Large Format & Zone System — How Synonymous?

Discussion in 'Large Format' started by walter_glover, Aug 7, 2003.

  1. I was just wondering how synonymous large format and the
    Zone System (or its derivatives) are with members of this

    Are there many large format shooters who work without utilising
    the Zone System or do the two go hand in hand?

    I'm not concerned with argument and counter-argument so
    much as just a show of hands to see what the general trend
    seems to be.

    Walter Glover
  2. I confess I'am not trained to the zone system yet and hope for the efficiency of ambient metering.
  3. I started using the zone system when I started LF about twenty years ago. Even had the cool little notebook for redording the data on each exposure. I felt that was really being a photographer. Then, at a workshop, a real genuine WEST COAST PHOTOGRAPHER saw me with my little book. He told me to put it away because it slowed me down mechanically and creatively. He told me just make sure the shadows get enough exposure. IMHO the Zone System is good when you are starting out, to help you understand proper exposure and development. Now, I just put the dark shadow on Zone III, check the highlights and make the exposure.
  4. Sometimes I use my spot meter for zone placement and sometimes I just use an incident depends on the subject matter, time involved, etc.
  5. I too, started out with the notebook and all. In the end with the greater flexibility we now have in the darkroom as opposed to what was available decades ago, I find that getting the proper shadow exposure and developing the film for the correct highlight value is all that is really neccesary. I may read some midtone areas but they are going to fall at the appropriate place on the curve so shadow/hightlight readings are the truly important stuff to take care of.

    As a side question, how many of you that keep meticulous notes refer to them later after processing the film? Does it really help you make a better photograph or diagnose a faulty negative? I never refer to my notes (after film processing) because in the end they really don't matter that much. To me the important notes are the date and subject information and whether the film required N- or N+ development, after that nothing else matters.
  6. I don't record as much data as I used to unless I'm testing some new materials or equipment, but I still apply the principles of the Zone System as I work. When I shoot medium format, I'm likely to be carrying three backs for N, +, and - development. If I'm doing bird photography in color with 35mm, I'll push film to improve constrast in flat light--not as precise as the zone system in its full incarnation, but that's the underlying idea.
  7. My shot form has the following: Location, date, time, film, asa, subject lines for 8 spot meter readings & zones, EV range, bellows adjustment, reciprocity adjustment, filter adjustment, indicated processing (N, N+1, N-1), enlarger settings for proof sheet, print sizes, etc.

    I am new to all of this (B&W processing and large format) so I write it down. Yes I spend some time writing but, it helps develop the discipline necessary to figure all of this out. Nice to have all of the information on one sheet and see how my mistakes happen. In the end, use a gray card and you can't go wrong. Now, has anyone seen my pen?

    Can you say anal retentive? Sure you can.
  8. In essence is not the Zone System just taking a light reading of the shadows and then the highlights. With this information you are then able to determine the contrast range of your subject and mark the film to be processed in relation to this information. (ie. N, N-1, N+1, etc)

    If that is the case, then yes I do utilize the Zone System when I shoot LF film. I find that this is especially useful when shooting outdoor scenes where the range of brightness for the scene can exceed what normal development would give me in regards to an "Easily" printable negative.

    Notice that the keyword here is that by utilizing the Zone System, I feel that I am maximizing my negatives so that the printing stage is easier. This does not mean that burning and dodging are not needed, but rather that my densities are such that it is possible to print the high areas with detail while not having to go through gymnastics to prevent the lows (shadows) from blocking up.

    So yes, I do use a simple format of the Zone System.

  9. I am also a user of the "half-ass school of the zone system"

    Check the contrast range with a spot meter, place your exposure
    where it needs to go and pull/push accordingly.

    works for me.....
  10. On my form, I have places for phase of the moon, windage, ambient temperature and relative humidity. I also make notes about my libido, relative position of my automobile in relation to the camera, height of my tripod and my energy level.

    I made one image last month.

    Seriously, I started out doing all of that extraneous record keeping. Today I practice placing low values and checking high value placements and then I go out and make photographs. My latest effort is my new portfolio of cigarette butts in the various roadside parks that I frequent.
  11. I've been using the Zone System to determine exposure for years, most of which were spent doing medium format, more recently large format. I use a spotmeter with a Zone System scale taped on it. For negative film, I usually determine exposure by choosing a Zone III (sometimes II or IV) values. For slides, I determine exposure based on a Zone VII or VIII value.

    I now scan my negatives and essentially have abandoned printmaking in the darkroom. With scans, development of the negative is less critical, since one can adjust the dynamic range digitally. But there is still room for a modified version of N+/- development guidelines. I haven't figured out just what the optimal development should be for negatives designed to be scanned.
  12. Another proponent of the "half-assed Zone System (HAZS)" school here... Decide on Zone III - decide what I want on Zone VIII and process accordingly. As I've only been doing this for about a year - say 250 sheets of film, I still make notes. I have a home grown Record Sheet that I print out and use.

    I can see a time when technical familiarity will render detailed notes unnecessary most of the time (except when trying new film for example), but I still need them to point me in the direction of why I just messed up yet again from time to time...

    If it takes 5 minutes to set up and make an image, 30 seconds filling in a form is well spent when you are starting out.

  13. I ditto Leonard. Spotmeter with Zones pasted on the dial for quick reference.
  14. One of the many advantages to LF is the ability to develop
    individual negs. I think an incident meter would negate that.
    Yes, I use the Zone System. I make fairly extensive notes, but
    only after I've made the exposure. The form I use does help me
    remember thigs like filter factors and bellows extension
    compensation, so it's saved my bacon more than a few times. I
    take a little time to jot the most important things, then more after
    exposure. And I do refer to notes in the darkroom. After that, they
    get tossed.
  15. My hand is up as a quasi or simplified Zone System user, too - at least with respect to most B&W outdoor work. I don't do the whole densitometry-based testing routine, so I probably don't qualify as a true "Zonie", though. But, I also use Zone System-style metering for most outdoor color and 35mm or 120 roll film work, so values are placed appropriately. For studio work, however, I adjust lighting ratios rather than development. Similarly, I'll adjust lighting for outdoor "commercial" work to keep the luminance range where it needs to be.
  16. cxc


    No zones or notes for me, and I've got the results to prove it!

  17. I do a modified Zone System too...

    Expose for the shadow details, and modify my development as needed to get a neg that has the contrast I would like the scene to have.

    IMHO all that writing down and note keeping (even for someone as anal retentive as I can be) is just too much. It's more enjoyable and you'll learn more by just getting out and shooting, than to lament over one shot all day with pen and paper. Fred Picker probably made a bundle selling those silly little tool belts and pads to the anal photographers in our bunch.
  18. I believe that the Zone System has always been more of a fine-art thing. Never met a commercial guy who had that kind of time to horse around with it. Also, commercial people have lots of lighting equipment to adjust the light to maximum beauty. They don’t need to adapt and compromise their technique to fit chance ambient light.

    And now that I’m retired (with no client nipping at my heels), I can afford to wait for optimum light. I remember a story from school about an old-time landscape photographer whose bed was next to the window. Every morning (from bed) he would hang his meter out the window. If it didn’t read at least f/11 he would just roll over and go back to sleep. I guess I have become him.
  19. Ansel would probably roll over in his grave if he saw me work. I'm definitly a half-assed zone system kind of guy, and I'm glad to know there are others out there, too. I place the shadows where I want them and then check to see where they important high values fall. I then develop accordingly. Early on, I tested everything to the 'enth degree, but I got tired of agonizing over it and photographing gray mat boards and trying to locate a densitometer. Now, I just take pictures and make corrections along the way if they don't look right. Maybe I've lowered my standards, but I'm having more fun with it now, and my photos (at least to me) look pretty good.
  20. The contact/proof sheet will tell if you need more 'Zone System'
    process attention/adjustment. Are exposures all over the place or
    are they all very close to perfect? Are a bunch too dark or light?
    How's the contrast? I find I usually need at least N and N+1
    most of the time to deal with different lighting. Do you need to
    use paper softer than grade 2 or harder than grade 2.5 frequently?
    Maybe it's time to adjust the process. Do your proof sheets look
    great most all the time? You're in the groove, keep going.
  21. Recorded data...

    0.) Date and holder number

    1.) Camera

    2.) Lens

    3.) Aperture

    4.) Shutter Speed

    5.) Film used

    6.) Incident light reading @ what E.I.

    7.) Number of stops high to low (if I can make accurate ones)

    Barely a zonie.

    tim in san jose
  22. From the Webster Dictionary:
    Main Entry: syn·on·y·mous
    Function: adjective
    Date: 1610
    1 : having the character of a synonym; also : alike in meaning or significance

    If you're asking whether I consider my camera to mean the same thing as my exposure system, no I don't. One is a physical object, the other an intellectual process.
    Now that I've got my symantic rant out of the way, I'll sit on the fence re using the zone system with my LF camera. I use the exposure system that works best for the subject. If the scene's contrast is not particularly challenging, I'll simply use the incident meter and check the brightness range with the spot. If more control is needed, I spot meter and develop accordingly, though I develop B&W by inspection, and thus I never use the Zone System as AA expounded.
  23. Graeme,

    before you put that dictionary away have a look under 'S' and you
    will find it's 'semantic' as opposed to 'symmantic'.

    had a look at you riste. Lovely. Glad to see another inhabitant of
    the antipodes raising their head.
  24. After "is it an antique camera" the question I am most frequently
    asked by tourists is "do you use black and white". For some
    reason, there seem to be an association between LF and B&W, but
    I believe there are a few photographers working in LF and color. Those
    woudn't use the Zone System.
  25. Ansel once said that B+W photography without the zone system is a five fingered exercise. Whether you write it down or use experience you are using a form of the zone system. When you start out shooting ANY format whether 35 or 4x5 it helps you see what and where you went wrong so you can train the brain to get it right next time.

    Weston used a lightmeter...why? He knew from experience what the film would do so even in his own haphazard way he too followed a type of zone system that he had come to through his own experience.

    Start out taking records but after a while, maybe years, you'll find you don't really need a notepad, then a meter and you'll have it all in your head.

    I'm still at the point where I use a meter when it gets dim, when its sunny I have no problem but in twilight times I need that meter!!!!:)

    CP Goerz.
  26. I learned the zone system 24 years ago, and used it in all its note taking glory religously for about a year with every format from 35mm to 4x5. I'm with the majority of people above who read the shadows and highlights to figure the contrast range and expose accordingly. It would be a great help to anyone starting LF to at least understand the principles of the system. There is a great book out there by Carson Graves called "The Zone System for 35 MM Photography". It gives a straight forward easy to understand explanation of the zone system and how it works.
    Good luck!
  27. I use the hafassedschul too with the only modification being what filters I am using and what I want from the neg when printing. I want to know how the #58 grn filter behaved in bright blue skies at 9000 ft on light aspen leaves versus fir trees or whether a polarizer was added. Or which filter brought out the stains on rock walls in Zion or Canyonlands in such and such lighting. Other than that I just need to know if I am N, N+, or N- and how much. I set my shadows at zone 4 normal or zone 3 up high. Simple once you establish your film speed and printing protocol.
  28. FWIW - I was taught the Zone System back in school. My teacher at the time simplified it to the "use a spotmeter and expose for the shadows (Zone III)/develop for the highlights (Zone VIII) method" mentioned in several of the previous posts. In order to do that, though, you definitely need to understand just how and why the Zone System works, so some study should be involved.

    OTOH - all the record keeping isn't really necessary, since that teacher also taught me, and I eventually found out for myself, that for all the photographic situations you might encounter, you'll be using only 3 or 4 different exposure combinations. Tops. Any more than that and you're doing something wrong. Except, obviously, for unusual problems or deliberate effects. ~;->

    Just to comment on a couple of the previous posts - like Graeme, I develop by inspection. That takes another layer of the paperwork of the System out of the loop. You don't have to worry about the strictly correct time/temp to get the proper density. You can see it build as you work.

    As for the Zone system for 35mm - it might be a great book and explanation (I haven't seen it myself ~:)), but the nature of the beast prevents the System from being effectively used except for individually processed negatives, to wit LF.

    As for color, I always use an incident meter and get bang on results every time.

    Hope this helps.

  29. If both Zone Systenmm and LF can be thought of as states of mind then they are related inasmuch as we're after the best results our materials can yield and these are paths to those results.

    Placing the high value on VIII and making the exposure seems to work for me. Usually clouds when I'm outdoors, which is most of the time. Expose a negative as indicated. Then close down 1 and a third (or half or two thirds) stops and expose again. Give the second negative twice the development and take your choice after proofing. Scanning is time consuming and I find I don't "see" the print in the screen. I've got to have the paper in front of me to see the print!

    Been using TriX and HC110B all these years. Am about to try Bergger's 400 with Pyro....

    Been at it some twenty years and still get a kick out of making images.

Share This Page