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The Zone System Topic

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Ok i read up on the zone system on wikipedia. I have a slight basic idea of what its about but i wanted some help from you guys to help explain it to me or to other people who might not know what it is. Also and how i can apply it to my shooting and developing. I figured we could just turn it into a zone system disscussion that people can also post examples aswell if needed.

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I have ansel adams 2nd book which is a lot about the zone system but i havent read it yet, I always thought it involved spot metering which I dont have so I havent even bothered

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Isn't this sorta just like, understanding how exposure and meters work, and compensating one way or another?

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thats what i sorta thort, i havent read up on it or nothing. sorta like how pete exposed for the shadow (were the skater and subject would be) in his latest shot instead of the sun wich i thort was just comen sens. if your subject is in the shadow then take your meter into the shadow even tho thats what you do with an incident meter anyway. can someone sorta sum it up?

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meter for the darkest area in your image, your camera reads it as a middle gray (zone V), so underexpose by two stops to put this area at zone III. that's all i care about right now.

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thats what i sorta thort, i havent read up on it or nothing. sorta like how pete exposed for the shadow (were the skater and subject would be) in his latest shot instead of the sun wich i thort was just comen sens. if your subject is in the shadow then take your meter into the shadow even tho thats what you do with an incident meter anyway. can someone sorta sum it up?

 

 

i thought the ansel approach was to expose for highlights and develop for shadows??

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meter for the darkest area in your image, your camera reads it as a middle gray (zone V), so underexpose by two stops to put this area at zone III. that's all i care about right now.

From wikipedia it made it seem like what you are referring to is the darkest area that you still want detail in. So if you want something to be really dark with no detail, I think you would underexpose by like 3 or 4 stops?

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I need to take a book out on this. I cant learn complicated shit on the internets. Thank you pete for bringing this up, I've needed something new to take my interest in shooting.

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I have always wondered about films with more or less contrast. They would only go from like 2-8 or something like that, not really the right way to explain it but I think you all will get what I mean, what then?

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shit, im in on this.

 

 

 

i bet john knows his way around with a spot meter too.

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John and Kyle are all over this already.

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From wikipedia it made it seem like what you are referring to is the darkest area that you still want detail in. So if you want something to be really dark with no detail, I think you would underexpose by like 3 or 4 stops?

yeah that's kinda what i meant

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as soon as someone does a write-up, itll get pinned. This stuff is so darn interesting!

 

dope im exicted i cant wait.

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Zone Definitions

 

 

Zone O

 

Zone O represents maximum black in a print, it is almost (but not quite!) the least density the film will record. Zone O is five stops less than the light meter indicates. Anything on or below this zone in the subject will reproduce as an empty black in a print. Dodging the print in a Zone O area to try and show detail is useless since the film will not record detail at this level of exposure. Basically, if the subject falls on Zone O or lower, it is pure black!

 

 

Zone I

 

Zone I represents the least useful exposure on the film and the darkest tone, apart from black, in a print. This is the darkest tone of the dynamic range, the range of tones that give a print depth and beauty. Print tone I is virtually the same as maximum black.

 

When testing your film, Zone I exposure is used to determine the 'speed point' which is used to test for your personal Exposure Index or E.I. (the true ISO for the film you use). The true ISO, your personal E.I., is obtained when a Zone I exposure produces a density between 0.08 and 0.15 above film base plus fog. This is the bottom of the toe of the characteristic curve. (See Film Tests for more info.)

 

A Zone I exposure is four stops less than your light meter indicates for the area of the subject measured.

 

Zone II

 

Zone II exposure is the first level of exposure that records useful detail on the film. This produces a very dark tone in a print that has the slightest hint of texture in it. The amount of texture alone would not be enough to accurately identify the subject. This tone in a print gives depth to the shadow areas without looking completely blocked in.

 

This is the darkest zone of the texture range (The range of zones that provide visual detail and texture).

 

To obtain a Zone II exposure for an area of the subject, reduce the indicated meter reading from the area by three stops.

 

Zone III

 

Zone III is the first level of exposure that produces full detail on the film. In the print, a Zone III exposure of the film produces a tone that is dark but with excellent texture. The subject would be identifiable from the texture. If you want good detail in a shadow, it must receive at least a Zone III exposure on the film.

 

This is the darkest tone that contains full detail. This is a very important zone!

 

To obtain a Zone III exposure for an area of the subject, reduce the indicated meter reading from the area by two stops.

 

Zone IV

 

Zone IV is a shadow that is full of detail and looks full of light. It is one stop less exposure than the light meter indicates. It is the print tone you would normally experience on the shadowed side of a strong portrait or the shadows of a front lit building in sunlight.

 

To obtain a Zone IV exposure for an area of the subject, reduce the indicated meter reading from the area by one stop.

 

Zone V

 

Zone V represents 'middle grey', an 18% reflectance equivalent to the Kodak Grey Card. Middle grey is generally the lightest 'shadow' tone and is seen on a print as a very luminous shadow. Zone V could be the shadow on the face of a portrait with low contrast lighting, e.g 3:1. When you use a light meter to measure an area of the subject, the reading indicated by the meter is designed to reproduce that area as a middle grey. Simply remember that a light meter always indicates a Zone V exposure. If you require a different exposure zone, you must modify the meter reading.

 

Examples of subjects that usually (remember these are recommendations not rules) require Zone V exposure are, clear blue north sky, green grass in sunlight, dark skin, grey stone, average weathered wood.

 

Zone VI

 

Zone VI represents a well lit subject with full detail. It is usually the lightest of the middle values of the subject. It helps to understand the last statement if you remember to visualise the grey scale in three parts, Zones O to III are low values (dark areas), Zones IV to VI are middle values (where most detail is seen) and Zones VII to X are high values (light areas). Examples of Zone VI would be Caucasian skin tones in sunlight or diffuse daylight, light stone, shadows on sunlit snow.

 

To obtain a Zone VI exposure for an area of the subject, increase the indicated meter reading from the area by one stop.

 

Zone VII

 

Zone VII represents a light area that still retains excellent detail. Examples would be very light skin, side lit snow, light coloured or grey objects. Think of a Zone VII exposure as producing a 'bright' print tone.

 

To obtain a Zone VII exposure for an area of the subject, increase the indicated meter reading from the area by two stops.

 

Zone VIII

 

Zone VIII is a very important zone because it represents the 'film development point' and is the last high value zone that will contain good texture. Examples of a Zone VIII exposure would be whites with texture (white sweater, white painted wood), textured snow, the highlight on the cheek of a Caucasian face.

 

This is the lightest zone in the texture range.

 

Zone VIII is used when testing the development of a monochrome film. For correct development to produce negatives for use with diffuse light enlargers, the density produced for a Zone VIII exposure should be in the range 1.25 to 1.35 above base plus fog. (See Film Tests for more info.)

 

To obtain a Zone VIII exposure for an area of the subject, increase the indicated meter reading from the area by three stops.

 

Zone IX

 

Zone IX exposure produces the lightest tone on the print before pure paper white. This tone will not retain detail, it adds subtlety and beauty to the high values of a print but does not show detail. This is similar to what Zone I does for the dark areas.

 

Examples would be flat white paper, textureless white paint, snow in flat sunlight.

 

This is the lightest zone in the dynamic range.

 

To obtain a Zone IX exposure for an area of the subject, increase the indicated meter reading from the area by four stops.

Zone X

 

Zone X exposure represents the pure white of the print paper. Anything on or above Zone X is blank white in the print. This cannot be printed down to obtain detail, the detail is so compressed that it will not separate in the print! This is the top of the shoulder of the 'traditional' characteristic curve (many modern films do not show a shoulder on the characteristic curve until much more exposure is received, but our restriction is still the print paper!). Like Zone O, if it ain't on the film, it can't be on the print!

 

To obtain a Zone X exposure for an area of the subject, increase the indicated meter reading from the area by five stops.

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It works best with a 1% spot meter however the ~3.5% spot meter in certain SLRs is more than satisfactory.

 

I read this really good book about the zone system and developing/printing techniques but I can't remember what it was called. I shall report back when I find out.

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i don't know too much about the details of the zone system but what i do know is that you shouldn't always expose for what your meter tells you; if you're pointing your meter at a black wall and you expose it "correctly" (ie for middle grey) then the rest of your photo is going to be blown out. if you're shooting a snowy scene and expose it "correctly" you're going to get grey, ugly snow, so instead you overexpose by around two or three stops. if you're shooting a portrait of a person with light skin (white people in general i guess) then you should overexpose by one stop to put their face at zone VI.

that's pretty much my knowledge of de zone system.

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i don't know too much about the details of the zone system but what i do know is that you shouldn't always expose for what your meter tells you; if you're pointing your meter at a black wall and you expose it "correctly" (ie for middle grey) then the rest of your photo is going to be blown out. if you're shooting a snowy scene and expose it "correctly" you're going to get grey, ugly snow, so instead you overexpose by around two or three stops. if you're shooting a portrait of a person with light skin (white people in general i guess) then you should overexpose by one stop to put their face at zone VI.

that's pretty much my knowledge of de zone system.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, im really not your guy for this one. Reason being, I do not own an incident meter, nor have I ever used one. Well, I guess there is one built into the L-558, but I have never turned it on.

Once you get used to a spot meter, the idea of an incident metering system actually sounds hard to use.

But in the interest of looking like I know what im talking about, I looked it up, and ill try and bullshit my through this the best I can.

 

It sounds like a combination of any or all of these three 3 things:

 

1. If your getting consistently slightly underexposed shots, you may need to establish a new espouser index. (EI for short)

Your EI is like the ISO of the film, but you don’t necessarily go by what the film box tells you. The reason you don’t just go by what the box says, is that the film is only 1 factor, out of a whole list of variables including: Camera, Meter/Metering style, Development, Film freshness..ect.

So you want to find a more personalized EI that correlates to your particular situation. (I for example use ISO 80 when shooting 100 speed chrome, and 320 when shooting Delta 100 b/w.)

To find your EI your going to need to shoot a test roll of film. (one for each type of film that you use) Shoot a person under daylight, with the subject holding a grey-card (for color correction if your going to be doing your own color enlargements), and wearing black.

Meter their black shirt, and what ever your reading tells you, underexpose that by 2 stops, so as to get a zone 3 black. (it doesnt matter what type meter you use, ALL light meters test at zone 5 - 18%grey, so a 2 stop under exposuer will always give you a zone 3 black. if confused look up Ansel Adams' zone system) Then take what ever that reading may be, (the new 2 stops underexposed one) and bracket 2 and 1/2 stops on each side of it.

Start with the first shot you do be 2 and 1/2 stops dark, then get a half stop lighter gradually with each frame. The sixth shot you take should be the original (2 stops adjusted) reading you started with. Keep going through the rest of the roll. With the 12th frame (shooting 6x6) being 2 and 1/2 stops over exposed.

 

Get the roll processed, and have a look at it:

This is where the zone 3 black thing from before comes into play. Essentially, what zone 3 is, is the darkest black that still has adequate textural detail. (zone 1 being pure black, zone 3 darkest possible with detail, zone 5 being 18% grey, zone 8 being the most white that still has detail, and zone 10 being pure white)

Find the frame in which the persons shirt is as dark as possible while still having adequate texture.

Depending which frame you choose, this will determine your new EI. If you decided that the 6th frame (remember that was the original adjusted setting..?) looks to have the best zone 3 black, stick with what ever the original ISO was. (the one on the box)

But say that frame 6 doesn’t have the blackest black, its too dark, and frame 7 (which will be slightly lighter) does. You will want to go a half stop lighter for your new EI, which would be 80. (I'm trying to not be confusing here, frame 6=normal, and then +/- half a stop for each frame that you stray away from frame 6 of the test roll, and that will be your new EI for that type of film)

2. Your simply not using your meter correctly. This kind of plays into the zone system stuff that we talked about earlier.

The little golf ball looking thing on incident meters is there for one purpose, and that is acting like a constant 18% grey card for the meter to read off of. The reason this 18% grey thing keeps popping up, is because it’s a good middle ground. Its exactly half way in the middle of the zone system, so no matter what the subject is, if you meter it at zone 5, your going to get a picture of something. Plus, it’s a good constant for light meter companies to base all their meters off of. (Imagine if there was no standard for light meters to be set at, and they told you any random thing that they wanted and it didn’t correspond to any other meter in particular.., the entire foundation of shooting photos would be all fucked up) The problem with light meters looking at everything as 18% grey though, is that not everything falls right in the middle of the tonal spectrum. (In black and white, and with color too) Think of a situation in which you were shooting a photo of a black dog, which was sitting a coal mine. Tone wise, there is mostly black in that setting, but if you just aimed your meter at it, and used what it told you. Your shot would come out looking like a grey dog in a grey room. The same would apply if you were shooting a picture of a white cat in the middle of a snow storm.. The last white that still has detail is 3 stops brighter than what your meter would tell you.

Now closer to home, you mentioned shooting harshly lit people/skin/faces. Human skin looks best/most natural at a zone 6. (roughly 1 stop brighter that what your meter tells you if you pointed it at a persons face) Knowing that, decide what you want to look natural.. If you are using side light, and you want the ‘dark’ side of the face to look natural, with the ‘bright’ side getting blown out... make sure that the dark side meters at zone 6, and you should be alright.

As for back lit situations, make sure that your ball thing isn’t being exposed to any direct back light, and meter the persons skin, (or your hand) and go from there...

3. Probably the biggest issue of them all though is this: Your using an incident meter.

Like I said, I have the L-558 with the built in spot meter, thus I have never touched the incident feature. In large part because, when it comes down to it, it’s a complete shot in the dark.

The beauty of the spot system is that you are metering light that is reflected off of the subject and coming back towards the camera. Thus, there is no running around in the scene, pointing your ping-pong ball thing at your flashes and getting a bunch of arbitrary meter readings that really don’t mean shit as far what the camera is actually going to see.

It just makes more since to me to stand by the camera and meter the scene just as its going to look through the lens, and place the expouser where I want it, knowing that it will look that way through the camera too (because im standing right there, and not out running around taking random readings for each flash)

Doing it this way, allows you to meter the person (if there is one) using flash and get your f-stop. Then switch to ambient mode, and set it on aperture priority, (at the f-stop you just got for their skin) and have it tell you what shutter speed will make the background expose properly or not properly, so you will get an evenly lit scene in sunsets and maintain the properly exposed skin.

That’s about it. I’d recommend at all costs if your just buying a meter, get one that comes with a 1 degree spot. Or if you already own an incident meter, get the spot attachment that Sekonik makes.

That’s all.

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If you really want to learn the zone system, I'd suggest checking out Ansel Adams 2nd book "The Negative." It basically revolves around the theory that light meters are calibrated to give an "average" reading. No matter what the luminance of a subject, if you meter off a subject of a single color, and expose accordingly, the subject will print as 18% gray (Zone V). A one stop change in exposure is equivilant to one step up or down on the zone system. The scale is as follows:

 

ZoneSystem.png

 

Full Zone Range: From Zone 0-X, ranging from pure black to pure white.

Dynamic Range: From Zone I-IX. The dynamic range includes zones that exhibit any texture at all.

Textural Range: From Zones II-VIII. This range is the zones that exhibit useful, textural detail.

 

In a nutshell, Zones 0 and 10 show no detail (e.g. complete sillhouette; complete blown out sky), Zones 1 and 9 show little detail (very dark or very light areas on an image), but give a feeling of texture, and Zones 2-8 show enough detail to be deemed useful.

 

(If I got anything wrong or left anything out, feel free to correct me. I'm fairly new to this myself.)

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It works best with a 1% spot meter however the ~3.5% spot meter in certain SLRs is more than satisfactory.

 

I read this really good book about the zone system and developing/printing techniques but I can't remember what it was called. I shall report back when I find out.

 

one thing to keep in mind w/ spotmeters is they generally aren't as sensitive as the other methods..... aka Incident or just plain old built-in (camera) evaluative or whatev.

 

Sekonic for example- a 558R can read -2 EV in incident mode, but only like 1 EV in spot, if even that.

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Wait, if you meter someone's black shirt (with an incident meter) and underexpose it two stops then wouldn't their face be underexposed too?

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dude if you meter somebody's black shirt with an incident meter, you shouldn't ahve to underexpose any to get what the shit should be like. If you want to underexpose it 2 stops (from incident reading), the whole scene will be off (right?).

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