Ad
Ad
Ad
Pages: [1]   Bottom of Page
Print
Author Topic: The Zone System  (Read 2566 times)
vorlich
Newbie
*
Offline Offline

Posts: 49


« on: December 03, 2008, 10:30:57 AM »
ReplyReply

Hi all,

I've been dabbling since I bought my dSLR in early 2007 and feel I want to take a step up in terms of my technical understanding of creating an exposure, in particular I was thinking about the zone system. Can anyone recommend a book on this subject?

Practical Zone System by Chris Johnson

or

Practical Zone System byBahman Farzad

Does anyone have any thoughts on either of these or other titles?
Logged
whawn
Jr. Member
**
Offline Offline

Posts: 71



WWW
« Reply #1 on: December 03, 2008, 11:16:20 AM »
ReplyReply

Quote from: vorlich
...thinking about the zone system. Can anyone recommend a book on this subject?

How 'bout the books by the fellow who invented and named the system?  The Camera, The Negative, and The Print by Ansel Adams; the three together are the most complete and wide-ranging photography course you could ask for.  I nearly wore out the library's copies in 1965, but was able to get my own later.

"Ah," you say, "he wasn't digital, and he used a view camera."  In reply, he might say, "A camera is a camera, the sensor is the negative, and Photoshop is the enlarger."  Different materials and tools, much the same approach.  The big difference is, you don't annoy the family by taking over the bathroom for hours at a time.

(edit to remove redundant signature)
« Last Edit: December 03, 2008, 11:27:52 AM by whawn » Logged

Walter Hawn -- Casper, Wyoming
bill t.
Sr. Member
****
Offline Offline

Posts: 2711


WWW
« Reply #2 on: December 03, 2008, 12:38:18 PM »
ReplyReply

Was a Zone System acolyte for many years.   Yes the Ansel Adams book are definitive, in addition to the books you mention Minor White and many others wrote a lot of stuff too.

The Zone System's digital sister is the exposure histogram on the camera's LCD screen, combined with a Curves adjustment layer.   What the Zone System is mostly all about is positioning the exposure so nothing important in the dark areas fell off the film's response curve to the left of the graph, then adjusting development to stretch the curve to fill up the "screen" to the right.  Extended development did not much affect the darker areas to the left side of the graph, but it did greatly affect the areas from mid tones on up, the area to the right of the graph.  The more you developed, the more you stretched the contrast, but mostly affecting only the brighter areas.  The inverse was reducing development time to prevent the brighter areas of contrasty scenes from extending into clipping on the response curve's "shoulder" as much as possible.  But mostly one found one's self extending the development to stretch the curve.

To make it short, a Zone System paradigm applied to digital might be "expose left" then "extend the development" with a Curves layer in Photoshop.  That's not quite an  exact analogy because the digital response curve if much more linear than that of film, but it comes close.  Personally, my working paradigm is to "expose center" for the best fit of the histogram on the graph, then stretch the overall curve both left and right as needed.  In case where the brightness range is too great, use Tufuse or HDR to combine bracketed exposures for something like a Zone System compression.

There's a little more to the Z.S. that I have mentioned, such as the Zen of dealing with the non linear response of the very darkest zones, and of course the idea of relating a particular shade of gray in the fianl print to the relative metered brightnesses  of objects in the scene.  If you think too much about it, sooner of later the concept of digital Profiles will pop into your head, but that's another story.  But that gray positioning was primarily motivated by the relatively non-linear response curve of film, you didn't want to accidentally allow some important shadow detail to fall below Zone 3 into the more highly compressed zones 2 and below.  It is less compelling to make such relationships at exposure time on the more linear response curve of digital, best to defer such tonal placements until post processing.
Logged
vorlich
Newbie
*
Offline Offline

Posts: 49


« Reply #3 on: December 04, 2008, 10:13:30 AM »
ReplyReply

Thanks for the responses. So are you saying the zone sysem is no longer as relevant as it once was? I'ev no doubt the Adams books are worth reading regardless.
Logged
WalterHawn
Newbie
*
Offline Offline

Posts: 2


« Reply #4 on: December 04, 2008, 12:42:11 PM »
ReplyReply

Quote from: vorlich
So are you saying the zone sysem is no longer as relevant as it once was? I'ev no doubt the Adams books are worth reading regardless.
I'd say it's relevant, in the same way learning how an automobile engine works is relevant.  You can run your machines much better if you understand the mechanics.  

In music, for example, you can make a nearly perfect trumpet sound with a keyboard now. I'm told it's lots easier to do it well if you know something about how to play a trumpet.

The Zone is a way of categorizing light and the response of film emulsion to it.  It seems to me that understanding the how and why makes it much easier to use any real or virtual emulsion well.  The division of light into ten zones is arbitrary but sensible, given the nature of the medium.  Some sensors have a wide dynamic range, many are narrower in range, and there's always HDR, so the usual low end cut-off at Zone Three may or may not be valid.

But light and knowledge of it is always valid, and Adams knew more than practically anybody about light.  "Moonrise..." was shot by feel, with (I think it was) an 8x10 view camera, in one setup, made in only seconds after stopping his car and piling out at the side of the road.  That takes skill, and that takes some serious practice time, and strong theoretical study.

I've heard it said that the Zone is not as important with color work, and I think that a rigorous application is maybe overkill, but knowing the system, and knowing your 'emulsion' is vital to good success.  As you study, you'll discover that Adams expected to manipulate in the darkroom, and his system is geared to producing a negative that would result in the desired print after that manipulation, and that's the strength of the zone.  He made notes on such things as where the print, or even the negative, needed to be rubbed with a finger to work in the developer, and where a bit of cheesecloth on a dodging wand would be needed, and he did this in his field notes -- not from surprises in the darkroom -- as he planned the exposure from the beginning.

The system is partly driven by the need to conserve supplies.  Even in the mid-1900's, an 8x10 negative was a substantial investment, and print paper was not cheap, either.  Nowdays, we can flail away, firing an exposure every tenth of a second at no increase in cost.  Except:  Time is money, even for the hobby shooter.  And there is -- to my mind -- nothing much more satisfying that to see an image come out of the printer for the first time, looking very much the way I wanted it.

One thing to bear in mind is that b/w film -- negative film in general -- has a wider range than transparencies, and so from the ascendancy of Kodachrome onward, the zone was sometimes treated as unnecessary because you couldn't manipulate color film in the developing tray, and for years most of us couldn't make prints from slides.  Slide film is very prone to blow-out and so the emphasis changed.  No longer were we as concerned with digging out the shadows, but with holding on to the upper end.  With virtual film, the shadows become important once again.

Most other books on the system are recipe books; do this and this and that is the result.  Adams' books are much more theoretical, though with practical application always in mind, and so will teach you better than another might, if you study, and think and shoot while studying.
Logged

Walter Hawn -- Casper, Wyoming
hs0zfe
Jr. Member
**
Offline Offline

Posts: 66


« Reply #5 on: December 05, 2008, 12:50:36 AM »
ReplyReply

Fred Picker - Zone VI Workshop (the author wrote several good books on photography)

Ansel Adams - not sure about the title
Logged
bill t.
Sr. Member
****
Offline Offline

Posts: 2711


WWW
« Reply #6 on: December 05, 2008, 01:15:23 AM »
ReplyReply

The old books are worth reading because they give you a perspective on photography and its technique that are different than the ones we have today.  It helps you view your own work and attitudes a little more objectively, makes you realize that you are knowingly or unknowingly stuck within a particular philosophy on how things should be done, how things should look, what is worthy of being photographed, and how it should be presented.

Hey, you know what...I don't think Ansel Adams ever took a photograph in Antelope Canyon!  That alone is heavy with significance for today's photographer.  My admiration for Adams just went up a notch.


Logged
Pages: [1]   Top of Page
Print
Jump to:  

Ad
Ad
Ad