View Full Version : I've been leaning too much on my graycard crutch

brian steinberger
1-Jun-2006, 15:35
I've been having problems lately with determining proper exposure for my B&W photography. I'll tinkle around metering what I think is the shadows, then I'll check it against my highlight and realize I'm horibly off. The result I've been getting lately is overexposure. I think it's because I'm quit sure what exact area to label as zone III. I think I'm placing too dark of an area on zone III resulting in overexposure. So lately when shooting, I've been relying on my gray card crutch to check my zone V exposure.

What I've also been doing lately is carrying my meter around without a camera and metering different scenes, and coming up with what I believe is a correct exposure. Besides looking like an idiot, I'm still not sure if I have the correct exposure.

I have calibrated film speed and development time. It's nothing technical, just me not being able to make up my mind. Any suggestions?

John Berry
1-Jun-2006, 16:51
I don't think you look like an idiot. I see someone gathering the information to get the results you want. Grey cards are not a sign of weakness. A grey card is a constant in a world of variables.

Dan Schmidt
1-Jun-2006, 17:07
Your final product is the print, right? Can you get good prints from your negatives?

1-Jun-2006, 17:15
I don't think you look like an idiot. I see someone gathering the information to get the results you want. Grey cards are not a sign of weakness. A grey card is a constant in a world of variables.

problem is that its constantly wrong!

brian steinberger
1-Jun-2006, 17:29
I can get fairly decent prints from my negatives, but I find them to be a bit more work than if I could nail the exposure right the first time. Rob actually recommended a new film EI, dev. time test which I am hoping to try this weekend. That should help nail my zone system down. But I still feel as if I can't figure out which zone is zone III for the exposure. THis is my main problem!

1-Jun-2006, 17:51
You need to be able to previsualise what placing something on zone III will look like in a the print. That only comes with practice and experience. There are no rules saying that any part of the subject must be on a specific zone. You get to make subjective decisions at the time of metering. Having placed your zone III then choose what you want on zone VIII and meter it. If it is not 5 stops more then you are into + or - development.

This assumes that your film speed and dev calibration is correct for your normal printing procedures and paper. If not then your zone placement will be wrong.

Brian Ellis
1-Jun-2006, 21:57
Zone III is the placement for the darkest area in the scene in which you want any detail or texture to appear in the photograph (actually I place that area on Zone IV but Zone III is the textbook placement). So you look at the scene, you find the darkest area in it (which you often can do by eyeball, otherwise use the meter). Then you ask yourself - "do I care whether whatever detail or texture is present in that area shows up in the print or is it o.k. with me if that area just prints as pure black with no detail or texture?" If the latter then you don't place that area on Zone III and you move on to until you find the darkest area in which you want texture or detail and place it on Zone III.

This may sound complicated or time-consuming but with many, perhaps most, typical landscapes you'll usually want to retain detail in even the darkest areas of the scene so you'll hit on Zone III right off the bat. But there are times when a scene contains what will be accent blacks - blacks with no detail - or maybe for creative purposes you want more blacks than a straight Zone III placement would give you. That's one of the beauties of the zone system, you don't have to use it just to get a "straight" print, you can use it to alter tonalities to help make the print you want to make, which isn't always a straight representation of the tonalities in the scene.

Slade Zumhofe
1-Jun-2006, 22:27
I help out with a lot of photo students first learning the zone system and the one mistake most commenly made is misplacing zone III. The next mistake is not confirming this with other zones in the scene--which it sounds like you are doing.

It is true that you can place any zone where you wish and compensate (to a point) in development but from the sounds of your question you are just having trouble finding a "typical" zone III. The best thing you can do is walk around with a meter--or camera--and take readings--practice. It takes time to be able to get it right and even then you may often misplace your zone III.

What many do is find the darkest thing in the scene and call it zone III. Zone III is actually the darkest tone with FULL detail. Zone II has detail but not full detail. A good example is the bark on the shady side of a prominate tree of your scene or the side of an old barn in shade. It all depends on the scene but keep in mind "full detail" when metering.

Good luck.

John Kasaian
1-Jun-2006, 23:38
Use "Sunny 16" If it ain't sunny, its cocktail time! ;-)

Ron Marshall
2-Jun-2006, 06:02
When I began LF I practiced with my lightmeter in my house. As others have said, decide what you want to have in your print as the darkest area of interest or importance, ie. having detail, meter that then open up two stops.

bruce terry
2-Jun-2006, 13:38
I suppose my greatest pleasure should be finding, right ahead of me, the image, then composing it in the ground glass. But this exposure-related thread made me realize something: it's not until I've spot-metered the range of EVs into the sketchbook and decided placement that I really get excited....when the image in my head is almost in the bag, when I know I'm overlooking something within the image (a contrail) or in my routine (an open shutter as I pull the dark slide on my last sheet of film).

After all the work and concentration, thumbing the release, hearing the tin-ish snap of the Acme#3 seems so silly, so insignificant, so done.

ronald moravec
3-Jun-2006, 09:03
Meter the card and meter the darkest part in which you want detail. If they are within 2 1/2 stops, the dark will record detail assuming the shutter and meter are correct. Highlights need be within 3 stops of grey.

you can also meter the darkest and lightest areas and average if they are within 5 or six stops depending on film and processing. This is the simplest way to use a stop meter.

Use palm of your hand and open one stop in place of a grey card reading. Works every time if you do not shadow the palm.

John Berry
4-Jun-2006, 00:44
problem is that its constantly wrong! My assumption was that proper knowledge on how to use a grey card is already known, works for me with no problems. I also understand where your coming from though.