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Thread: Zone System/under over exposure

  1. #11

    Join Date
    Nov 1998

    Zone System/under over exposure

    Jason, just a point of clarification. James wrote>>A.A. visualized "Clearing Winter Storm" and developed the neg to print it just the way he visualized it.<< Meaning just what you said, that Ansel like his original visualization and stuck with it. That print is heavily manipulated. As Ansel said "dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships!" I believe the point that James is trying to make is that knowledge of your system is better than not having this knowledge. People always like to point to Weston and say that he didn't use the zone system, realize that we rarely ever see anything that he produced in his first 30 years of photography. So yes time will solve all problems or you can take more direct steps today and calibrate your system.

  2. #12

    Zone System/under over exposure

    Thankyou Jeff. You are right Jason in that he did visualize the scene a certain way and stuck to it. The scene had no more than a two stop range so he gave it the exposure necessary for the shadows he wanted and the development for the highlights he didn't see in the scene but knew they could be put there. He saw what he wanted and did what was necessary to bring that about. My intent was to get other people to understand that bracketing isn't the answer to good negs. Calibration is the only answer. Too many people start in 35 mm and learn the aweful habit of bracketing because film is cheap and never calibrate their system. People also think that calibrating their system is difficult. It is very easy to do if you know what you are looking for in the first place. It takes at the most 10 sheets of film, but they get Davis' book or some other photographic tome and get lost without ever using their noggin. They never ask what they are doing. Expose for the shadows and develope for the highlights. That's all. They blindly settle for empty shadows or worse, full heavy shadow densities and flat prints. No one should ever have a reason for bracketing unless they are trying to get a certain instant of light or they are shooting bigfoot from 10 meters and want all the insurance they can get. As far as metering goes, I watched in amazement as Ray McSaveney shot flowers with no metering at all. Of course when I thought about it, he instictively knew what the lighting ratios were from years of practice. James

  3. #13

    Join Date
    May 2000

    Zone System/under over exposure


    My bad. Reading too late at night. That is exactly what you were saying about _Clearing Winter Storm_.

    The comments that threw me in your first post were:

    "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."

    Anyway, it is true, calibration is the most important key to consistently appealing tonal ranges in a photographer's prints.

    Ditto on Phil Davis' Book. I have degrees in Physics and Mechanical Engineering from Penn State [not meaning I'm any kind of mental giant] and still I get bogged down in the math and charts. A.A.'s testing methods are the best I've found so far.


  4. #14

    Join Date
    Dec 1999
    Forest Grove, Ore.

    Zone System/under over exposure

    I like AA's one liner with respect to this situation. "I'd rather have two sheets of film exposed correctly, versus two sheets of film exposed incorrectly!" (e.g. over and under exposed in bracketing. And, I'm paraphrasing.)

    In this way, the second exposure can be used to optimize the photograph at development, depending upon whether one wants to slightly expand or contract the development.

    I know I've had situations where I didn't take that second exposure, and my highlights just weren't there. This is not an exposure problem, it's a development problem.

    So, the moral to this story is to take six shots of each photo: two at the estimated exposure, two that are under-exposued, and two that are over-exposed. This should cover all bases. (Just kidding.)

  5. #15

    Zone System/under over exposure

    Kodak would love that. Matbe we could get back HIE in 4x5. James

  6. #16

    Zone System/under over exposure

    This is my first time here on the Q&A forum, and lucky me that I can find such an interesting argument along. I should hang around more to learn.

    I have been spending recent couple of months on B&W developing and maybe I can share my experience (though might not be truth).

    By varying the exposure, it can surely deliver different contrast in theory. But whether it can delivers your required contrast, density, tonal change, graininess, film base clarity etc. at the same time, or with each element under your expected range of control? It is highly questionable (esp. in B&W development when your method is highly unstable).

    Personally, I think the key idea of AA's zone system is to collect the necessary details that you want to the film where you can transform such infomation to an effect you want on the photo. In other term, it highly relates to contrast control. In order to vary the contrast of B&W, people have created a number of methods. Some use filters, some use chemicals, some use different darkroom equipment, some adjust time / temperature / dilution / agitation / exposure.....some do it in a more "clever" way by scanning the film and adjust contrast on screen, or buy a different film for different occasions. As long as the method fits into your requirement, I think its fine.

    And if you are trying to use the darkroom developing techniques to resolve the problem, my experience is that you really have to spend some time on practising. The key matter is consistency. You have to adopt a strict procedure to control your development, including liquid temperature, dev. time, agitation styles, dev. timing etc.. Say for an example, you can start with Kodak's film datasheet and use their development datas as a start (say like T-Max 100 roll film, tank development, 21 degree). Then take a number of pictures with consistent exposure (I prefer to use grey card, grey scale and with consistent branketing) and see the result (density, contrasy, graininess, tonal change etc). Say like if you found the best film which works along with your requirement (eg. fits to your enlarging equipment), and under this development method it can render details within range of over-3, under-3 range of exposure with acceptable graininess. Then ongoing you know what you can capture on the film when you press the shutter, and also understand on which side you should lean on (over/under) that deliver what you want. This method basically derives from zone system, and it really takes time to practise, and my advise is to make it simple first and try for at most two / three development combinations (usually Kodak will offer you the dilution / temperature combinations) for each film. Personally, I have tried 1:1, 3:1, pure liquid at the moment with D- 76 and T-Max 100, with a number of development time / agitation method / temperature combinations. If you can deliver stable result on your devp skill, and each time you can adjust a single element of developing and see the result (ie. Kodak suggests we use developing time to control contrast, does it really works, or by what magnitude it works, or even by what time the contrast / development time relation comes to inverse?). It is fun, but it is also pain over the neck. Nevertheless, it renders you with the information required to handle different lighting situations, even the extreme ones, and get the required details you like into your film.

    I have seen a couple interesting articles of AA on the story befind his photos, and I think he has taken a lot of pain and puzzle in order to derive the zone system which we still use today. I think it worths to pay some time in the darkroom in order to understand his wisdoms (and also discover the things untold by AA).

    Brian Kong

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