Contents

Preface to the Fourth Edition ix

How to Read this Book xiii

Acknowledgements xv

Chapter 1 "Will It Come Out?" 1

Introduction 1

Chapter 2 Print Quality and Negative Contrast 6

Subject Contrast and Photographic Papers 6

The Procrustean Bed of Modern Photographic Papers 7

Working with Problem Negatives 8

Summary 12

Chapter 3 The Control of Negative Contrast 13

Expose for the Shadows 13

Develop for the Highlights 13

Normal Development 16

Summary 19

Chapter 4 The Zone 20

Print Values 20

Texture and Detail 23

The Zones 23

Previsuali'zation 28

Measuring Zones 31

Summary 33

Chapter 5 Exposure 35

Light Measurement 37

Exposure Recommendations 38

The Meter's Dilemma 38

Exercise: How Light Meters Really Work 39

Exposure Plan 40

Exposure Placement Demonstration with Polaroid Films 41

Exposure Detailed 43

Place and Fall 43

Summary 45

Chapter 6 Development 47

Measuring Subject Contrast with In-Camera Meters 52

Normal Plus Development 55

Normal Minus Development 59

Chapter 7 An Overview of the Zone System 64

Expose for the Shadows and Develop for the Highlights 67

Zone System Frequently Asked Questions 69

Chapter 8 Zone System Testing: Method 1 78

Introduction 78

Choosing a Photographic Paper 79

The Use of Equivalent ASA Numbers 80

Zone System Testing: Method 1 83

Exposure Plan A For Roll Film 90

Exposure Plan B for Sheet Film 90

Expansion and Contraction 96

Chapter 9 Zone System Testing: Method 2 98

About the Development Time Charts 100

Development Time Charts 102

Film and Developer: Questions and Answers 107

Chapter 10 The Zone System and Digital Photography 108

Introduction 108

A Word about Structure and Understanding 109

Digital and Film Photography 112

Pixels: Size, Quality, Resolution and Bit Depth 116

The Scanning Process 123

Summary 127

Bit Depth and Digital Exposure 127

The Zone System of Digital Exposure:

Exposing for the Highlights 138

A Summary of Digital Exposure Effects 148

The Zone System and Digital Contrast Control 148

Summary of Digital Photography Cardinal Rules 172

Appendix A Color Management, Profiles and Color Spaces . . .173

Appendix B What is a Pixel? 189

Appendix C Bit Depth 191

Appendix D Exposure and the Digital Linear Effect 193

Appendix E Films, Developers, and Processing 200

Appendix F The Practical Zone System Film/Developer

Testing Method 207

Appendix G Film and Developer Commentary by Iris Davis . . .211 Appendix H Alternative Methods for Extreme Expansion and

Contraction Development 214

Appendix I Contrast Control with Paper Grades 216

Appendix J Developer Dilution 218

Appendix K Compensating Developers 219

Appendix L Inspection Development 221

Appendix M Condenser and Diffusion Enlargers 222

Appendix N ASA/ISO Numbers 223

Appendix O Filter Factors, The Reciprocity Effect, and Bellows Extension Factors 224

Appendix P A Compensation Method for Inaccurate Meters . . .226

Appendix Q Zone System Metering Form 227

Appendix R Exposure Record and Checklist For

Zone System Testing 230

Appendix S Suggested Reading 233

Appendix T A Brief Directory of On-Line Digital and

Photography-Related Resources 235

Appendix U Examples: Zone System Applications 243

A Primer on Basic Film Photography 258

A Brief Glossary of Zone System and Digital Terminology 271

Index 277

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Preface to the Fourth Edition

I began the Preface of the third edition of this book by writing "Much has changed in the years since 1986 when this book was first published."

Back then the arrival of a few new films and developers seemed extremely important because the essential nature of photography had remained the same for a very long time. Given the state of things now, those words seem almost comically understated. Digital technology is revolutionizing photography in ways that are so fundamental and at a pace this is so rapid that most photographers are either alarmed, or feel as if they are witnessing a remarkable dream.

Some photographers are reluctant to make the transition to digital methods because they instinctively dislike working with computers and monitors and love the process of darkroom printing. But of course photography has always had highly technical aspects and other photographers are attracted by the opportunity to explore the precision and control that digital processes offer.

The point is we now have choices that were unimaginable not very long ago. Those of us who knew and worked with Ansel Adams know that he would most likely have been at the forefront of this revolution, just as he was when Polaroid materials became available. In fact he was quoted in 1980 as saying that "I actually feel that in the next few years — it won't be very long — the electronic image is really going to be the medium in photography."

The reason all of this matters is that the beauty and quality of digital prints can be astonishing!

But one of the ironies of photography's digital revolution is that many people assume that working with Adobe Photoshop and digital printers necessarily means leaving behind many of traditional photography's fundamental methods, skills, and even some of its values. This new edition was written to demonstrate that this is definitely not true; especially when it comes to the Zone System.

Another myth of digital photography is that it instantly makes the process of shooting and printing effortless and almost automatic.

The truth is that the ability to control the process in such exquisite detail sometimes encourages us to settle for nothing less that absolute perfection; this can consume huge amounts of time! Also, every step in the process requires careful attention and enough understanding of the concepts and principles involved to avoid time-consuming and frustrating mistakes. This is where the Zone System can become an essential tool.

It's customary to think of the Zone System as being strictly related to film exposure and development. In fact, although this may sound grandiose, the Zone System can actually be a way of seeing the world with applications in every form of photography, including digital.

A good example of this is the way I work with students learning studio lighting. In general, studio-based photographers rely on incident light meters and Polaroid (and now digital video feeds)

ix to preview their images before making exposures. But, because my students have learned the language of the Zone System, I can ask them what "zone" they want a background to be and they can not only visualize specific tonal values through these concepts, they also know how to adjust the meter readings they get to achieve the results they want.

The Zone System is powerful and flexible and many experienced photographers have developed personal working methods that are essentially variations of the Zone System, sometimes without even realizing that this is true. (Appendix U contains a number of examples of how the Zone System can be applied to a wide variety of different photographic approaches.)

Until Ansel Adams (in collaboration with Fred Archer) formulated the Zone System, a serious student only had two choices: either study sensitometry at a professional school or stumble along learning how to solve problems by trial and error. The Zone System has done away with all of that. But unfortunately, over the years, the Zone System has gained a reputation for being highly technical and a complex waste of time. Happily this isn't true.

The fact is that Zone System can be very easy to learn and practical to use if it's approached in the proper way.

After teaching hundreds of students, I can confidently say that if you have learned how to develop a roll of film, you can learn to master the Zone System. To make this fact instantly clear to my students, I've made a routine of asking them who is the most confused about photographic technique. I then take this person outside and when we come back after no more than 2 minutes, they are able to demonstrate, using Polaroid film, a mastery of exposure that never fails to amaze the rest of the class.

I'm able to do this by using an extreme form of the approach used in this book: I simply show them how to use my modified spot meter without bothering to explain why it works the way it does.

An analogy could be made to learning how to drive a car. It could be argued that one should begin driving lessons by carefully explaining in detail how internal combustion engines work, what gear ratios mean to the transmission of mechanical energy from the pistons to the wheels, and so on. This is roughly equivalent to teaching students approaching the Zone System about logarithms, characteristic curves, and sensitometry.

The problem is that after you have finished explaining these subjects in detail, what has the student really learned? Have you really completely explained the processes involved? Are there not always ever more subtle and deeper questions of engineering and physics that you have glossed over because you have decided that they are not important? There will always be people who want to know more, and at some point all educators need to draw a line at what they think students need to know before sending them off to experiment on their own.

My approach to writing this book has been to avoid trying to explain all of the science behind the Zone System. Instead I teach all of its basic principles and the logic of how it applies to real life.

I realize that some will find this approach not rigorous enough, but after years of teaching the Zone System to beginning students, my experience has been that once you understand enough to begin achieving consistently good results, the confidence you will gain from that accomplishment will carry you through the learning process to the level of skill you need for your work.

Preface to the Fourth Edition xi

There are a number of excellent, more detailed technical books on the Zone System that should be read by those who favor a scientific approach to their work, and some of them are listed in Appendix S under the section headed Technical Books.

The second question this book addresses is: What information do you really need in order to apply the Zone System to your own photographic problems?

The answers to this question are contained in Chapter 9, "Zone System Testing: Method 2." Here you will find the results of tests that I and a good friend conducted on many different films in a variety of different developers. (See Appendix F for a description of our testing method.) These tests, which made use of all of the major products, were conducted under actual shooting conditions.We then spent time field-testing these results in a working photolab and with my students at the California College of the Arts to assure their accuracy. Appendices E and G contain comprehensive descriptions of the characteristics and uses of all of these products.

My hope is that by updating and expanding this information, and adding discussion on subjects such as digital photography and printing controls, this book can remain a truly practical guide to the Zone System.

As you begin this text, keep in mind that the Zone System is not intended to be an end in itself, any more than is the study of medicine. Learning any new technique necessarily involves an ordering and restructuring of the way that you perceive the world. The beauty and the real value of the Zone System unfolds in the practice of actually using it to create meaningful images. The problem is trying to create with no system at all.

As you begin to use the Zone System you will find yourself modifying and adapting it to best serve your own needs. As this happens the Zone System will become less formal and more a natural part of your creative life.

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How to Read this Book

For those who are just beginning photography, I'd suggest that you start by reading A Primer on Basic Photography at the end of this book. The primer will acquaint you with most of the language of basic photography and will generally make it easier for you to understand some of the new concepts that you will learn.

Note: Readers familiar with other writing on this subject know that the terms "previsualiza-tion" and "visualization" are both used among Zone System speakers to describe the act of mentally picturing the photographic subject as the finished print. Also, the words "contraction" and "compaction" are both used to describe the process of reducing negative contrast. After much thought, and because Ansel Adams used these words, I have decided to use the terms previsualization and contraction throughout this book.

This edition begins by carefully explaining what the Zone System is and how it works before dealing with how it applies to film and digital photography. Most people should read the first six chapters to learn the basic vocabulary and concepts that make the Zone System unique. If you are already completely familiar with the Zone System and simply want to know how it applies to your digital work, you should skip ahead to Chapter 10: The Zone System and Digital Photography.

One final question: How does all of this apply to the bewildering array of equipment choices available to photographers these days?

In this book what I have done is begin by outlining concepts and principles that are broad enough to include many different applications. Then, rather than trying to explain how these concepts apply to every conceivable camera, film, and software choice available, what I do instead is lay out what I've learned about how to achieve fine results with the limited selection of materials and processes that I've mastered. What you'll find is that these methods inevitably apply to many other tools and platforms but in specific ways you may have to figure out for yourself. This has always been true for photography, but even more so now that things are changing so fast.

My hope is that this book will make it easy for you to achieve your goals with either film or digital photography. Photography as a creative process is challenging enough without having to struggle with technical issues. Anything we can do to gain more control over this process is worth the effort and this is what the Zone System is all about.

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Acknowledgements

This book could never have been completed without the advice, generosity, and support of my friends and students and Marti Schoen who created the drawings for the first edition. I would like especially to thank Steve Dunham for helping to formulate the basic approach presented here.

I am deeply grateful to the following people for their important contributions: Christine Alicino, Sandi Anderson, Chris Boehnke, Tim Bruno, Dea Cioflica, Susan Ciriclio, Judy Dater, Iris C. Davis, Sean Grady, Kevin E. Graham of Ilford's Imaging Products Division, Charlene Harrington, Sharon Madden-Harkness, Radhika Hersey, Don Hilliker of Kodak's Professional Imaging Division, Connal Hughes, Justin McFarr, Jim Jordan, Malcom Kwan, Robert Bruce Langham III, Amy Evans McClure, Amanda McCarthy, Julio Mitchel, Margaretta Mitchell and Frederick Mitchell, Selene Miller, June Moss, Anne Nadler, Fred Rohe, Julia Rowe, Frank Schultz, Jean Schultz, Bob Semenak of Robyn Color Lab, Ben Shaykin, Raphael Shevelev, Suzanne Taetzsch, Will Van Overbeek, Laura Walton, Anne Walzer, Reggie Webb, Ben Yerger, Richard Zakia, and Lagrima de la Luna Zegarra.

I would also like to again thank Arlyn Powell and David Guenette for their patience and support in the publication of this book's first edition.

As long as I can earn enough to pay my taxes I'll be happy. I'm not a professional photographer you know, I'm an amateur. "Amateur" is the French word for lover.

— Imogen Cunningham

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