Understanding zone system
I am trying to understand zone system more clearly.
Typical landscape scene
- Spot Meter the shadow(18% gray) and place it in Zone 3(-2 stops from 18% gray).
- Take a shot
- Develop negative.
- Decide the print ..., N-1, N, N+1, ...
Last edited by baachitraka; 05-08-2011 at 03:51 AM. Click to view previous post history.
OM-1n: Do I need to own a Leica?
Rolleicord Va: Humble.
Holga 120GFN: Amazingly simple yet it produces outstanding negatives to print.
buy the little zone VI manual book that fed picker wrote....do the exercises and then you will actually begin to see the zone system come alive for you... get it used on abes or other book sites
have a great day!
website down for maintenance!
My understanding of the zone system:
Meter important shadow area, place on Zone III.
Meter important highlight area to determine luminance range.
Increase negative development to compensate for low contrast, decrease development to compensate for high contrast.
Exactly right, but let me repeat, slightly simplify your text, and expand the message:
Originally Posted by Dan Henderson
1. Meter important shadow area, place on Zone III.
2. Meter important highlight area to determine luminance range.
3. Adjust film development to compensate for subject contrast.
Dan has carefully chosen his words.
It is important to choose a shadow area that is important for the image, not just the darkest part of the subject. Zone III is where you want to clearly see texture. But be aware, Zone III is quite dark. Some Zone System practitioners recommend a placement on Zone IV instead. It's easier to visualize for them.
It's equally important to select an important highlight area to measure the overall subject brightness range (SBR). This will determine the compensation required through film development. However, this is an often misunderstood step. The objective is not to squeeze the entire SBR into the normal negative contrast range. Let me clarify this through a typical example:
Visualize a dark church interior with dark benches, light stone walls and a bright church window, hit by the sun, in the background. You would measure the benches and place them on Zone III. Then you measure the light stone walls and see that they will fall on Zone VI. Now you measure the window and see that it falls on Zone XI, way too much for your print to handle. So you compensate development with N-3, moving the window to Zone VIII. Well done? No! In this example the Zone System was misunderstood and wrongly applied. Why? What's wrong?
Well, yes, the bright window is tamed and has been moved to a printable Zone VIII. But what happened to the rest of the image? Everything is gray in gray and has turned into a very unattractive mess of dark tones without the so desperately needed midtone contrast. How could this happen? It happened because N-3 development did not just pull the window from Zone XI to Zone VIII; it pulled all other tones with it proportionally. So, the light stone wall (Zone VI) got pulled to, let's estimate, Zone IV.5. At the end of the day, you have an image with dark benches on Zone III (or less), stone walls on Zone IV.5 and then nothing until we see a window in Zone VIII. Not an attractive image, and not representing what we saw and what interested us in the first place.
What else should we have done?
Use the Zone system properly! How?
Do what Dan said, but pay attention to the word 'important' in his text.
1. Measure the dark benches and place them on Zone III.
2. Measure the bright window and realize it will fall onto Zone XI.
3. Measure a light stone wall and realize it will fall onto Zone VI.
4. Now visualize the image you want to make.
5. If you want to maintain the midtone contrast and keep the light stone walls where they are, you cannot afford an N- development.
Keep the development normal to maintain midtone contrast, and find another way to reduce window brightness (sun behind cloud, dodging card during exposure) or live with the fact that you need to burn-in the window during printing.
Sorry for the rant, but the important part of this note is:
Do not use the Zone System to squeeze the entire subject brightness range into your normal negative contrast, unless you like battleship-gray prints.
A church window example is attached.
Last edited by RalphLambrecht; 05-08-2011 at 09:23 AM. Click to view previous post history.
That was no rant, Ralph, that was an excellent description of the process. ZS is a really useful tool, but you have to keep your desired picture in your imagination as you go. That is why so much time is spent on visualization in the classic texts. You have explained why very nicely.
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I agree with everything that been said. I suggest you check out this site (http://www.earthscenics.com/manuals/zoneman_8_11_05.pdf). I believe it will help you a lot.
+ 1 for Dan
+ 1 for Ralph
(I will read the Staler after brunch)
Over the years, I have "collected" ZS interpretations for those who are more interested in taking good pictures than proving their maths proficiency. Among my favourites is one from Gem Singer, over at lfinfo, which is almost as good as the ones above. (but lacking the distinction of the "important" details in the shadows and highlights) There is also an equally brief but slightly different one by Rob Gray, and a rather irreverant one by Jim Brick that reduces the zones to four, "Zone Good, Zone Bad, Zone Ugly, Zone Butt Ugly." His treatment gives a bit of a chuckle, but his reasoning is sound.
These three are posted on my site (with permission of the authors)
Tom, on Point Pelee, Canada
Ansel Adams had the Zone System... I'm working on the points
system. First I points it here, and then I points it there...
Could you explain what steps up took in your example to make the very nice print. Did you n- (guessing not), cloud come by, dodge the window area, or....
I think a follow up with actual development/printing details will help re-enforce the principle.
Again lovely print, thanks!
This thread is in the 35mm cameras and accessories so I assume that is what you have. Remember that the ZS was designed for LF cameras or other cameras where every shot could be developed individually. While there are some principals that can be applied with a roll film camera the vast amount cannot unless you shoot the entire roll on one subject. This is possible if you roll your own and roll short strips. When I shot 35mm and had a darkroom available I would bracket each scene. +1-0-(-1). Sometimes would go as far as 2 stops either way. Have fun.
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
I second the recommendation to read Fred Picker's "Zone VI Workshop."
I also recommend Carson Graves' "The Zone System for 35mm Photographers." (Be careful - the edition I have has a misprint where it's listing f/stop - shutter speed combinations. I can't remember where the error is, though)
As for exposing for Zone III shadows, not all shadows are that dark. And also, you can expose for half or 1/3 zones too - Zone IV-1/2 for example.
Last edited by Kisatchie; 05-08-2011 at 01:21 PM. Click to view previous post history.