Zone System


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The_Cheat

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Jan 19, 2004
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#1
I'm interested to learn about the zone system. Do anyone have any recommendations on any books to read on? Thanks.
 

student

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Jul 26, 2004
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#2
The_Cheat said:
I'm interested to learn about the zone system. Do anyone have any recommendations on any books to read on? Thanks.
When I first made enquiries about the zone system, I was given much misleading information. I was asked to forget about the zone system. Now I know a little more.

There are several books on zone system. But trying to learn from books and apply it is at best laborious. Most books are too technical and drive people nuts!

I think it is best learnt in a practical manner.
 

The_Cheat

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#3
student said:
When I first made enquiries about the zone system, I was given much misleading information. I was asked to forget about the zone system. Now I know a little more.

There are several books on zone system. But trying to learn from books and apply it is at best laborious. Most books are too technical and drive people nuts!

I think it is best learnt in a practical manner.
Hmm... what do you mean by the practical manner? It sounded a little vague to me.
 

Feinwerkbau

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May 11, 2004
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Let's get one fact straight: Before being an 'art form', photography is a form of science.

It is through the mastering of the science that freedom and art was allowed to evolve.

The highest and most regarded masters of the art of photography, are, in some way or another, masters of the science, in parts or in whole.

To understand the Zone system is not difficult, if one has a sound grounding in all the other areas of the science of photography, aka, exposure, film, tonality, limitations of materials, chemistry, expansion of limitations and so on.

What it all boils down to is simply this: the zone system is an extended (and beautifully detailed but sometime extremely frustrating) form of working with whatever mechanical, optical and chemical means one has at one's disposal to achieve photographic nirvana, but in order to appreciate the zone system, one has to have a thorough understanding of the other basics of the physics, engineering and chemistry involved.

If I'm not mistaken, the first and most crucial step in the zone system is to first be able to produce a 'perfect' negative through one's understanding of the camera (includinjg lenses), the film and the printing processes.

Read Ansel Adams' 'The Camera, The Negative and The Print',

and Fred Picker's wide range of (sometimes) outspoken opinions in the Zone VI Newsletters.

All the best in your search! ;)
 

student

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#7
Feinwerkbau said:
Let's get one fact straight: Before being an 'art form', photography is a form of science.

It is through the mastering of the science that freedom and art was allowed to evolve.

The highest and most regarded masters of the art of photography, are, in some way or another, masters of the science, in parts or in whole.

To understand the Zone system is not difficult, if one has a sound grounding in all the other areas of the science of photography, aka, exposure, film, tonality, limitations of materials, chemistry, expansion of limitations and so on.

What it all boils down to is simply this: the zone system is an extended (and beautifully detailed but sometime extremely frustrating) form of working with whatever mechanical, optical and chemical means one has at one's disposal to achieve photographic nirvana, but in order to appreciate the zone system, one has to have a thorough understanding of the other basics of the physics, engineering and chemistry involved.

If I'm not mistaken, the first and most crucial step in the zone system is to first be able to produce a 'perfect' negative through one's understanding of the camera (includinjg lenses), the film and the printing processes.

Read Ansel Adams' 'The Camera, The Negative and The Print',

and Fred Picker's wide range of (sometimes) outspoken opinions in the Zone VI Newsletters.

All the best in your search! ;)
To The Cheat

This reply is what I meant (No offence meant to Feinwerkbau!). Books on the Zone System are so full of this manner of writing that it really takes a person tremendous courage and fortitude to try to go through the maze of information!

I personally think the zone system is a very simple way of seeing and using light. Unfortunately much of its beauty is lost in words and technical jargon. Hence my suggestion to learn the application while applying it at the same time. There are of course modifications and adaptations in the application of the zone system when one use roll films (35 mm and medium format), but usable anyway.

As far as I am concern, there is only one book on the Zone System written in a beautiful and simple way that makes practical sense ( I have most of the standard texts on the ZS) It was written by an almost unknown English photographer named Harry Fearn. Harry unfortunately had passed away and this book is not available new.
 

taku1a

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#8
The_Cheat said:
I'm interested to learn about the zone system. Do anyone have any recommendations on any books to read on? Thanks.
Depends on how you plan to use the zone system.

For a guy who will only use a digital SLR, and have no plan to go anywhere near darkrooms, negatives, slide films, I see the Zone System as a framework to understand exposure.

So here's a good starting point for me:

http://www.normankoren.com/zonesystem.html#Intro

Ansel Adams, the great American black and white photographer, developed and popularised the system. So his books are the authoritative texts.

But do not feel compelled to read everything about the Zone system. If you were being put down by "superior" photographers for being ignorant on the subject, just ask them to show you a picture that they took based on the zone system. Not some photographs by professionals such as Ansel Adams. Ask for their own efforts.

If they can't, it's your turn to act superior. If they can, just eat humble pie and ask them to point to you the various zones and how the system helped them. You probably learned much faster than reading the books or articles alone.
 

The_Cheat

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Jan 19, 2004
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#9
Hmm... it's so interesting to see so many different response to the zone system.

First and foremost, thanks for the links, Darkforce, Pro-New and taku1a. I'd visited some of them before I'd posted the thread too, and was quite impressed with some of the information listed on the site. However, I'm ultimately still a pen and paper person, who's more interested in learning from a book.

Feinwerkbau: thanks for your insight. Just treat as a low IQ person's, like myself, wishful thinking of gaining great insights from the from the greater knowledge of zone system then. Oops... think that's too sarcastic.

Actually I found you statement "If I'm not mistaken, the first and most crucial step in the zone system is to first be able to produce a 'perfect' negative through one's understanding of the camera (includinjg lenses), the film and the printing processes." especially intriguing. I know I'm not in a position to critique on the accuracy of your statement, since I'm only 11-month into photography (yes! next month will be the 1st year I'd embarked on photography!), but as far as i know, there isn't a "perfect" negative or print. Correct me if I'm wrong, for I'm still new to photography, a correct exposure is one where the picture is correctly metered to reveal all the relevent details without any part being over and under exposed right? But who decides on which "relevent" details to look out for? The photographer right? Then again, would a photographer style and experience change in time? I personally feel that "perfection" is probably just a terminology that doesn't really reflect with time, environment and other intangibles like mood or expressions. Haa~! Not intending to start a war here though....

Student: Are you referring to this book? http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/1873319304/wwwlink-software-21/026-0817188-9737250
Anyway, how come roll film differ from sheet film? Is it because of the flatness of the surface being exposed? So, will there be any difference even if I use a S-spool on a view camera?
 

The_Cheat

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#10
On second thoughts, I think my tone was too arrogant and aggressive in my post above. Hence, I sincerely apologise if I'd got on anyone's nerve. :embrass:
 

Dec 17, 2004
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#11
Hi guys,

the zone system is primarily a range of zones in the monochrome spectrum ranging from 1-10. 1, being the blackest of the print where details cannot be seen, and 10, being the whitest of print where details cannot be seen. Within this range of 1 to 10, zone 3 is where details becomes slightly visible, stepping slowly out of the black, and zone 7 is where details is still visible before totally washed out into the white of the print. Hence the texture range of the zone system is known to be between zone 3 to 7. Zone 5 is the middle of the range and it is where lightmeter readings always fall on. Using the zone system is tricky especially when you are using roll film, cos most of the time, you will end up with different shot on roll film, each with its own subject brightness range (SBR) which could affect your placement of the zones on the image you are taking. And because all images are developed at the same time, the processing of the negative with a 'one size fits all' temperature, developing time, etc. If you read the book 'The Negative' by Ansel Adams, you will know that processing also plays a part in rendering the zone system. That's also why you will notice that Ansel Adams also prefers to use sheet film cos it allows him to control the contrast of the negative when developing. There are some good shots that he took in very dull lighting situations but with the zone system and using processing techniques, he managed to 'salvage' or 'tweak' the negative to bump up contrast. The 3 books are a good read to understand the system. From what I was told, RIT grads in the US are trained to read 30 grades of grey in a monochrome print! And we tot 10 was more then enough!! :)
 

student

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Jul 26, 2004
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#12
taku1a said:
But do not feel compelled to read everything about the Zone system. If you were being put down by "superior" photographers for being ignorant on the subject, just ask them to show you a picture that they took based on the zone system. Not some photographs by professionals such as Ansel Adams. Ask for their own efforts.

If they can't, it's your turn to act superior. If they can, just eat humble pie and ask them to point to you the various zones and how the system helped them. You probably learned much faster than reading the books or articles alone.
I wouldn't put it this way. There is no necessity to feel "superior" or "eat humble pie". It is not a question of who knows more to act "superior" or "inferior". It is a matter to learn from anyone who has something meaningful to share.
 

ortega

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Nov 2, 2004
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#13
The zone system is programmed into your matrix meter system.
Use the matrix meter and adjust it from there.

Overly simplified but true.
Note: the matrix meter cannot cope with all lighting situations,
but it is a good start, learn to see what your camera sees.
Learn how your camera works, what it can do and what it cannot.
If you come across a situation that you know the camera will get
wrong (to your taste), it is up to you to overide the system and take control.

Shoot slides to actually see what the exposure is,
negs will not give you an accurate view as the
exposure is corrected in the printing shop by
the machine or the person operating it.
 

student

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Jul 26, 2004
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#14
The_Cheat said:
Student: Are you referring to this book? http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/1873319304/wwwlink-software-21/026-0817188-9737250
Anyway, how come roll film differ from sheet film? Is it because of the flatness of the surface being exposed? So, will there be any difference even if I use a S-spool on a view camera?
This is amazing! I stand corrected! Harry's book is still available! Grab it while you can! This book sets out the basic knowledge for you to make a better exposure. It does not deal with ZS in its entirety. But definitely much easier to understand. I was with Harry on September 11, hiking in the Welsh hills in Portmadog, and making pictures. He died a few months later.

As pointed out by someone, one of the application of ZS is making as best a negative as possible for the image you want to make. This is the "perfect" negative for your intended purpose. If you want no details in the shadows, you can do it. If you want details in the shadows you can do it. Only you decide on what constitute the "perfect" negative for you. Put in another way, you can tailor the development of the negative almsot anyway you wanted it.

To do the above, sheet films make things easier. Roll films, as pointed out by someone, have all kinds of exposures in the different frames, and therefore a tailored development for each of the frames is not possible. It is possible to do so, if you are willing to spend an entire roll on the same scene, exposing the frames perhaps with different angles, and then tailor the development of the roll to your own objective.

Another point: the application of ZS is not limited to producing a "perfect" negative alone. The ZS can also be applied to exposure of the print.
 

singscott

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Aug 25, 2004
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#15
Pro-New said:
The best book is by the person 'invented' the zone system: Ansel Adam's The Film


May be take a look at this site as well:
http://www.fineimages.org/zone_system.htm
There actual a series of three book which the The Film is one of them.
The other two are The Camera and The Print. If you want to learn from the master then all three book is a must. Must start from The Camera, then The Film lastly The Print in order to get head and tail :bsmilie:
 

singscott

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Aug 25, 2004
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#16
ortega said:
The zone system is programmed into your matrix meter system.
Use the matrix meter and adjust it from there.

Overly simplified but true.
Note: the matrix meter cannot cope with all lighting situations,
but it is a good start, learn to see what your camera sees.
Learn how your camera works, what it can do and what it cannot.
If you come across a situation that you know the camera will get
wrong (to your taste), it is up to you to overide the system and take control.

Shoot slides to actually see what the exposure is,
negs will not give you an accurate view as the
exposure is corrected in the printing shop by
the machine or the person operating it.
Oh Please If it SOOOO simple why ansel adam need to write three books on it. Please do some research if you wish to say something you don't have a idea. :what: Matrix is no where close to the zone system, people who master the zone system have become master photographer in their own right. I have been pratising zone system for years and I have not master it. Buy the books get your fact right and become a better photographer with the knowledge ;p Zone system is a total exposure discipline for photographer, starting from post metering adjustment, shooting the picture, delevoping the neg to printing the final print! Not something the maxtrix metering or personal taste can completely do. :sweatsm:
 

Jun 24, 2003
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#17
singscott said:
There actual a series of three book which the The Film is one of them.
The other two are The Camera and The Print. If you want to learn from the master then all three book is a must. Must start from The Camera, then The Film lastly The Print in order to get head and tail :bsmilie:
I totally agree with singscott on this one. I have read the three books and have found them extremely useful. The contents is not constrained to the zone system but about photography equipment as a whole (where I include the zone system), Ansel's writting is a joy to read if you are ok with technical information.

I believe the book is available from NLB's various branches for borrowing, even though I have my own set and enjoy to refer to it every once in a while. If you are planning to buy it you could also see whether you can find it used (e-bay, amazon, local forum dwellers etc) as there are so many who have the series (and no, I am not selling mine :) ). I am sure it is also available new in almost all(?) bookshops..

-- Marios
 

Dec 17, 2004
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#18
singscott said:
Oh Please If it SOOOO simple why ansel adam need to write three books on it. Please do some research if you wish to say something you don't have a idea. :what: Matrix is no where close to the zone system, people who master the zone system have become master photographer in their own right. I have been pratising zone system for years and I have not master it. Buy the books get your fact right and become a better photographer with the knowledge ;p Zone system is a total exposure discipline for photographer, starting from post metering adjustment, shooting the picture, delevoping the neg to printing the final print! Not something the maxtrix metering or personal taste can completely do. :sweatsm:
HAHAHA... funny one Singscott. Yah the zone system is difficult to master cos lighting can manifest itself in so many different permutations.

As for the matrix thingy, I read that the matrix metering reads the lighting situation and matches it against a database of exposures that would be used by professionals and then uses it for the shot. Something I read out of a nikon manual when I bought a F4 previously... dunno how true. But definitely NOT a automatic zone meter for u. No way...
 

The_Cheat

Senior Member
Jan 19, 2004
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#19
marios_pittas said:
I totally agree with singscott on this one. I have read the three books and have found them extremely useful. The contents is not constrained to the zone system but about photography equipment as a whole (where I include the zone system), Ansel's writting is a joy to read if you are ok with technical information.

I believe the book is available from NLB's various branches for borrowing, even though I have my own set and enjoy to refer to it every once in a while. If you are planning to buy it you could also see whether you can find it used (e-bay, amazon, local forum dwellers etc) as there are so many who have the series (and no, I am not selling mine :) ). I am sure it is also available new in almost all(?) bookshops..

-- Marios
Sounds like a grand idea. I'll go and place an ad on Buy & Sell right now! :)

By the way, can't seems to locate Lenswork anywhere... Basheer just ran out. :(
 

Jun 24, 2003
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#20
The_Cheat said:
Sounds like a grand idea. I'll go and place an ad on Buy & Sell right now! :)

By the way, can't seems to locate Lenswork anywhere... Basheer just ran out. :(
Did I forget to mention that they seem not to print that many and that it is hard to find.. :confused:

My advice: place an order with Basheer for 6 issues or so.. way way way cheaper than BORDERS (Bashier is selling it for $19 instead of $27.50!! :eek: - the money saved will buy you 1.5 rolls of T-MAX 100).. you can borrow some of mine.. but I do refer to them..
 

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