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Thread: Zone System/under over exposure

  1. #1

    Zone System/under over exposure

    If one uses the Zone System, is it a fact that you won't have under or over expo sed negs? So when I shoot a snow scene, for example, and meter the highlights and shadows of the scene, and of course develop properly, I won't need to bracket because I 'm using the Zone System? Thanks for the imput.

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Mar 1998

    Zone System/under over exposure

    Only if you know exactly what you are doing from experience and if you are a good zoner and are controlling the film development development and matching the negative exposure and development to the paper you anticipate using. Life is short; film is cheap.

  3. #3

    Zone System/under over exposure

    Raven: Ellis is right on. I still like to bracket at least one stop on the side of overexposure, knowing that I can print through the density if I need to. Also, the perfectly exposed neg is not always the one that gives the best "feel" to the print. Besides, you need a backup neg for when you step on one in the darkroom.



  4. #4

    Zone System/under over exposure

    Unless it?s a really tricky exposure, I usually don't bracket - but I've been using the same film for years and feel comfortable with it's characteristics. But I do shoot two plates and "bracket" the film development. I develop one as I had marked in the field. If that neg is bad for some reason, I have a backup (stuff happens :-). If it's good, then I'll develop the other from one to one half stop more or less and evaluate it during printing. This helps with graded paper.

    ... and if it's a tricky exposure? I bracket the exposure and bring home 4 plates :-)

    I agree ? film?s cheap, but the scene at the moment of exposure is priceless.


  5. #5

    Zone System/under over exposure

    Raven, Yes to all of the above. Once you get to know your film/dev. combination under exposure becomes a thing of the past unless there's a fault with shutter/f stop settings also long time exposures are difficult to predict accurately.

    I always take at least two shots of the same image but they are 99% of the time the same exposure. I do this to try and safeguard against developing faults, dust, scratches or whatever bedevils one on the path to perfection (which I shall never obtain). Regards,

  6. #6
    Robert A. Zeichner's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 1999
    Southfield, Michigan

    Zone System/under over exposure

    Raven, I have found in talking with others that most times, when an overexposed negative makes for a better end result, it was not really overexposed at all. Rather, the first (under) exposure failed to account for things like reciprocity departure or bellows factor. Other posts point out similar failings that result in miserexposed images. I, like Trevor prefer to make two identical exposures most of the time. This, to insure I've got a backup negative in case dust or scratches become a problem, but also to give me a second chance to process differently if I feel doing so can improve the printability of the negative. I don't think bracketing when using the Zone system technique is really necessary except at first, when perhaps you are still trying to get a grip on all of your controls or when a particularly difficult or rare situation arises and you want to defer certain decisions until you're in the darkroom.

  7. #7

    Join Date
    May 2000

    Zone System/under over exposure


    The Zone System is all about when to over and under expose. Ever see those wonderful images where the white trees seem to ?glow? against the dark background? Generally this effect is created by underexposing the negative by about a stop to a stop & 1/2 and then giving N+1 or N+2 or sometimes even N+3 development. The same is true for Adams' famous image of the clearing winter storm in Yosemite.

    On the other hand, it is probably more common to overexpose a negative to get good detail in the low values and then contract development to prevent blocking of the highlights [Z8, Z9, and Z10]. This is the old saying "expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights". The zone system just allows you to consistently predict the response of your system to various combinations of exposure and development. I have found that I very rarely give normal exposure with normal development to a negative.

    You should shoot at least two plates of each scene if you can. Generally, if you are going to bracket, you only need to go in one direction. A one-stop difference is usually enough for me. If the first negative is wanting in some regard, this indicates the correct development for the second plate.

    Remember that intuition and experience play a big part in this. Ed Weston rarely used a light meter and when he did he usually doubled the suggestion of the meter. He then worked miracles in the darkroom. Likewise, Adams did his share of burning and dodging as well.


  8. #8

    Join Date
    Dec 2000

    Zone System/under over exposure

    The reason to use the zone system is to produce an ideal negative; not acceptable negative, but one that mets your previsualisation of how of how the scene should be; to extend (compact) the contrast range beyond what would normally be possible. By using the zone system you are accepting that you might have to use different development procedures for each scene shot. Now after going through all of this trouble you are going to leave it to chance that you didn't get results you were expecting?!!#$@%!!

    The number of variables increase (not decrease) with the zone system, and if I were you I wouldn't fret about throwing a few more sheets on the barbi. Other wise you are likely to get discouraged before you even get started. It takes a while to develop a system that works using the zone system. The expansion and compaction development formulas are just a starting point. Some of them are going to work, and some aren't. After all the goal to met your previsualisation, and only you can know what you want and how to get there. Black and white sheet film unlike color is relatively cheap, and since you're processing your own film, you development costs are minimal, so experiment.

  9. #9

    Zone System/under over exposure

    Expose for the shadows and develope for the highlights. Pretty simple. Anything else you throw into it makes it more difficult than it needs to be. If you don't calibrate your system then bracketing isn't going to save you. Calibrate your system, then all you need, outside the dust and scratches, is two sheets. That's what the zone system is all about. You will never get a perfect negative. You can get close but you'll never get a perfect neg. Why? Because as you print the neg, you reinterpret it. Weston didn't use a light meter at first because there weren't any. But he trained his eye to see the contrast range of the subject. And he threw away a lot of negs. So did Ansel Adams. A.A. visualized "Clearing Winter Storm" and developed the neg to print it just the way he visualized it. The reason he used any printing controls (dodging and burning) on it was because he visualized the scene differently than it was when he exposed the film. It was about as flat lit a scene as you can get but he wanted more from it. He gave it, I believe, an N+2 development and then dodged and burned selected areas to create that which wasn't really there. If you calibrate your exposure, developement, printing and toning system then there isn't any guessing involved. But if you are lazy then bracketing isn't going to save your ass either. What does bracketing accomplish other than to give you the same "contrast range" on a denser negative? A denser neg and that's all. Manipulating the "contrast range" is what the zone system is all about. No more and no less. You still won't know what the development time should be to increase or decrease the density range unless you calibrated your development scheme to increase or decrease the density range. Where do I want the highlight densities? So get off your butt(s) and calibrate your system and get close to what you want everytime and have a backup neg for the unforseen problems like dust and scratches. Calibrating your system is much easier than most people make it. James

  10. #10

    Join Date
    May 2000

    Zone System/under over exposure


    I disagree with your statements about _Clearing Winter Storm_. This image is not like _Frozen Lake_ [taken on the Sierra Club outing] in that _Frozen Lake_ was re-interpreted many times over many years whereas _Clearing Winter Storm_ was not. Ansel knew what he saw, exposed the film for expansion, and printed to meet his original visualization. He did not make other interpretations once he got the now famous printing solution.

    I mean lets face it, no one is ever going to get the 'exact' negative they want even is they know at the time of exposure exactly what they want in the print. So the photographer exposes and develops the negative as best as he can and burns/dodges/masks/tones/... to get what he visualized at exposure. Or, as you have correctly stated, the photographer can employ these techniques to re-interpret the visualization post development. However, this is not what happened with _Clearing Winter Storm_. Ansel manipulated the printing to get what he saw at the time of exposure.


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