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  1. #1

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    Wish I could get my head around the Zone

    OK I consider myself of average intelligence, qualifications in business management, sciences, mathematics and too many years in IT before I dumped it to be a starvibg artist. But for some reason no matter how hard I try my eyes glaze over and my brain cells head for the cover of the nearest blanket like a Garfield cartoon strip when I try to understand the zone.

    Now imagin the scene - my wife and I decide to have a nice walk and maybe a little picnic over the fields near to where we live. Just in case of emergencies I of course take my camera gear. Then it happens, not a very spectacular scene but a challenge. A long hedge rich in wonderful tonal shades and shadows with just enough detail to see into. But the challenge is theres a farm gate which the hedge forms a wonderful natural arch over framing a bright sky with those illusive fluffy clouds. Like any reasonable person I have to have the picture. So I spot meter on the shadaws, do a bit of mental guessamatics and just for good measure braket like a demon. When I get home a little more guessamatics and I pull the development and feel wonderfully happy when I see the negatives.

    So today I think lets give that one a go in the darkroom. Well although I knew as always there would be some dodging and burning, this one was my hardest but probably most satisfying to print. When I finished (that is until it dries and I spot some more tweaks) I calculated that the most dodged area's only received 8 seconds and the most burned got 48 seconds.

    Would this variation have happended if I could understand using zone and anyone got a suggestion other than bidding for new brain cells on Ebay how I can get rid of this block.

    BTW I will post the results as soon as what I hope is a beauty has dried


    Kind regards Tony

  2. #2
    bobfowler's Avatar
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    I know your pain. I struggled with the zone system 30 years ago, trying hard to "be like Ansel". What I wound up doing was developing my own methodology of metering and developing that, while not perfect, works well for my shooting style.

    My hardest obstacle to overcome was learning how to see in monochrome, and how different filters change the tonal rendition of different colors. A viewing filter is a big help, but it can also become a crutch (not to mention one more thing hanging around your neck).
    Bob Fowler
    fowler@verizon.net
    Some people are like Slinkies. They're really good for nothing, but they still bring a smile to your face when you push them down a flight of stairs.

  3. #3

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    Hi Tony,
    To answer your questions the Zone System is probably better suited for sheet film cameras. However, it's principles can be utilized to some degree in 35 mm roll film applications. So yes it would help you. To utilize it one is best served if they do the testing required to understand the characteristics of the materials used.

    The way that I suggest roll film users utilize it is to expose for the shadows and to develop for the highlights. Since 35 mm needs all of the help that it can receive, in terms of grain, I recommend developing the film to fit on grade three paper.

    Now not all scenes are of the same luminance and brightness ratios (contrast). That means that one does one of several things since one can not alter development mid roll. The first is to bulk load short rolls (to allow different rolls for different brightness ratios). The other is to shoot with several camera bodies. Typically a normal development roll supplemented with a minus development roll and a plus development roll will suffice.

    The rule is that one exposes for shadows and develops for the highlights. For the testing procedures, I suggest the "Negative" by Ansel Adams.

  4. #4
    David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
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    If you're using the Zone System as described in Adams' _The Negative_, you will have done tests to determine your personal film speed and development times for normal, expansion (+ development to increase contrast for a flat scene), and contraction (- development to decrease contrast for a contrasty scene, like this one) development, targeted for your printing process. You'll meter for the shadows, usually placing the darkest area where you want to see detail on Zone III, and you'll see where the highlights fall. If you meter the brightest highlight where you want detail, and it falls on Zone VIII, you can probably use N development, and if they fall on, say, Zone X, you'll use N-2. You might find that you need to employ different development techniques for more than -2 (a compensating developer, or stand development), or you might take a different approach, like an ND grad filter or colored filter to reduce contrast between the land and the sky.

    The goal is to get all the information on the neg. You still might have to do some dodging and burning to get it all just the way you want it in the final print, or you might use another method to adjust contrast in the print. Having a range of around 2.5 stops worth of dodging and burning as you describe in your example from the part of the print that gets the least amoung of exposure to the amount that gets the most exposure isn't so outrageous, really. If you've got a print you're satisfied with, then you've succeeded.

  5. #5
    geraldatwork's Avatar
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    I also consider myself of at least average intelligence and also can't seem to get myself to embrace the zone system. When I make exposure judgments possibly I'm using the system without knowing. Maybe it is laziness. I don't know. I'm primarily a 35mm shooter and I would think getting the exposure right would be of more importance on large format shooting where you can't easily and economically just go ahead and take 7 or 8 shots of something.

  6. #6
    bobfowler's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by geraldatwork
    I'm primarily a 35mm shooter and I would think getting the exposure right would be of more importance on large format shooting where you can't easily and economically just go ahead and take 7 or 8 shots of something.
    The problem with bracketing like crazy is that if the scene requires minus development, you just wind up with a lot more exposures of the same scene, each with different degrees of problems! Sure, one may be "closer", but unless you compensate in the development process (assuming that you've enough exposure for the shadow detail), you'll wind up with a negative that either requires a lower contrast paper, or a heck of a lot of manipulation to get the desired result.
    Bob Fowler
    fowler@verizon.net
    Some people are like Slinkies. They're really good for nothing, but they still bring a smile to your face when you push them down a flight of stairs.

  7. #7
    Aggie's Avatar
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    I know long ago I mentioned Gordon Hutchings zone system. It is more the cow pattie theory of zones. He use to live on a ranch. How he mastered learning the zone system was to extrapolate the different zones to cow patties. (Manure piles) Zone 3 was a fresh cow pattie. Zone 8 was a well aged and very old cow pattie. The various dry down effects of said pattie, becaome the steps in the zones.

    Short of having a field of cows, you can look about you and find what best fits the different zones in your world. My world, it becomes the Himilayan cat zones. Between my seal points, and my blue point, I have a range of 2 to 8.

    Make it fun, and don't stress over it. It is a lot simplier than you think. Once that old brain cell understand your world system, you wonder how you ever had a hard time with it. BTW, I struggled until Gordon explained it to me.
    Non Digital Diva

  8. #8

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    Many thanks for the prompt replies folks, I don't fee quite so stupid for the moment. Looks like I need to do some more testing and take it one step at a time. I actually shot some pictures of Aggie's "cow patties" that day as well but mine were covered with horse flies (well the cows actually). I really must get my brain to understand this system as I want to upgrade to MF once I can find the additional funds

    Kind regards Tony

  9. #9
    Joe Lipka's Avatar
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    Some more thoughts to keep you sane on your journey to being a zonista ---

    "The zone system doesn't work, but no one has figured out an alternate."

    As Ted Orland (one of Ansel's assistants) claims, "Expose for secrets, develop for surprises."

    In all seriousness (OK maybe a little bit of seriousness) David Goldfarb has it right, ya gotta do the tests and the calibrations and then the ZS works like a champ. Do the whole thing once, just to say to you did it, then get back to making photographs.

    That's what is important.
    Two New Projects! Light on China - 07/13/2014

    www.joelipkaphoto.com

    250+ posts and still blogging! "Postcards from the Creative Journey"

    http://blog.joelipkaphoto.com/

  10. #10
    DrPhil's Avatar
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    Using the zone system is only a tool to get the details onto the negative. It doesn't guarantee that the negative will print perfectly. The trick is to simply know how to expose the film to record everything. In the darkroom you can burn, dodge, mask, bleach, and adjust to show the scene as you visualized it.
    Facts are facts; however, perception is reality.

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