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  1. #1

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    Zone System - WTF?

    So the book I needed for last semester's class finally came in. One of the things the book ([size=-1]Beyond Basic Photography: A Technical Manual by Henry Horenstein) discusses is the Zone System.

    Ok, is this some sort of really elaborate Rube Goldberg hoax or do shooters actually try and figure out their exposures like this? How does this system get used in any practical sort of way?
    [/size]

  2. #2
    Dave Parker's Avatar
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    If class requires is, you better read and understand it, the Zone system has been around and used by a lot of photographers for many years now, it is probably one of the most mis understood methods for determining exposure in the photographic world, but is a good system to learn and can make a difference in your exposures, both in picture taking and darkroom work.

    Dave

  3. #3
    laz
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    Quote Originally Posted by zenrhino
    Ok, is this some sort of really elaborate Rube Goldberg hoax or do shooters actually try and figure out their exposures like this? How does this system get used in any practical sort of way?
    [/size]
    You're not kidding are you? While you might or might not want to use it, it is something any serious photographer should know. I assure you that at least occassionally you will be setting up a shot and realize that it's principals will help you.

    -Bob
    [SIZE=1]I want everything Galli has![/SIZE]
    [SIZE=1]I want to make images like Gandolfi![/SIZE]
    rlazell@optonline.net

  4. #4
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    The ZS definitely works and is well worth your time to learn the principles. I recommend reading "The Negative" by Adams----some claim it is difficult reading, but that is certainly a matter of opinion. One word of advice that I have is to not get caught up in all the negativity surrounding the ZS, believe me you will see it if you bother to search some threads in this forum. It is probably hated just as much as it is liked, if not more. I have found that some of those that really dislike it appear to not really understand it. Once you understand it, the whole process becomes very intuitive and fluid in thought. I will tell you that it has really helped me in many ways.

    Good Luck!

    Chuck

  5. #5

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    A quick, and perhaps wrong, way to describe the ZS would be as follows:

    First you find out the correct fim speed (e.i.) and developing time for your film of choice. Once this is done, a "normal" scence should give you a negative with a 10 stop range from black to white.

    Having that, you know how to meter a scene to have certain tones in certain objects (for example, having white skin one or two stop over neutral, black skin one or two stop under it, or making sure that your shadow areas will have as much detail as you want). This would also allow you to compensate development for a long range scene (11 or more stops) or a low range scene (9 stops or less). If I'm not mistaken a rule of thumb for compensating development is adding or subtracting 15-20% time for each stop.

    Of course, you will probably test all this and have the exact numbers to back it up.

    I don't use the ZS, but had to test a film using it in one of my photography classes, once. If nothing else, this taught me what a correctly exposed and developed neg looks like. I looks pretty good . Prints even better.

    Like I said, I don't use the ZS, but I apply the basic principles when metering reflected light (like in my 35mm SLR).

    Hope this helps,

    André

  6. #6
    Lee L's Avatar
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    Cast aside the jargon and learning the zone system is analogous to a musician learning and practicing scales, and learning a little music theory. It's about intentional tone placement. You can learn the same things haphazardly or intuitively, or with a system. I like to listen to musicians with both craft (technique) and musicality, and ideally, I like my photography the same way.

    The best photographers who don't use the zone system have their own way of understanding the same basic concepts that the zone system teaches. A photographer with a message, but no understanding of how to get that message across through the materials, is not often that great, or does good work when things fall into place by chance or habit, and often inconsistently.

    In other words, you can get where you're going a lot faster and more effectively if you know how to get there on purpose. The zone system is one way of getting where you want to go effectively, and the basic concepts aren't that hard to grasp.

    Lee

  7. #7

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    Since you have been a member since 2004, I wonder if your question is asked with tongue tucked firmly in cheek. It is, after all, entertaining to watch pro and con Z-S folks duke it out.

    If, on the other hand, you are looking for information from someone who uses the ZS (well, I think,) I would be pleased to buy you a cup of coffee and answer your questions first hand. I'll even bore you with a few prints to illustrate my points.

    The zone system is not a match with everyone's personal style. It is with mine. I have been using it for 25 years now and have attended two of John Sexton's seminars to refine my skills. In the same breath, there are many outstanding photographers for whom the ZS is as valuable as a flatulent darkroom assistant.

    If you are looking for an information exchange and honest enquiry - I'm available. ZS debate/dogma defense - I'm too busy. PM me and I will give you a phone number.

    Bruce L

  8. #8

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    The Zone System is all about determining what EI/ASA to set on your meter for a particular film, to render minimal exposure densities in the "dark but still important" areas of a scene, and, having determined that, how long to develop your film to allow you to capture the full spectrum of a normal-to-high-contrast scene, so that you can print it on #2 paper.

    The rest of it is a bunch of excuses, developed (pun intended) by people who test films, to avoid having to put their egos on the line by actually trying to make good photographs.

    Read Fred Picker's "Zone VI Workshop". It's all you'll ever need to know about the Zone System.
    "What drives man to create is the compulsion to, just once in his life, comprehend and record the pure, unadorned, unvarnished truth. Not some of it; all of it."

    - Fred Picker

  9. #9
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    I recently purchased the Henry Horenstein and Fred Picker books mentioned above. I really don't understand what all the fuss is about, and why some people dislike what appears to be, from these two books at least, a very common-sense approach to taking pictures. I haven't had a chance to put all of this into practice yet, but in theory at least it looks easy enough that it makes me wonder if I've missed some complications.
    If I had been present at the creation, I would have given some useful hints for the better arrangement of the Universe.
    Alfonso the Wise, 1221-1284

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by zenrhino
    So the book I needed for last semester's class finally came in. One of the things the book ([size=-1]Beyond Basic Photography: A Technical Manual by Henry Horenstein) discusses is the Zone System.

    Ok, is this some sort of really elaborate Rube Goldberg hoax or do shooters actually try and figure out their exposures like this? How does this system get used in any practical sort of way?
    [/size]

    you'd be surprised, some people are so "zone'd out" they forget to go out and take the photographs!


    john

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