Way back a couple of editions ago I read Ansel's books, the complete set, I didn't get it very much, he was using foot candles and an SEI meter, it stumped me for years. Then the next edition came out and it was then I understood what he was saying, perhaps I had advanced in technique and visualization. After that the New Zone System manual came out and it confirmed in a more succinct way what I had understood from the Ansel Adams series. Finally the Zone IV manual by Fred Picker was out and it was a dream come true for a procedure that could be done by roll film users, although the others are great for that too. I had a series of Ah-ha moments, mostly while sleeping, and many OK moments.
The idea I'm getting at is that it isn't always apparent the first time around. I could describe how to row a boat but until someone actually goes out and does it they only have an idea of what it's about. After they row a bit they soon get the Ah-ha moment, maybe not the first time but soon after.
Photography, analog, is a very complicated process with the equipment, film, and darkroom, as Brett Weston said, "One should keep it as simple as possible", I agree. The tendency to change more than one variable derails the process. You are right to keep what you know and go from there.
What have I learned from Ansel Adams? Work hard and work 'em over really good' as John Sexton said about what Ansel did on his prints. I learned a system for how to approach a subject using the materials at hand.
What have I learned from Edward Weston? Simplify and concentrate on the subject.
What have I learned from Brett Weston? Simplify and follow your own voice.
What have I learned from Paul Strand? Any subject can be beautiful if properly composed, seen, and executed.
What have I learned from Ralph Gibson? There are three degrees of separation from what we see to a black and white photographic print.
What have I learned from Eugene Smith? There is a story of Life in every photograph.
What Have I learned from .......? There is no beginning, middle, or ending.
Years ago I got the Adams books and read them and used them to develop my shooting and darkroom styles. The man was a genius. I also got his book on the Polaroid Land Camera and went from it being next to a point and shoot in results to a preferred film format. He used a SEI Photometer in much of his shooting as well as a Weston Ranger 9. Years ago a friend in the photo business got a SEI in trade and I picked it up from him. It took quite a bit of time to get used to it but the results were amazing. I concentrated on Tech Pan shooting and development so I eliminated one variable and as it really could be developed from high contrast to low contrast, had a tonal range that was amaziing and made great b&w tranparencies, I used it almost exclusively until it was discontinued.
I have since sidelined the SEI for most use, having picked up a Ranger 9 along with the optional Adams Zone System dial. I power it now with a pair of CHRIS MR9 adaptors and it is dead on accurate. I also got the incident dome and a new 2nd leather case so good to go as the meter looks brand new. If you have a chance to get a 9, I can not recommend it highly enough. Adams was not overstating just how good the meter is.
The Adams' books are a must read for everyone who knows the lens must point towards the subject.
I agree with the meter reference, it's my best tool, I received the pocket spot recently after a long wait and used it at the workshop to determine zones and placement, my darkroom work will be a continuation of what I did in the field. Beyond the technical there is nothing greater than to develop and nurture visualization, the end goal of art.
Take a look at what Al Weber has to say about the Zone System and the real world as a point of reference. As you will read he worked with Ansel Adams for 18 years and his main focus was the perfection of the Zone System.