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Thread: My Zone woes

  1. #11

    Join Date
    Sep 1998
    Oregon and Austria

    Re: My Zone woes

    The Zone System is a Visualizaion Tool.

    Yes, it helps you get the right exposure, but that's not it's primary purpose. The whole idea of correlating stops of exposure to shades of grey in your final print is so that you can decide before you expose what you want your print to look like.

    The trick is getting used to the feeling and the expressivity of the different print Zones so that you can successfully plan. If you place a shadow in Zone III, but really wanted a Zone IV shadow, you've just underexposed a stop. If you develop to place a concrete wall in Zone VIII but really wanted it in Zone VII, you've overdeveloped, and so on.

    Practice with different placements, learn what a Zone III shadow looks like in comparison to a Zone IV shadow (I even place some shadows in Zone V on occasion); learn how much detail you get in a Zone VIII, VII, IX, etc. and how bright all those highlights look.

    And, learn to use your meter to help you "see" what your print will look like. If you place a shadow in Zone III, for example, and then most of the other values in the scene except for a highlight are in Zones IV and V, you're going to have a pretty dark looking print... etc.

    When I was learning the Zone System, I made Zone Rulers, strips of photo paper exposed and printed to all Zones between black and white for all the developments I used (See "The New Zone System Manual" by Minor White et al. for instructions on how to make them). These were a great reference for me until I could carry the shades of grey around in my head.

    And, as ROL says, learn to look at the light in your scene; you might be able to expose to get a Zone III shadow and a Zone VIII highlight, but what is the rest of the scene going to look like when printed.

    Oh, one more thing: don't get discouraged. You managed to choose two of the hardest lighting situations to deal with in the world. Filtered light through the redwoods is really contrasty, but the feeling is luminous and soft. It requires a bit of virtuosity to deal with this situation successfully. The same goes for the harsh, very contrast sunlit alpine scene you had at Crater Lake. FWIW, I am an Oregonian and I've been trying for 30+ years to get a really expressive print from Crater Lake... I still haven't managed to get one I would exhibit.



  2. #12

    Join Date
    Jan 2006

    Re: My Zone woes

    You have received some excellent advice from people with a lot of experience.

    I am not a zone system person and I shoot mostly color slide film. From my limited experience, I would say that the black and white landscapes that I have taken that were the most successful were images I made in the winter here in New England, or if around Summer, in conditions that to the naked eye looked low in contrast though they appeared "contrasty" in the final print like images made in misty/foggy conditions or around sunset.

    Also, it can be hard to avoid too much contrast as some of the more modern films seem to add to more contrast, as do more modern lenses, like the modern 5.6 plasmats. Lastly, standards around here are pretty high and if you are measuring your results to this professional standard, it's going to take a lot of time.

  3. #13
    Maris Rusis's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Noosa, Australia.

    Re: My Zone woes

    A useful idea for more "brilliant" zone choices is to deliberately place extremes such as Zone I and Zone X.
    I place small dark things where the eye would not expect to see detail, twigs against the sky for example, way down on featureless black Zone I. The other extreme, small leaves with specular highlights for example, goes on Zone X or higher. By having maybe 1% or 2% of the picture area made up of absolute black and absolute white the broad run of middle tones progresses logically and, I think, elegantly.
    Photography:first utterance. Sir John Herschel, 14 March 1839 at the Royal Society. "...Photography or the application of the Chemical rays of light to the purpose of pictorial representation,..".

  4. #14
    Kevin Kolosky
    Join Date
    Jun 1999

    Re: My Zone woes

    lets see your photos.

  5. #15
    Light Guru's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2011
    Salt Lake City, UT

    Re: My Zone woes

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Pitchford View Post
    When I have a difficult situation such as you've described I do two things: Make a very simple sketch or map and plot in some zones of important objects to see where they fall. I usually measure a gray card as well. Second, I record all exposure info includings in my zones in a Zone VI pocket book for Field data Guide, so I can referece back to it later. The Pocket book is 3.5"X5.5" ring binder and can be easily carried, and blank pages refilled. You can refer to this data for comparison after printing. Then you can consider different developers or papers or film speed to achieve your desired results. Also remember the sky is different depending on where you are. You can be impacted by altitude and latitude.

    Steve, Happy Trails
    Another good way to do this is with the Reciprocity Timer App for iPhone. It does more then just calculate your reciprocity it also lets you keep a record of the exposure and even add a photo that you can mark with zone placements.
    Zak Baker

    "Sometimes I do get to places just when God's ready to have somebody click the shutter."
    Ansel Adams

  6. #16

    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Madisonville, LA

    Re: My Zone woes

    Did you determine your personal ASA for the lens shutter/meter/developer combination? That's step 1. To do this, you make a Zone 1 and Zone VII exposures. You determine a developing time so that the Zone I is 0.10 over the film base plus fog (fb+f) determined largely by the exposure (ASA) and the Zone VII which is determined largely by development should be around 1.1 density units over fb+f. To do this correctly, you need access to a densitometer. View camera lens shutters are notoriously inaccurate, so it can be pretty frustrating if you have not checked them with a shutter speed tester if you've used more than one lens. I assume you're using a spot meter, as otherwise, you won't have much luck reading the scene and determining the contrast range to figure out if you need to process for normal development, expanded, or contracted development. I was fortunate to take both Fred Picker and Oliver Gagliani's workshops 20 plus years ago. Oliver's technique is what I use to this day. Hope some of these suggestions help. L

  7. #17

    Join Date
    May 2004
    Montara, California

    Re: My Zone woes

    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin J. Kolosky View Post
    lets see your photos.
    Indeed, I have no idea what to say from your description without seeing what the issue is.

    As an aside, if you have pictures you want to save but not enough shadow detail then scanning might be an option, depending on film.


  8. #18
    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    USA, North Carolina

    Re: My Zone woes

    A) Upload one of your problem photos and tell us what you don't like about it.

    B) How are you metering, and what meter are you using to accomplish that?

    Bruce Watson

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