View Full Version : Ansel Adams, Christopher James and Making Photographs

20-Jan-2004, 11:29
I've just finished reading Ansel Adams's The Negative and Christopher James's The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes. Adams appears to have believed that a photographer should know with some precision, when he composes, meters and sets his aperture and shutter speed, what the eventual print will look like. That belief seems to underly the Zone System, at least in its full-blown cradle to grave/composition to print, methodology. In other words, implicit in the methodology is a philosophy about photography.

One of the things that I find attractive about James's book is that the underlying philosophy of at least parts of it is much freer. This is particularly evident in his discussions about pinhole and Holga cameras. I also have the sense that many of the images in the book were created through a process of tinkering and experimentation. Reading his book reminded me of when I got my first chemistry set.

How many people who participate in this forum make photographs in the deliberate and methodical manner that Adams prescribes? Is his apparent claim, that adoption of the Zone System largely eliminates unpredictability when making images with film, born out?

For how many is the road from composition forward a process of tinkering and experiment that results, at the end of the day, in a print that was unforeseen, or only partially foreseen, at the outset. If you are in the latter category, is that a result of imperfect craft or a deliberate choice? If it is a choice, do you use the Zone System and, if so, what parts of it and for what purpose?

If you use an alternative process, do you use some kind of Zone System equivalent? Is that even possible, given that a degree of unpredictability seems to be inherent in some alternative processes? Or is experimentation a central part of mucking about with alternative image capture (e.g. daguerreotypes) and alternative printing processes?

Edward (Halifax,NS)
20-Jan-2004, 11:39
I live in the world of the happy accident. I am fairly good at knowing what a colour transparency will look like but I need a lot more experience to accurrately plan a B&W shot.

20-Jan-2004, 12:10
Rory, interesting question! The 2 examples you cite are certainly on the face of things, opposed views. I just finished the James book, and it got me out of the "Rocks And Rivers" rut I've been in for some years. James' book has many examples of artists' photographs, as opposed to "photographer's photographs". I have been making Solarplate photogravures recently, with an etching press, from large format negs of petroglyphs, and street scenes in Venice. Also have tried, and love, Ziatypes and kallitypes. The more one gets away from the strictures of the "conventions" of the Zone system, the more fun it is, and the more "handwork" there is in the processes. Judy Siegal's "World Journal of Post-Factory Photography" also brings a fresh dimension, where the artistic approach of crafting an image--not merely a faithful record in the AA sense of pre-visualization--is exemplified and given many avenues, techniques and resources. James' book is a treasure for those who may be feeling stale, or that their technique could stand some new avenues of expression.

Bruce Watson
20-Jan-2004, 12:14
No one can tell you how to work. You have to decide what methods, or lack of methods, fit you, and allow you to make your art.

Me? I am an Adams disciple. And yes, it works for me. I get very predictable, high quality negatives. I have been able to visualize what I wanted the final print to look like, perform acordingly, and get final prints that closely matched my vision. This, I think, is a good thing.

The point of the Zone System, however, is not that it "largely eliminates unpredictability." The point is that it is a system you can use to get control of the mechanics of photography. The reason you want to do this is so that the craft (as he called it) becomes largely automatic - that you don't have to spend much time thinking about it. This leaves you free to concentrate on the art. And the art is the point, at least for me.

You've gotta do what works for you though, so YMMV.

Guy Tal
20-Jan-2004, 12:14
You hit on a couple of important points. Adams defined the (now much abused) term "previsualization" to mean seeing in your mind's eye the final print as you determine exposure (the term has since been hijacked to anything from determining composition to digitally adding elements the photographer wished were there in the first place).

The other important point is where, in the process, one is free to apply creative thinking and technique. I find the approach of a pre-determined output while in the field to be creatively limiting. Obviously I'll have some idea of what I'm trying to achieve, but often I'll find myself adjusting and experimenting further and printing in new ways as I learn from the experience of printing repeatedly until I "get it right" (something Adams himself is known for doing, which doesn't quite sit well with the whole "previsualization" theory).
In that sense, digital tools can provide you infinitely more flexibility and creative options than any chemical process, traditional or alternative (and in a much better smelling environment ;). I believe this point is lost on many who believe that scanning a piece of film is a slippery slope towards reinventing a photograph, rather than a way of overcoming the limitations of chemistry.


Bruce Watson
20-Jan-2004, 12:20
not merely a faithful record in the AA sense of pre-visualization

Kallitype, I think you miss the point of what Adams was doing. Few if any of his images are a "faithful record." If you were able to be at the scene with him at the time of exposure, and hold up the resulting print, the differences between scene and print would rock you. Adams' prints can hardly be considered faithful to the scene.

Ralph Barker
20-Jan-2004, 12:53
Excellent discussion topic, Rory. And, one with lots of room for individualism.

Personally, I guess I use a "relaxed" version of the Zone System for landscapes and such - after first thinking about what is motivating me to make the photograph in the first place, and what details I want to capture in the negative. A loose pre-visualization, you might say. I might even expose several negatives concentrating on different interpretations of the scene through variations in exposure for different planned levels of development. (Film is cheap. It's getting there that is damned expensive.) I enjoy predictable consistency in the developed negatives.

I am not, however, a particularly good note taker. So, by the time I start to print the particular negatives, the pre-visualizations may have become a bit fuzzy. Thus, while the score in the negative may be set, I enjoy discovering different performances in the prints.

Commercial work, however, is far more precise, and aimed tightly at the preconceived objective of the image.

Mark Sampson
20-Jan-2004, 12:54
The oft-forgotten point of the Zone System is to know what your materials actually do, so that you get to decide how your images will look. As opposed to the "I'm an artist so it's bound to be good whatever happens" approach... good photographs can happen either way. Understanding your materials always helps, it will just take longer if you don't.

Mike Chini
20-Jan-2004, 13:03
Remember that Ansel developed the zone system after he had already developed his vision, subject matter etc. to a large extent. The zone system was a way for him to refine his work. Most people focus on techniques long before they have any photographic goals in mind whereas Ansel could have suceeded in making spectacular images even without his technical prowess due to his coherent vision and talent.

20-Jan-2004, 13:15

from the technical point of view I simply expose my negatives after taking 1 incident light reading. No spotmetering to determn contrast etc, no push or pull development as I just rely on VC paper for that.

from the artistical point of view I never follow "the rule of thirds" and similar, I also do not try to fit the picture into the negativ- or printformat: I select a composition and printsize (and dimension) that seems to be ok for the subject.


20-Jan-2004, 13:18

How hard was it for you to get to the point where your technical decision-making before taking a photograph, as distinct from your artistic decision-making, was second nature? Adams tends to gloss over the whole question of what work is required to get to this point. I suspect that it takes quite a lot of work. I don't say that as a criticism. I just wonder whether Adams understated the amount of dedication that is required to get to the point where one's command of the Zone System is fluid rather than haphazzard.

Adams describes basic zone technique and then a good number of fairly specific techniques to deal with particular problems relating to tonal range. Do you know if he used these specific techniques regularly? Or is The Negative, being a book of instruction, a catalogue of techniques that Adams had at his disposal, most of which he used sporadically?

Bruce Watson
20-Jan-2004, 16:06

That's a difficult question to answer. My experience probably doesn't translate well for anyone else, but, that said, I'll take a stab at it.

There is work up front doing the testing to determine your personal EI and your normal development time, this is true. Once that's done, it's all about practice. Over time you begin to recognise the short cuts you can take - like learning how to look at the tones in the scene and see which ones need to be metered and which ones won't tell you anything useful. The more shots you take, the easier using the Zone system becomes.

So... to answer your question, it took me about a year. That is, about 1000 sheets of film. At some point my ratio of good negatives to bad negatives (hit rate), which had been showing steady improvement, did a step function increase. I noticed, when I forced myself to analyse it, that most everything I was doing was automatic, and that I spend most of my time choosing and composing.

It's similar, maybe, to learning another language. A some point, you stop translating in your head and you start to actually think in the new language. It's similar, but different.

As to the second part of your question, I never met Adams, and I don't know how he actually worked. My guess (and it's only a guess) would be that he used the techniques the scene required, and that he probably did it automatically based on long practice (he left tens of thousands of negatives, and he lost bunches in at least one darkroom fire).

20-Jan-2004, 19:02
Hogarth, thanks. I have some decisions to make about where I want to go with photography. These two books have been enormously helpful and I think that it was useful to read them back to back. Your responses to my original post are going to be a significant factor in what I choose to do personally. That said, I asked the original question in general terms, because I'm interested in the broader issues.

Too all,

I decided to ask the same question on the philosophy of photography forum on photo.net. The first response came from a pinhole photographer who, like Ralph Barker above, has a very good sense of humour. You have to read his comments about being on a 12 step programme to wean himself off Excell. There is also an interesting response from a gentleman who plays the piano, although my interest in his post may have a lot to do with the fact that I play the instrument myself. Worth checking out.

Michael Chmilar
20-Jan-2004, 19:12
It boils down to this: How much do you want to guarantee that you end up with a usable negative?

The Zone System is mostly about having a calibrated, known, and repeatable process.

While most photographers may aim to make a "good" negative, there is nothing to stop you from experimenting while still employing the Zone System. After all, you are free to choose to have highlights blow out, lose shadow detail, or make a "thin" negative. However, you are making a deliberate choice to do so. You are even encouraged to try these things, to learn and understand what happens. Such experience may be useful.

If you choose a less "rigorous" process, then you open the door to happenstance. While you may get some wonderful negatives because of "happy accidents", you may also end up with nothing you consider usable. Depending on how accessible your subject is (and how much time and money you are willing to devote), this may be rewarding (in that you find something wonderful) or frustrating.

Photographers who rely mostly on happenstance will eventually accumulate a pile of negatives that they like. They will begin to wonder, "How can I make more like these?" They are then left to unearth the circumstances of each shot from their memory, and try to find the important details.

So, in the end, whether you aim to create "classical" photos, or you want to create wildly experimental photos, it is important to understand your process well enough to control it and repeat it. It is also useful to "bend the rules" sometimes to discover something new and unexpected (but it is nice to understand "how" you bent the rules, so you can add a new technique to your repertoire, or push it even farther).

Brian Ellis
20-Jan-2004, 19:44
The idea that the zone sytem is designed to allow you to make perfect negatives or "good" negatives from which "good prints" (generally defined as prins with accent blacks, accent whites, and a good range of grays in between) every time is a common misconception. The zone system is intended to allow you to be creative and to make the photograph you want to make without being limited by the equipment and materials to a standard "good" negative. If you want to make a high key print from a "normal" scene (i.e. one with a five to seven stop contrast range) by use of the zone system for exposure and development you can do that (within reason), if you want to make a dark moody print from a normal scene you can do that too, and if you want to make a print that reproduces the tonal scale of the scene more or less as it actually existed you can do that too. It's all up to you, how you see, how you would like to print. That kind of creativity is the real purpose of the zone system, not just to let you make "perfect" negatives from which you can always make a "normal" print.

So I don't see any major inconsistency between James and Adams except that Adams would say you decide at the time the photograph is made what kind of print you want to make and expose accordingly, whereas I guess James would say you don't decide in advance what kind of print you're going to make and instead you make a "normal" print and then experiment. Of course even with Adams' previsualization idea, there's nothing to prevent you from experimenting and trying a print different from what you had in mind when the negative was made (again within reason).

20-Jan-2004, 20:03

I'd like to say that Chrisopher James does not say anything about Ansel Adams and I do not want to be perceived as putting words in his mouth. He is overtly enthusiastic about using Holga cameras to play around as an instrument of experimental photography. Indeed, he has, or had, a programme of his own that involves the use of Holgas, including a very funny photo, reproduced in his book, that suggests that an Egyptian pyramid is inflated by a hose. However, this is very different from suggesting that he has particular views about Ansel Adams and the Zone System. He may have views on that subject, but I have no idea what they are.

Michael A.Smith
20-Jan-2004, 21:46
Wonderful question and many fine answers. I would like to answer at length, but no time for a week or so. But to quickly comment on how long it takes to get a handle on the zone system: I'd say about a day or two. I have outlined the procedure for this in other writing, I think on the Azo Forum on our web site at www.michaelandpaula.com, but I cannot put my finger on it right now. If anyone will still be paying any attention to this thread in 10-12 days, I should be able to find it and have up the methodology for doing this.

Bruce Watson
25-Jan-2004, 14:58
Saying you can learn the Zone System in "about a day or two" is like saying you can learn chess in about a day or two. Yes, you can learn the rules and basic techniques in a couple of days. But there is a real difference between knowing the rules and techniques of the system, and mastering the system.

If you want to master the Zone System - if you want to use the system as a tool to help you gain control of your process so that you can consistently produce negatives that help you express your vision, well, that takes more than a couple of days. Like mastering anything worthwhile, it takes practice, practice, practice.

Michael A.Smith
25-Jan-2004, 22:32
Sure you can learn the Zone System in a day or two. All it is, really, is a way of understanding the exposure/development relationship. That is not exactly difficult stuff. No math even, just arithmetic.

Mastering the system would take a bit longer. You would have to photograph in all kinds of lighting situatiuons--contrasty, flat, normal, etc. So make it three or four days. (it is always contrasty if you are photographing inside and looking out a window and you want detail inside). Keep the window out of the picture and chances are, unless you are directly under a light that it will be relatively flat. Or get up early one morning just before the sun comes up. You will find flat light. And normal is always lurking somewhere. Make a few negatives and print them all. Will detail proper procedure in a week or so. Someone please remind me if I do not. Aha, looked and found it. See below.

I have learned that there are actually week-long workshops dedicated to learning the Zone System. What a waste of time. Why this stuff gets so mystified and difficult is a mystery to me.

Here is the procedure:

Long ago I came to the conclusion that there is only one technical thing in photography that it is essential to know—the exposure/development relationship. And you must know that as automatically as you know the alphabet or how to count from one to ten. I am constantly amazed at how many photographers cannot instantly tell whether a thin negative is underexposed or underdeveloped or whether a denser one is over exposed or overdeveloped.

Use one ISO speed. Never change it. To figure out what it should be make 5 exposures of a full-range scene at exposures without reciprocity failure, each one at a different ISO rating. For Tri X [this was written in response to a question about Tri-X] I would use 400, 200, 100, 64, 50. Develop tham all at what you believe is "normal" developing time. PRINT THEM ALL. Find the first one that prints with enough, but not too much, shadow detail. It will probably be the one at 100 or 200, although it could be the one at 64 or 50. With Tri X it will not be the one at 400, but expose one at that speed for comparison. You will then have your ISO speed. You may have to extrapolate; it could be a speed in between like160.

Then, at your newly arrived ISO make 5 exposures, again, of a normal contrast-range scene without reciprocity failure. Develop the films for 5 minutes, 7, 9, 11, 13 minutes (or something like that--go both sides of "recommended" time).

PRINT THEM ALL. One will yield the best print. That is your new standard development time. You can expand or contract development time according to the contrast of the scene you are photographing--more time for a flat scene, less for a very contrasty one. How much more or less? Expose a few (3 or 4) negatives for a flat scene and a few more for a contrasty scene and develop for different times. PRINT THEM ALL and you will have it.

The above is the practical way to do "Zone System" testing. It should take no more than a couple of days.

The key as you can tell from the all caps is to, what else, PRINT THEM ALL. What so many people do is to read their negatives on a densitometer and from that determine which is the best negative, and they print that one. Wrong procedure. Throw away or sell the densitometer. Print them all--the one that yields the best print is your standard. Who cares what the numbers are? This is a visual medium, not a theoretical one. AA said that Zone VI should be "x" density and that film base plus fog should be "y" density and so many spend so much time trying to get those densities in their negatives that they lose sight of the whole point of it all, which is to make pictures. They may get those densities, and still not make the best prints that were possible.

This is heretical to the techies. Some people really like all that technical stuff and all the gizmos and gadgets and technological nonsense. Someone once photographed me and Paula. He had some light metering computerized system that took him about 10 minutes to figure it. It would have taken either of us about 10 or 15 seconds. Hey, if you enjoy all that techie stuff go for it--whatever gives you pleasure. But it has nothing to do with making pictures.

tim atherton
25-Jan-2004, 23:41
I think you hit it spot on there Michael

Jorge Gasteazoro
26-Jan-2004, 02:36
I am afraid this is another topic where I disagree with Michael. As with all great ideas, the basic concept is very simple to understand, but the methodology and the goal is misunderstood leading to over complication or under simplification.
Lets take for example Michael's methodology, after 15 or so exposures you have gained little information, you have a somewhat approximate idea of what should be your "normal" development time, and possible expansion and/or contraction of the negative. But, you have not gained any in depth knowledge of how the film behaves. In contrast with 6 exposures I can determine appropriate EI, development times ranging from N-3 to N+2, and most importantly I can make inferences in the way that the film behaves with this changes in development so I can choose a film that "fits" my style better and if I should change developer or film to better fit the tonality I am looking for.
Here, IMO is the break down in communication, the Zone system and the BTZS are not difficult, sensitometry IS difficult to learn and master, but once that has been done, it becomes a very powerful tool that enables the practitioner to make inferences about films,papers and developers which save much time, money and frustration. The goal of the ZS and the BTZS is not to obtain target numbers in a piece of film, but to obtain negatives that fit the printing method so that they free us to make aesthetic decisions in the field that will in turn produce a negative that will contain those decisions and will print in the way we envisioned the photograph, or at least as close as possible with less darkroom work.

After 40 years of taking photographs it is all well and good for Michael to say "throw away the densitometer," he has learned by trial an error and essentially has arrived at a formula that works for him, but year for year, I am willing to bet I started to consistently produce as good a negative as he has in a much shorter time by approaching the study of film behavior in a systematic manner.

Testing, when done correctly takes far less time than the example that Michael wrote and yields far more information than what he obtained. Understanding "expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights" or "test your paper tonal range first and then adjust the negative development to fit the paper" does not take 1 or 2 days, it takes all of 1 minute. Understanding and teaching the methodology so that the tests give consistent results AND what the numbers mean and how to interpret them to obtain useful information about the film/paper/developer relationship is what takes more than 1 or 2 days.

Of course if you stick with one paper, film and developer after 40 years you better know how the relationship works, but the "methodology" suggested by him is a laughable over simplification that is not worth the trouble for the amount of information it yields, and IMO a disservice to those who wish to test in the appropriate manner and understand what those tests mean.

It has become fashionable to belittle those who wish to learn how to test correctly by calling them "techies" in an effort to appear to be "knowledgeable", but IMO this only shows a total lack of understanding of the principles and the wealth of information that they can provide.

Michael A.Smith
26-Jan-2004, 05:50
I don't get it ,Jorge. I really don't get it. Honestly. How can using 15 films be both an "over simplifucation" and at the same time "over complication."? And how can using only six films be less of an over simplification? And yield more information? I have seen the letters BTZS before, but haven't a clue as to what they mean.

What I have found is that, by and large, aspiring photographers do not have a thorough understanding of film/development relationships. Once you have that, no testing at all is necessary, really, nor is a knowledge of sensitometry. If on one negative the shadows are too thin, next time expose more or lower your film speed. That is information you get empirically. If you negative is too thin in the highlights, next time develop it longer. How much longer? Depends on how flat your negative is. If very flat, double the time. If just a little, add 20%. Pretty soon, as in, really, a few exposures, you'll have it, adjusting for each negative based on the ones that came before. This presupposes a thorough knowledge of film expoure and development relationships--something surprisingly few really have.

One should be able to identify, instantly, whether a negative is right on, over or under exposed, or over or under developed. After you make a few pictures, if you pay attention to your negatives and most importantly to your prints, you will have it. You state, Jorge, that can be learned in a minute. That's an even shorter time than I would say is necessary. I would say, about 15 minutes, as long as you are shown examples of all the types of negatives, or see them in a book.

A knowledge of sensitometry (which I taught over 30 years ago) is totally unnecessary--nice to know if you are inclined that way--but, strictly speaking, it is not necessary. For those who go that route, it's fine, if they enjoy it, but if one does not, it can be skipped over.

D. Kevin Gibson
26-Jan-2004, 10:12
The interesting thing about photography, compared to virtually every other creative art form/process, is that the technical side is prety simple and very easy to learn. It doesn't actually take that long to learn how to use cameras of different sorts, understand how lenses work, in LF, how to use movements and so on. In processing and printing, again, it is relatively simple and takes comparatively little time to master much more than the basics. One can become a very good printer in the same time that, for example, a beginner flautist is still struggling to produce anything like a clear sound, and who is still many hundreds of hours away from being even close to playing in an orchestra.

The photographer can acheive a high level of technical skill in much less time than it takes a watercolour or oil panter to achieve the same level of proficiency. Indeed, having trained first of all as a cinematographer, even film is, by comparison, a much more technically complicated medium to work in and master and requires much more technical training and experience. Many of the "greats" in photography have often relied on fairly limited technical skills in producing their work, compared to the great artists and creators in other media. Of course, they knew very very well, even intimately, how their choice of camera film and paper worked, but they didn't have to aquire the extrmemely high level of technical profficiency that say Picasso did, in drafting and drawing and painting, before they headed of on their own, new creative direction.

Conversly, it seems that the creative aspects of photography are much harder to learn and develop. Rather like playing one of those electric keyboards with all the base and rythm sections built in, it's quite easy to produce a moderately passable photograph, one that many viewers will still enthuse about. To move in a new direction, to produce an image that is truly meaingful or challenging or fresh and so on, seems much harder to acheive in photography. Unlike the musician, the photographer doesn't have to spend eight hours a day practicing (or running sensitometry tests) before he or she can produce a techically proficient performance. But to produce new and exciting work does take a lot of time and effort of a different sort.

26-Jan-2004, 10:19

In my original post and subsequent question for Hogarth, I was asking about Ansel Adams's version of the Zone System rather than about subsequent interpretations of it. Adams's system, as he defines it in the final, 1981 edition of The Negative, involves a lot more than establishing a film speed and development time. To take one example, the Zone System, as he understood and taught it, requires a thorough grasp (a) of tones of grey from white to black (b) of how a given coloured object, without manipulation, will translate into a particular grey tone (c) of how to manipulate the tones of the various specific objects being photographed to achieve a desired result and finally, an ability to visualize a desired result. These things are not learned in a few days, let alone in a few hours. As I understand Adams, establishing fil speed and development time is the beginning of learning the system, not the end.

Michael A.Smith
26-Jan-2004, 11:19
Kevin: thank you. That is so well put.

Rory: Understanding film/development relationships is not about black and white. It is about the gray scale. If you understand those relationships THOROUGHLY then you will understand the entire gray scale--not just the top and bottom. You will also understand how to move them around and manipulate them. That's part of the two or so day learning period.

Translating colors into B&W has nothing to do with the Zone System. That you learn by experience.

The ability to previsualize is a function of the work you have done. You get better and better at it all the time, naturally. But learning the Zone System--two days.

Edward (Halifax,NS)
26-Jan-2004, 11:29
Michael, BTZS is Beyond the Zone System. It is a modification to the zone system developed by Phil Davis. It has also spawned a company that makes/sells products for photography and developing.

Jorge Gasteazoro
26-Jan-2004, 13:06
I don't get it ,Jorge. I really don't get it. Honestly. How can using 15 films be both an "over simplification" and at the same time "over complication."? And how can using only six films be less of an over simplification? And yield more information? I have seen the letters BTZS before, but haven't a clue as to what they mean.

Michael, we probably should stop discussing this type of topics because we are getting to know each other too well, we can almost anticipate the responses..:-)

I will start from the end first, BTZS stands for Beyond The Zone System, a testing approach designed by Phil Davis, which in my opinion is far more powerful than the zone system. Your methodology is an "over simplification" of the concepts of film testing and measurement, yet at the same time it is a lot of work for the little information you obtain in what, IMO, is a trial an error approach. Testing does not mean using a lot of film, it means using the right amount of film to get the desired information, using 6 sheets is not an over simplification it is the right amount of film to get all the information you need and should obtain.

Lets take for example this statement:

Use one ISO speed. Never change it.

You have used the same film/developer/paper combination for many years and this terrible advice is proof of that. You use a film that has a very long toe, meaning it "separates" shadow values very well, this in conjunction with azo, which as a long scale paper that is able to reproduce that separation of dark tones very well. This is a very desirable property of older films which used to be called "thick emulsion" films, unfortunately modern films do not have this property, they have very short toes, which means shadow values are very "close" together and if the shadow exposure is not done correctly they produce a horrible mass of black tones with no separation. Not changing the exposure index, specially when doing shorter than normal developing times is a recipe for disaster. So, your experience with one set of variables does not apply to other films and shows a lack of understanding of modern film emulsions and the ability to predict their behavior.

What I have found is that, by and large, aspiring photographers do not have a thorough understanding of film/development relationships. Once you have that, no testing at all is necessary, really, nor is a knowledge of sensitometry. If on one negative the shadows are too thin, next time expose more or lower your film speed. That is information you get empirically. If you negative is too thin in the highlights, next time develop it longer. How much longer? Depends on how flat your negative is. If very flat, double the time. If just a little, add 20%. Pretty soon, as in, really, a few exposures, you'll have it, adjusting for each negative based on the ones that came before. This presupposes a thorough knowledge of film exposure and development relationships--something surprisingly few really have

Now this is nothing more than a trial an error approach, why do it? just go an take pictures and eventually you will get the right combination. Here we are talking about different things, you seem are saying that testing is only necessary to arrive at the correct exposures. I am saying that testing is necessary to be able to predict the behavior of film and not only to arrive at the correct exposures. This is the most important concept which people like you fail to understand. Not only do I want to know what is the correct exposure for my film/developer combination, but I want to be able to predict how the film will behave if I decide to change developers, this without having to take 20 more shots.

The goal of testing and sensitometry is not to obtain a set of densities, or get exactly 0.1 over b+f and here lies the problem, people seem to think that because Adams and Archer said Zone V should have a density of 0.65, by God they are going to get that density. When practical results don't conform to the "theoretical" values people get frustrated and then along come people like you and Picker who "device" simpler methods which are fundamentally flawed and show a lack of understanding as to why these measurements and numbers are being taken.

This is my objection to tests like yours and Picker's, you have failed to see the forest for the trees. 30 years ago you might have taught the mechanics of sensitometry, making test exposures, measuring 0.1 over b+f, drawing a curve etc, but you clearly missed and did not teach the purpose of these test and the interpretation of the results. Your "test" is a good example of the mechanics of doing a test, but it does not provide you information that will enable you to predict the behavior of film under different circumstances, and THIS is the goal of sensitometry and testing.