Bill Burk
I hope I don't sound like I'm harping, it's just that I don't feel like I explained it very well, so I keep rephrasing

Me too.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Bill Burk
The black in our scene is blacker than the blackest black on any print. Because the black in our scene is in the shade.

We may very well choose that black you describe as our print's black point though. The whites in the scene may also be a lot more luminant than the paper can physically represent too. That doesn't mean we won't try to get those two subjects/points on the same sheet of paper.

If we choose to use those points to define our photo and to straight print; the black you describe becomes zone zero, the white I described becomes zone ten; regardless of if they are 8 or 15 stops apart.

A print is always an abstract representation and it is dependent on its own lighting too. Under soft general lighting it will have one look and measured set of characteristics, if under a halogen spot with a dark surround it will appear and measure differently.
• 02-19-2013, 08:50 AM
Terry Christian
Zone System with the Help of Photoshop, I thought I had a system...
Another crack at an explanation:

The goal of the Zone System is to capture as much of the scene as possible onto the film, so that it holds detail in both the shadows and highlights. In effect, you're making a "master copy" of the scene. These zones are 1 stop apart.

However, paper has a narrower range of reproduction. Think about trying to interpret a Rembrandt with Crayola crayons: it just isn't going to fit, visually, since you can't reproduce all the range of colors. Paper is similar: it won't reproduce the entire range of textures you have on the film, so compromises have to be made somewhere. So, a one-stop difference on the film "master" may be more narrow on paper. So of course if you then scan those tones on the paper, they wouldn't translate back to one stop between themselves.
• 02-19-2013, 11:10 AM
Usagi
If you use Zone System only for capturing as much of subject brightness (scene) as possible on the film, you could just skip Zone System and use BTZS or similar. As there's no use for zones, just the the both ends of the (zone) scale.

Where is visualization which should be core of Zone System as I understand?

As for print having always 11 zones.. I don't agree with that.

If I have subject, say caucasian people and some important shadows. The skin is usually at VI. My visualization may differ, but if in this case I place important shadows to III. The skin fall's to V which is too low.
If there's not any important highlights, I can expose and develop by using N+2 and I will have negative which (in theory) is easy to print grade 2 paper so that shadows are detailed and rich, the skin has right value. Highlights may require some burning, depending on situation.
That print doesn't have 11 zones.
• 02-19-2013, 11:36 AM
Michael R 1974
The ZS is just a characteristic curve. Leaving out extreme contractions, the ZS does not change the range of luminances the film records. It only compresses or expands contrast to make things easier to print (in theory at least). Just keep local contrast in mind, not only total contrast. Blindly applying ZS expansions and contractions to "fit" the paper is not always the right thing. Visualize the printing process as part of the total system when you are making the decision on how to expose and develop the film.
• 02-19-2013, 11:40 AM
Bill Burk
Quote:

Originally Posted by Usagi
If you use Zone System only for capturing as much of subject brightness (scene) as possible on the film, you could just skip Zone System and use BTZS or similar. As there's no use for zones, just the the both ends of the (zone) scale.

Where is visualization which should be core of Zone System as I understand?

Usagi,

You are so right. I believe the most compelling reason to choose Zone System above incident metering is the way it faciliates visualization, especially departures from reality, stark graphic abstractions.

Not enough emphasis is spent on this aspect and strength of the Zone System.
• 02-19-2013, 11:47 AM
Michael R 1974
You could go a step further with what Usagi said too:

"If you use Zone System only for capturing as much of subject brightness (scene) as possible on the film..."

...then you don't need any system, ZS, BZTS or otherwise. Use the ISO speed for the film, meter carefully and develop normally. Most films will record at least 10 stops with full separations, and have a longer range than that with only minor compression. Then use burning, dodging, VC filters and other print controls to bring all the values into the print. By far the most bang for the buck is in printing skill. Printing is power.
• 02-19-2013, 11:47 AM
Bill Burk
Quote:

Originally Posted by Terry Christian
... those tones on the paper...wouldn't translate back to one stop between themselves.

Good illustration. Exactly!
• 02-19-2013, 01:15 PM
Mainecoonmaniac
That's how I like to apply the Zone System
Quote:

Originally Posted by Terry Christian
Another crack at an explanation:

The goal of the Zone System is to capture as much of the scene as possible onto the film, so that it holds detail in both the shadows and highlights.

Yes. As much as possible. Film has a very limited range compared to our eyes and a creative decision has to be made how to fit a wide range into the film's dynamic range. If done right, it sets up the best conditions to extract the information when printing in the darkroom or scanning. A straight print rarely looks good, but properly exposed and processed film increases you chances of getting what I want. But not always.
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