Hi. I'm Chris and I'm a 35mm Zoner.
If the Zone System is considered to be Sensitometry Light, then this surely will qualify as Sensitometry 1+1+100. There has been a lot of ideas about using The Zone System in application with 35mm photography. And I thought I would lay out my method for using this exposure system in an imperfect application.
The Zone System is intended to be a complete guide for exposure, processing and printing in order to obtain a photograph that best resembles the vision of the photographer. Note I said, a guide. It does not need to be anything more than that. Ansel Adams and Fred Archer devised a system in which students could 'see' the final print before exposure and give them the controls needed to acheive this end. TZS users have proclaimed this to be the best thing since sliced bread. Anti-zonists have claimed it to be too rigid and that it quashes the life from the art. Whatever your view, one thing must be acknowledged. The Zone System can be a wonderful learning tool to aid photographers of all skill levels to better hone their skills.
And this is what the Zone System has become to me. I admittedly follow its tenets loosely. However, its precepts are always in my mind from the moment of visualization unto the fruition of the final print. The Zone System is intended for total control of every inch of the process from exposure through processing to printing. Exposure, no problem. Printing, piece of cake. Processing. Hmmm. How does one apply the Zone System to the processing of multiple exposures in one batch?
Well, you can't, not to the letter of the law as it were. You have to get it right on-camera during exposure and count on the flexibility of VC papers to some extent in order to print out the negatives. Now, that sounds very anticlimatic to Zonies. However, if the 35mm photographer strengthens their exposure skills, wide scale whole roll processing can prove more than sufficient to provide technically sound prints.
EXPOSURE. Here's how I do it. I choose a subject. I know my TMax films have an acceptable exposure latitude of around seven stops for good detail, similar to those precepts of the Zone System for the dynamic range of stops (II-VIII). (Note: I use the older version of TZS where there are eleven seperate zones and IX and X have not yet been blurbed together.)
I will meter my subject area. I first pick the brightest highlight area and meter it. I then meter my most important shadow area. I do this first so that I know the SBR and I know what I have to work with. Let's say, the SBR (subject brightness range) is six stops difference including the highlight and the shadow. Now, I meter the other important areas of the scene/subject. I do not choose a portion to fall on Zone V. I measure it all. As much as I can. Once I get the readings a picture begins to form in my mind as to where the subject will fall on the exposure scale of the Zone System. My shadows might fall onto I 1/2 or my highlights might wander just above Zone VIII. But this gives me a good working range to go with and a working knowledge of the brilliance of my subject. Then I trip the shutter and move on. Very seldom do I make a second exposure unless SERIOUS doubt creeps into my mind. Doesn't happen often.
And this is not to say the way I do things is foolproof. Make something foolproof and nature makes a better fool, right? No, I know through experience (and that is the key) that what I just did WILL work. Because I have founded what I do on a system that works. TZS is what I base my work on. However, being a 35mm photographer, basing my work on TZS only goes so far.
PROCESSING. There are many ways to tackle this problem. The Zone System is intended for processing control of individual sheets of film. Not for rolls. This is where a few varying techniques come into play. Bracketing. Only for the unsure and the harried. There are instances where the light is fleeting and the best planning only goes so far. But don't resort to bracketing because you don't understand exposure. Practice. Practice. Practice. As I alluded to earlier, it is experience that allows the photographer to become familiar enough with his or her gear and tools and medium that when the creative juices get flowing the photographer is unhindered by technicalities. Multiple camera bodies. Three bodies. One for N+1 developing. One for Normal developing. One for N-1 developing. It's kind of redundant. There may be times where a second camera body might be called for but why lug around the extra gear when good solid exposure can do the job. Short rolls of film. Shoot short rolls that contain enough film to make six to ten exposures. Rewind and reload and move on. This can work but you are still limited to the sister exposures as to developing times. Then there's the multiple roll technique. Rewind and use a different roll for a different processing time and then when you need to go back, rewind, reload the other roll and expose with the lens cap until you get back the exposure count you left off on. Lather, rinse, repeat. Yeah, that would get old quick.
I simply process my film N. I know that I have exposed my frames to the best of my ability and N processing is the order of the day. Sure, I will have the odd roll where the entire roll is made up of shots where N+1 or N-1 is called for and this is noted on the cannisters. But seldom do I have need for anything other than normal development in my 35mm photography.
PRINTING. I employ the usual printing controls. I will make a test print, exposing 32 seconds, then 16, then 8-4-2-1-1. This will give me areas on the print that have been exposed for 64-32-16-8-4-2 and 1 seconds. I then choose the best base exposure and run a second test at that time, the adjacent time longer and shorter, say 32 seonds, 16 and 8. I then play around with dodging and burning, controlling contrast locally on the print, meticulously noting all changes that I decided to keep in the workflow until I arrive at my final print. If I make any custom control tools I usually store them in my journal on the page that contains the notes so that I can find it easily at a later point.
It is my belief that there can be no better substitute for successful 35mm Zone System use than a good solid foundation in exposure and a familiarity with the materials one uses. This is the key to 35mm Zone System use. You don't have to be perfect. Heck, I still can't load a 35mm reel properly 100% of the time. I often have a frame or two touching. But it makes it much easier to get the print from the enlarger when you have less to correct for because you got it right on-camera.
So get a good light meter. Learn how to use it. Learn the capability of your film to record your subject. Learn how to easily change from one exposure value to the next. Learn how to guage your subject and fit it onto your film. Practice. Practice. Practice. Practice. Practice.
From Milton, Delaware, where the intraverts look through their own viewfinders and the extraverts look through yours, I'm Chris Walrath.