Zone System for Portraits

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by a_petkov, Aug 10, 2005.

  1. Hi everyone,

    I was reading about the Zone System and I can see it work for
    landscapes but how about B&W portraits.

    If you have a generally low-contrast scene with a subject in it,
    exposing for the shadows and then developing for the highlights will
    lead to a high contrast image, in which the skin tones will probably
    look strange.

    The opposite could happen in a high contrast scene, trying to achieve
    full tonality zone III to VIII.

    Does this make any sense? Is is possible to apply the zone system for

    If not, what is the best approach for correct exposure for B&W

  2. If nothing else, zone is an aid to previsualization. If you are working in the studio and control the light, then it makes little sense to worry about extended or contracted development. However, a study of zone theory will be of great help in previsualizing what the lighting will look like in the print, and aid you in setting the light level to get the result you want.
  3. The zone system does not force you to make a low-contrast scene into a high-contrast negative. It simply gives you the control to decide how you want to capture the scene. For portraits, you can place skin tones wherever you wish. And you can choose what shadow detail matters and what deatails will look fine lost in the shadows.

    Sometimes I just meter and place the skin tones and develop normally. It depends, though, on what is important in the image and where I want to focus attention.

  4. I see.
    On the scale zone - VI is the tone for average caucasian skin. So you would take reflective(spot) metering and overexpose 1 stop to place the skin tones in zone VI. The develop normally?

    Darker complexion then could be placed in zone V.

    Is that remotely close?

  5. You've pretty much got the idea. Just remember if you have not calibrated your system a zone 6 placement with what you call normal development may or may not produce a zone 6 density. That is the point of calibrating - giving you the assurance when you place a reading you will actually get the density you planned. Insufficient or careless development might produce a Z5 or 5 1/2 while too much development might produce a Z6 1/2 or 7. Two more points - when you take an exposure reading and place it in Z6 you are not overexposing you are simply giving enough exposure to assure a density lighter than middle grey. Many 35mm and medium format photographers use their calibrated normal development for all but scenes with excessive contrast realizing that extended development will produce excess grain which they find unacceptable.
  6. You really need to shoot some film tests and determine which zone you like for skin. I've seen nice portraits with skin placed in zone 7 on the negative, then printed a bit darker. That tends to lessen imperfections in the model's complexion.


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