Zone System/under over exposure

Discussion in 'Large Format' started by raven_garrison, Jan 7, 2001.

  1. If one uses the Zone System, is it a fact that you won't have under or over exposed 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. 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. 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.

    <p>

    Regards,

    <p>

    Doug.
     
  4. 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.

    <p>

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

    <p>

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

    <p>

    Doug
     
  5. 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.

    <p>

    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. 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. Raven,

    <p>

    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.

    <p>

    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.

    <p>

    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.

    <p>

    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.

    <p>

    Regards.
     
  8. 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?!!#$@%!!

    <p>

    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. 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. James,

    <p>

    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.

    <p>

    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.

    <p>

    Jason
     
  11. 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.
     
  12. 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
     
  13. James,

    <p>

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

    <p>

    The comments that threw me in your first post were:

    <p>

    "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."

    <p>

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

    <p>

    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.

    <p>

    Jason
     
  14. 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.)

    <p>

    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.

    <p>

    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.

    <p>

    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.)
     
  15. Kodak would love that. Matbe we could get back HIE in 4x5. James
     
  16. 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.

    <p>

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

    <p>

    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).

    <p>

    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.

    <p>

    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.

    <p>

    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).

    <p>

    Brian Kong
     

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