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  1. #1

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    zone system or not - seeking better exposure

    There is a fascinating thread running right now about the validity of the zone system. It made me humble. I have never learned it in great depth and what ever I was able to pick up here and there seems not sufficient enough to get consistent results of images with rich range of gray tones and with a wide enough dynamic range. The way I expose today is 2-3 stops above darkest shadow. Terms like “place the shadow in 3rd zone” is not something I know how to do neither I know to distinguish or to meter luminosity compared to measure exposure/light. Needless to say there are few other terms mentioned in that thread that were new to me.

    What I am asking really is help in learning about all those fascinating techniques. Being somewhat dyslectic I know that reading books like Ansel Adam’s and other is something I would rather not do at the moment but any advice that will include explanation or referral to texts on the net will be most appreciated.

    Since this is my first display (of ignorance) on this forum few words about my photographic interest. I used to shoot digital till I got dissatisfied with the minimal and repetitive involvement associated with the process of the photographic digital doing. Bought a more tha a year ago a medium format camera and started to use it exclusively (there is a little film shooting and printing in my background - decades ago). Currently I am scanning all images with Epson 4870 (far from ideal) and using Photoshop to process them. I see somewhat of discrepancy between the idea of work with film and the use of PS “shadow & highlight” adjustment. I am planning in the very near future to venture back into wet lab and start explore large format photography

  2. #2
    david b's Avatar
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    I highly suggest you read "The Practical Zone System" by Chris Johnson.

  3. #3
    Loose Gravel's Avatar
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    Try taking a workshop. They can be wonderful, and you meet some great people with similar problems.
    Watch for Loose Gravel

  4. #4
    david b's Avatar
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    One important thing you left out:

    How are you metering?

  5. #5
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    As a new darkroom enthusiast (just over 2 years now and still too much to learn) I would recommend setting up a darkroom in your home if at all possible. Having the ability to process film and then print it is the best way I know to learn about exposure and development. All of the technical reading you may do will not make a lot of sense until you are actually able to see and then think about your own work.

    Exposure just allows you to place shadow values where you want them and maintain full detail. Development lets you to maintain highlight values where they should be to get the best detail possible on a regular basis. That is really all there is to it, but there are a lot of differing ideas about the best way to go about it. After working on the zone system for about two years, I've found the "Beyond the Zone System" approach to be much better for me. It allows a better match of film contrast to paper contrast, the whole point of exposure and development. Welcome, tim

  6. #6

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    The best explanation I have read about the zone system and what it all means is in Bruce barnbaums book. All of the fancy explanations with numbers and other things that mess with our dyslexic minds is not there. It is very user friendly and very well explained.

    http://www.barnbaum.com/artofphotography.html

    Since you are using a MF camera there are issues with development that can be overcome with multiple backs loaded with BWQ film and designate N, N-, N+. Welcome. This is a great place.
    Technological society has succeeded in multiplying the opportunities for pleasure, but it has great difficulty in generating joy. Pope Paul VI

    So, I think the "greats" were true to their visions, once their visions no longer sucked. Ralph Barker 12/2004

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by david b
    One important thing you left out:

    How are you metering?
    Thanks.
    I spot meter with a sekonic 508. Ambient light apperture priority

  8. #8

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    Thanks noseoil. Sounds like you have figured it out. could you be a bit more specific about the "beyond the zone system and how it differs?

  9. #9
    Bob F.'s Avatar
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    Well, you have the idea of placing your shadow detail on, or about, zone III down pat. The next part of the equation is to decide how long to develop for. This is complicated by the fact that you do not currently do your own printing. To obtain your standard dev time you really need to find the time it takes to get your zone VII tone at the level you want on the paper at the same time as when your zone III is where you want it on the paper...

    I would second the idea of taking a course if you find it a pain to plough through a book. I have seen some web based descriptions, but they were too simplistic or, in one case, far too complex - I gave up myself after the 15th page or so... Other than courses, only books seem to be the answer.

    There is a rule of thumb that often gives immediate improvement: cut the ASA rating of your film by 50% (e.g. rate 400ASA film down to 200ASA) and reduce the manufacturer's recommended development time by 15%. This biases your shots towards the old "expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights" mantra. In really bright, contrasty light, cut dev by another 15% and in dull, overcast light, use the manufacturer's recommended time. For example, testing FP4+ gave me 80ASA and a standard dev time 10% less than Ilford's recommended time for ID-11 1+1. Had I just used the suggestion above, the difference would be hardly detectable and would have saved me 3 rolls of film and the couple of hours it took to do the testing...

    Barry Thornton used to have some articles on his site that explained a simplified zone system but since his untimely death the site has gone away (available however in the web archive at: http://web.archive.org/web/200312290...hornton.co.uk/) I converted the articles to PDFs but I'm not sure I can upload them here due to copyright restrictions.

    Have fun, Bob.

  10. #10

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    "Thanks you Mark. I will look into this book. Hope Amazone have it.
    Not having English as a native language and not knowing all the shortcuts ofthe trade I may ask stupid question such as what is BWQ, what is N value

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