There were multiple generations of successful studio photographers who didn't use the Zone System.
In fact, some of the leading pro photo schools thought it was just a quirk for AA and the "rocks and
trees" crowd. Rather, the lighting ratio in the studio was adjusted to the range of the film, and if needed a gray card was put in the scene or a Polaroid preview used. A simple outdoor trick was to
read the palm of your hand for Caucasian skintone. Of course, spot metering and some greater degree of sophistication in your exposure model would be a more flexible system. And the Zone System doesn't need to become complicated. It's not a religion.
Cute comment about the rocks and trees crowd, I personally lean toward the portraitists idea of pegging the mid-tones too.
I would say though that the studios, like the rocks and trees crowd, adjusted their systems, including lighting, film choice and development not to get a pretty negative, but to get a pretty print.
The paper's range is what matters.
AMEN! The paper's range is much smaller than the film's. You need to compress the range on the negative in order to fit that of the paper.
Originally Posted by markbarendt
Why the question about not giving +1 to spot metering a person's cheek? And how is "middle grey" important for that?
If the spot meter is calibrated correctly (baseline calibration = variation from metered reading as dictated by user testing; or filter factor compensation) it should not need any additional 'throw': spot metering takes skill based on experience; obviously here in this thread so many people have so many variations on what to do, but a bigger problem exists: it is not practical to use the Zone System with small format roll film. It might be approachable with multiple formats of film/backs in e.g. 35mm and MF with a fairly arduous amount of darkroom labour and/or cost and a lot of knowledge. The problem is the brightness range of scenes that vary greatly and if exposures are carried out at different times one brings into question, "what's the point of this?" as you will simply end up with stack upon stack of perplexing, frustrating and nondirectional results. Basics first would be just to spot meter, expose, record notes, then examine the negs then repeat the process until you (not APUG) are happy with the results. There is a lot of latitude in B&W film and I would be inclined to just let the [35mm] camera do the metering for you (if it is a modern era camera with multipattern/evaluative metering, which by design is formulated around the Zone System), with judicious intervention of ad hoc exposure compensation based on actual shooting experience. An all manual camera of course allows you complete freedom to meter the scene intricately and this is what I think you might have (correct me if I'm wrong).
The AA books are a good read, but also very demanding in terms of learning curve. I suggest leaving the Zone System to the larger format where it allows for full creative expression in the darkroom at the print stage.
I believe OP heard that you are supposed to spotmeter a person's cheek and then give +1 but OP failed to follow that advice (which "underexposed" one stop). It didn't matter.
Originally Posted by Poisson Du Jour
Yes, latitude of black and white film makes that possible. But the take-away from the experience shouldn't be "ok to forget the +1"
You are supposed to open up 1 stop. You can't always get away with underexposing 1 stop... So you shouldn't set yourself up to make under exposure errors a habit.
Oh, horse feathers.
Originally Posted by Poisson Du Jour
Sure, archetypical application of the ZS is/was for scenes "as found" with sheet film processed to match, but so what. ZS principles work just fine in any situation with a little bit of imagination and understanding. The whole system isn't required for success, even Adams offered advice for use with roll film and modern VC papers make print contrast adjustment a breeze for most shots.
Placement of one specific zone, like a face in a given zone, is about the easiest "part" of the ZS to cherry pick and quite useful.
Instead of shooting one or two sheets for a given situation, I just shoot a whole roll in each situation where ever specific development is needed. This is one reason I like to roll my own shorter rolls or shoot Medium Format.
There are lots of other options too.
The Zone System works great with artificially controlled scene contrast and subject placement, which is a very typical situation for many portraits.
In a studio every part of the scene is "zonable" so that they fall straight onto the paper where we want them.
In the wild the background can be "classically" zoned, exposure and development then chosen to match, just as Adams might have. Then the lighting for the sitter in front of that scene can be scrimmed or augmented to place them perfectly.
The intellectual magic of the ZS can be applied to any shot, it is simply that there is a real measurable "connection" of the zones in the scene to the zones that will print easily.
I think the one thing that the OP didn't see is that in camera exposure only influence the negative density. With a certain density on the negative one can render it as light or as dark as he/she wants when making a print. If I were to print some one negative then regardless of the density of the person skin tones I would try to make it look as close to real skin tone as possible on the print that is to lighten up underexposed neg and print it darker on the overexposed negative.
"What Zone is mid grey ?, why does everyone these days think that they can learn everything off the internet without going to the expense of buying a book on the subject, and putting in the effort to read study and understand it.
It a joy to read those books and they are not that expensive considering the time spent on the internet. ;-) Or better, attend a workshop. The experience you gather may be invaluable.
There are two questions there.
Originally Posted by benjiboy
Part 1 - Because we can learn almost everything off the Internet, we are no longer held hostage to books.
Part 2 - Because the context Adams and others ZS gurus taught in no longer exists, except by choice.
Yes the basic principles still apply but the materials and tools have changed, the old books need an updating they don't seem to be getting.