zone system...

Discussion in 'Exposure Discussion' started by lft, Mar 3, 2009.

  1. lft

    lft Member

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    I like to think that I have surpassed the basics of photography, as I am starting to dwell on more complicated matters, especially zone systems. As I begin to understand more and more about them, I understand less and less how to use zone systems while I'm actually shooting. While reading the negative by ansel adams, I got a good feel for each zone, but there is nothing like going out and experimenting! Using an om-4, which has a spot meter as well as an incident meter, how exactly do I use the zone system?
     
  2. dpurdy

    dpurdy Member

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    You first must become a subscriber to APUG then all will become clear.

    Otherwise.. expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights.

    Dennis
     
  3. Q.G.

    Q.G. Inactive

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    Good advice. :wink: (It really is)

    Using the Zone System requires control over film development.
    You can lower contrast by overexposing and reducing development, and increase contrast by doing the opposite, underexpose and increasing development of the film.
    Choosing the right film for a scene is also part of it.

    You select what to do based upon the contrast range the scene presents and what you want to do with that.

    So unless you have more than one OM body, you have only one of the options (reduce, increase or maintain contrast) available for 36 frames.

    (An OM-4, by the way, has a spot and integral meter. No incident light meter.)
     
  4. phenix

    phenix Member

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    What does the ZS, is to help you manage not only the exposure, but also the negative’s contrast in almost any shooting situations (and I understand here light quality). The rule is:
    1) To expose: take a reading of the deepest shadow where you still want full detail (this is the Z3 read as a Z5), and overexpose 2 stops to place the Z5 reading at Z3.
    2) To develop: take a reading of the lightest area where you want full detail and compare with the first reading. If you have 5 stops between the two readings, the scenic contrast is OK and you develop at 100%. If there are more or less than 5 stops, you have to resize your developing times: -20~25% dev. for each +1 stop, and +40~50% dev. for each –1 stop. What does this mean, in fact? If you have more than 5 stops between the two readings, the scenic contrast is to high and you should underdevelop to lower it. If you have less than 5 stops, the scenic contrast is to low and you should overdevelop to get it right.

    The exposure doesn’t change if more or less than 5 stops between the two readings! The exposure is OK at 2 stops over the Z3 (see #1 above). The shadows give you the exposure. The highlights give you the development time. If you ignore the highlights, by not taking the second reading, the exposure will still be OK as far the details captured on film, but the contrast of your negative might not be the best one.

    In conclusion, the ZS is not only for determining the exposure, but also for adjusting the contrast of your negative in different scenic conditions. The ZS is for getting good negatives no matter the light conditions you have.
     
  5. phenix

    phenix Member

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    Although, you might avoid the second reading if you get used to guess the scenic contrast directly with your eyes. Just look with the eyes half open if you suspect a high contrast, or look at the shadows on the soil if you suspect a low contrast. Compare what you see with a light-meter readings to learn. You’ll get quickly familiar with this method, and in most scenic conditions you won’t need to take the second reading to determine the development adjustments.

    Moreover, if you leave your camera to take an average reading, the same method will also tell you if you should over or under expose, and how much.

    I use the ZS in an explicit way only seldom, usually for indoor, available light shootings. Outdoors I use almost exclusively my eyes combined to the average readings of the light meters on my cameras.
     
  6. kameranerd.com

    kameranerd.com Member

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    I tried to figure out this but is it not the other way round, which you should underexpose?

    Kent
     
  7. BobNewYork

    BobNewYork Member

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    We were all there at one time Ift. The only way I finally "got it" was to read Adam's "The Negative" and "The Print" several times until I eventually had an "Aha!" moment. Essentially, when you meter a tone in your subject, the meter will provide an exposure recommendation that will "place" that tone at middle gray - a Zone V. If you want that tone to be darker in the final print then you "underexpose" compared to your meter's recommendation. The extent to which you underexpose determines how it appears in the print. If you underexpose by three stops, i.e. "place" that tone on Zone II you will get very deep shadows with just a hint of texture visible. Underexpose two stops, for Zone III, and you'll get full textured detail in that portion but a slightly lighter tone.

    If you can find a copy of "The New Zone System" by Zakia, White and someone else it recommends testing by using textured toweling as a target. Hang up a towel, meter it and take a series of exposures from five stops less than the meter reading to five stops more. Print these at the same print exposure - an outside lab probably won't work for this - and you'll see exactly how changes in exposure will render the tonality and texture of the subject.

    Keep at it. I know it made my brain hurt when I started into the ZS but it is a great way to understand the physical aspects of photography which, in turn, will give you more control over your images. The next bit is tailoring your film development to your equipment! Next time!

    Stay on APUG and come back with your questions as they arise. There's untold experience and expertise on this site and it's yours for the asking!

    Bob H
     
  8. Jean Noire

    Jean Noire Member

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    Yes it is. Meter the deepest shadow area where you want detail and reduce the meter indicated exposure (Z5) by 2 stops if you want to place that area on Z3. If it reads f8 @ 1/125 then adjust to f16 @ 1/125 or f8 @ 1/500, etc.
    Regards,
    John.
     
  9. OP
    OP
    lft

    lft Member

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    since we use roll film now instead of individually developing every frame, are some pictures going to come out okay and some come out completely over or under exposed?
     
  10. DJGainer

    DJGainer Member

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    Many people use the zone system with roll film backs - they just carry multiple backs. Otherwise, you can shoot an entire roll at N or another range.

    But you can't really have it both ways. If you have 5 frames of N, 3 at N-1, and 2 at N+1, you're not going to get what you are attempting to.
     
  11. dpurdy

    dpurdy Member

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    Sorry, I just came in last night from beers with some photo buddys and gave that smarty pants reply.

    The meter you use will indicate an exposure for you that results in a middle tone. If it is an average meter it will average everything it sees and give you the exposure for a middle tone. If it is a spot meter it will indicate and exposure to give a middle tone for what ever you aim the spot at.

    To think in terms of zones you should think of what the meter gives you as zone 5. That is considered the middle of 10 zones.

    If for instance you meter a white wall the meter will indicate the exposure to make it middle grey (zone 5). You know that will be too dark so you want to give it more exposure than the meter says. Generally full textured white is zone 7. As each zone is one stop, that means you should give 2 stops more exposure than the meter says.

    Generally the darkest tone that has full detail in is considered zone 3. So in a scene you can take a spot reading off a darkish shadow and know that the meter will indicate for zone 5 middle tone which will be 2 stops too much so then you reduce exposure by 2 stops.

    Generally white skin is considered zone 6 so you can meter the back of your hand if you have white skin and open up one stop from the reading in a situation. Or you can carry a small grey card which is supposedly calibrated zone 5 and meter off that in any situation.

    To use the zone system when you have control over film process, you can measure the darkest area and the lightest area and see if they both fit within 7 zones or so. If they are less than 7 zones you can increase the process to increase the contrast (increase the zones). If they are more than 7 zones you can reduce the development to reduce contrast (reduce zones).

    The most important thing in making an exposure it to be certain to get enough density in the dark tones. Thus you "Expose for the shadows, and develop for the highlights"
     
  12. OP
    OP
    lft

    lft Member

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    is a handheld light meter necessary for zone systems, or would my om-4's meter be okay?
     
  13. DJGainer

    DJGainer Member

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    A hand held meter is preferrable because you can more accurately read the values of different parts of the image. As such, most prefer a handheld meter, especially a spot meter for the Zone System technique.
     
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  15. Christopher Walrath

    Christopher Walrath Member

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    It's always to try and grasp the basics and then come back with more pointed questions, at least then you'll know which questions you need to ask to continue. With most things, TZS included, it's hard to ask a first question other than where do I begin.

    I would suggest some self study. Some fantastic books are Ansel Adams' 'The Negative', Phil Davis' 'Beyond the Zone System', and numerous others. Some magazines even publish materials relating to TZS from time to time. As a matter of fact the February edition of one certain magazine printed an article about it. Now what was that magazine . . . ? (Link is in the signature)
     
  16. Q.G.

    Q.G. Inactive

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    What i miss in this and a few other posts is processing.

    Without making use of the possibilities to influence contrast processing offers, this is not even near what the Zone System is.
    It's just plain ol' metering.

    It's only half the old "expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights" thing, that the Zone System is an elaboration of.

    And a (rethorical) question: if the darkest spot on the print is in Zone 3, what are Zones 2 and below for?
    :wink:

    Also, remember that we do not always want to compress a wide contrast range, or expand a narrow range.
    We might well want to expand an already wide range, or compress an already narrow range.
    The most important concept of the Zone System is previsualisation. And that is about, first and for all, deciding how you (!) want a scene to look like in a print. Not necessarily about how to get most tones on paper.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 4, 2009
  17. Christopher Walrath

    Christopher Walrath Member

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    Amen and baby steps.
     
  18. dpurdy

    dpurdy Member

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    It is best when trying to learn the zone "system" to understand the metering and concept of zones of tone first. Unless you are doing individual sheet processing and trying to be very precise in printing to a graded paper like Lodima or something, developing all the pull and push times isn't going to be all that necessary beyond just basically understanding the concept of it.

    The Zone system is not set in stone regarding how to think of the differences in zone 1,2,3...7,8,9,10. Ansel Adams designed it with 10 zones but he adjusted it to 7 or 8 useful zones due to the contrast range of printing paper. My understanding of it comes from going to the Glen Fishback School of Photog. Glen Fishback wrote the original zone system manual for the pentax spot meter. His system is more what AA adjusted to.
     
  19. Anscojohn

    Anscojohn Subscriber

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    *******
    That's the key; you are exposing for ca. Zone II or III, and developing for Zone VII or VIII.
    Rather than retesting every lens, shutter, roll film combination I use, I (most of the time) take an average reading with my film rated at one half box speed; then soup the negs "robustly" in a film developer which is very forgiving of overexposure in the high tones--Eastman D23. It is soooo simple; and gives me a whole bunch of negs which print well on my target paper, which is a Nr. 2, using a diffusion light source. I learned decades ago to K.I.S.S.
     
  20. Q.G.

    Q.G. Inactive

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    Yes.

    That's the best thing to do with the Zone System: regard it as a teaching tool, and learn everything it has to say (it was nothing new, but by elaborating on the basics every experienced photographer knew, it makes these basics very explicit, hard to miss. So a good teaching tool).

    Then you'll also learn that you do not need to meter and process every single frame individually, but that, on the contrary, a well advised and tested choice of film, film speed and developer, and simple metering will produce excellent results 95% of the time. Without further ado.
    The remaining 5% are made up by situations that are easily recognized as problematic with you knowing how to get things right even then, and/or can be solved using a different grade of paper.

    (And after all, even AA, the ' inventor' of the Zone System, engaged in some heavy duty darkroom trickery to get things right. So we shouldn't feel bad when we resort to multigrade paper, split grade printing, dodging and burning, and what have you.)

    An important role in controlling contrast at the taking stage is performed by filters. Use contrast filters whenever you need to.
    Makes things a lot simpler too.
     
  21. BobNewYork

    BobNewYork Member

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    Yes - see the point. Although as the OP was originally questioning whether the spot meter in the Olympus was adequate I restricted my self to metering. Figured 15 lines wasn't enough for a full ZS manual.

    Personally, I'm beginning to move away from N development variation because today's films have a far greater usable density range than the paper. I'm looking more at making the compression/expansion decisions at the printing stage than at the film exposure/development stage. It does result in somewhat more heavily exposed and somewhat less developed negs, but it retains all the detail I need in the negatives and let's me determine at printing which end of the tonal scale to forgo if any. If I want a gritty, grainy image, of course, I'll change agitation procedures with a little less exposure. Seems to make my life easier and more productive in the field. Works for me.

    The Zone III or Zone II debate has raged for years. Shadows on Zone II tend to be still on the toe, thereby suppressing texture to a certain extent; whereas placed on Zone III you're pretty much on the straight line portion of the curve with plenty of textural separation. It's personal really - "How black is your black." I think there was a recent thread where someone mentioned Bruce Barnbaum's work where he places the important shadows on Zone III.

    You pays your money - and you takes your choice.:D
     
  22. Q.G.

    Q.G. Inactive

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    Indeed.
    I forgot about modern films with their long straight bit (can't call it a curve when it is straight, can i?).
    Makes life without full-blown Zone System even simpler

    The bit about Zone 2 or 3 i also mentioned because whenever this theme surfaces, it is with a rather great confusion. Some (correctly) talk about either as the zone at 'the dark end' that should still show detail. While others talk about it as the darkest spot, which is black, without any detail. Or can we get darker than that? :wink:
     
  23. Stefan Findel

    Stefan Findel Member

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    If you meter correctly and place your reading in the proper zone, all your frames will be EXPOSED properly, but not necessarily DEVELOPED right.
    At least for now, it's it's challenging enough for you to get a feel for proper exposure. As to development read Anscojohn's post. I completely agree with his statement. (Even though HC-110 B works pretty good too! :smile: )
    With today's material, it's easy to print even a Zone X, you may have to burn it down in the print, but it will look good, not be an ugly grey.
    BTW, if you read a Zone X, greatly adjust your processing, so you can get a straight print on a normal grade paper, you may find (I do), that the whole picture has lost luster and brilliance!
     
  24. phenix

    phenix Member

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    You’re right Kent, it is underexposure 2 stops, of course. By mistake, I wrote overexposure.
    Sorry.
     
  25. OP
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    lft

    lft Member

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    Thank you very much. After reading some of these posts, I definitely experienced an "Aha" moment. Now that I have a much better grasp of this, I am going to try and practice in the field. Although I am a little confused in terms of developing with the zone system, I guess practice will make perfect there.
     
  26. Anscojohn

    Anscojohn Subscriber

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    ******
    Select a "target" paper as your standard: depending on your enlarger light source, it might be a Nr. 2 or Nr. 3 graded, or equivalent filtration. Set up enlarger for your print--cropped and all. Now, shift the neg so you can make a test strip of a clear strip of film between two adjacent neg frames. Expose for three second intervals at f/11. Develop normally, fix, etc. Find the first frame which shows just barely lighter than the darkest subsuquent frames. Count the intervals for your exposure time for your actual neg. Shift neg back; dust. Print for that exposure. Soup normally and fix.
    Over time, if you find your prints at that min exposure for max black through clear film are consistently "too dark" or "too flat" begin increasing your film development time by about fifteen percent. In no time at all, you will have the normal developing time for that film, in that camera, with that film developer. Make copious notes.
    Or, as I suggested: rate film at an EI of one half the ISO rating. Then soup in a film developer that will not overdevelop the highlights. I prefer D23. Others prefer Rodinal 1:65, 75, 85 or HC 100 dilution B or greater. The key is to give robust development of low and mid tones without having the high tones (Zones VII, VIII) "walking off the paper."
    And, most importantly, learn to "see" the light--not just measure it. You'll soon learn intuitively to judge a scene so you shall know how to develop your film and print your negative with a minimum of hassle.
    As an old, cigar chomping darkroom rat once told me: "If you have to s""t glass to get a decent print, you "f"""ed up your film exposure and development."