View Full Version : Are you in the zone?
Ok, this B&W shooting is new (old) to me. I never shot using the zone system, but since this thread...
All reflective exposure meters read everything as if it were an 18% gray card or "zone V". Using that as a starting point, you can vary how an object appears in the photograph by assigning it a zone value and exposing to achieve that effect.
Example: I want to photograph a black car. I get a reading of 1/125 at f/8 which would place the black of the finish at Zone V or render it as an 18% gray shade in the picture were I to expose at the above reading. I decide to place the black at Zone II which means I want it to have LESS exposure to give a thinner negative and thus a darker car. I thus alter my exposure to account for three f-stops difference or f/11 at 1/500 or f/16 at 1/250 or f/22 at 1/125.
I would like to hear some more examples. I have read, read, read and read some more. I am still confused! Am I the only one that just doesn't get it? :bang:
I guess I need someone to hold my hand and walk me through this.
When I am out shooting, I should look at what I want to be black in my negs/prints. Meter off of that then bracket my shots 3 stops down to 1 stop down? Make sense?
David, this is easier if you say it like this:
The meter does NOT know what you are pointing it. It only measures the light falling on its photodetector. Also, it does NOT know how dark or bright you want the object to be on the film. He ASSUMES (it is calibrated so) that you want to make it 18% gray.
If you point it to a black cat and use the reading, you will get a 18% gray cat on the neg. If you point it on a white cat and use the reading, you will get AGAIN a 18% gray cat on the neg. They will be exactly the same. Why? Because the meter only measures the light reflected from them and calculate the f/stop and shutter time to make them 18% gray on the film you use.
If you want a black cat to be BLACK and not gray, it needs LESS exposure than the meter indicates, thus, you have to underexpose it (shorten exp.time or stop the lens down).
If you want the WHITE cat to be WHITE it needs MORE light, more exposure than indicated by the meter, thus you will have to overexpose compared to the meter's reading.
If you find a cat that is 18% gray naturally :), your meter will show you EXACTLY what you have to use to get its true brightness/darkness/grayness on the negative - 18% gray.
Of course, this all excludes the next step, the printing, where you can compensate for under/overexposure and make the two cats again the same looking 18% gray. Alas, commercial labs always DO compensate at printing, following some whatever logic they have (man or machine), so you will never be able to figure out what's going on and who screwed it up, unless you look at the film directly, and not at the prints.
As an example: stage, black background, bright spotlit musician. Even if you expose the negative perfectly, your lab will make an average gray out of it, which will mean: they expose it shorter than they should, and the big black background (transparent parts on the negative) will be brightened up to murky gray, while the spotlit musicians (the dark spots on the negative) won't have enough light to correctly show up on the print - they will be too bright thus and the facial/hand details will disappear in the blown-out highlights.
There are 3 ways out:
1. Discuss your printing preferences with the lab (expensive and time-consuming).
2: Include big bright regions like reflectors, etc in the frame to compensate for the big dark backgrounds (tricky, rarely possible but this is what i try currently).
3: Don't go to a lab - print your own, digitally or traditionally.
Shooting slides is also ok but not really an option in black and white.
Now i release your hand, but don't fall! :)
hope it helps.
By the way, - the whole thing is valid with colour negs as well (although you can't really twist it with over/underexposure and over/underdevelopment like in black and white).
Here's an example. The meter reading was way too off, due to the big black background - he wanted to make the whole scene gray while i wanted to have black background black and the small face correctly exposed, so i UNDERexposed ~2 stops. On the neg it looks perfect.
However, when I scanned the *print* made by a minilab, the background was gray, the guy's face was way too bright. To correct it somewhat, i went down with the brightness in photoshop and increased the contrast a bit. Result: the background looks as it should - black; the face got *some* details back but not much - and the midtones are way too compressed, that is, there's hardly any gray between black and white, the image is too contrasty. Looks cool though, i like the effect, but it's not how it SHOULD look.
Oh, and it is cropped. The whole frame had much more of the dark background.
Very nice image Pherdi ! Sort of pure b&w, graffiti style. In fact it could become your own personal symbol...
Thanks for explaining this Pherdi - I've tried to read up on it at the bookstore before but i just got sleepy. To much techincal stuff zzzzz..... But I get the point of it now.
Great explaination! I went out and shot about 4 36's of B&W today and I will see how it turned out! Thanks!!! :)
Pherdi, those are excellent posts and surely will help to clear some things up.
This may also help to clear the waters a little bit. I carry a small piece of paper in my shirt pocket with this printed on it:
0 - Complete blackness.
I - Threshold. 1st step above complete black. Slight tonality; no texture.
II - 1st sugestion of texture. Deep tonalities, some detail.
III - Average dark materials. Low values showing adequate texture.
IV - Avg. dark folage. Dark stone. Landscape shadows. Recommended shadow values for portraits in sunlight.
V - Clear North shy (Panchromatic film) Dark skin, gray stone, avg. weathered wood. Middle gray (18% reflectance).
VI - Avg. Caucasian skin in sunlight or artificial light and in diffuse skylight or very soft light. Light stone. Clear North sky (Orthochromatic film). Shadows on snow in sunlight.
VII - Very light skin, light gray objects. Avg. snow with acute side lighting.
VIII - Whites with textures and delicate values (NOT blank whites). Snow in full shade. Highlights on Caucasian skin.
IX - Glaring white surfaces. Snow in flat sunlight. White without texture.
The key point to remember is that your meter reads all objects as 18% gray. Then it's necessary to alter your exposure to place the object in it's proper place on the zone scale.
Hope this helps some.
A saying that I use to remember what to do and also what I told people in a beginning photo class I taught a few years back,
"Add light to light, add dark to dark."
Simply means if you meter a light object, you need to increase the exposure, like 1 or 2 more stops exposure for snow and sand scenes. If you meter a dark object, you need to decrease exposure, like 1 or 2 less stops for petroglyphs on black basalt rocks.
Understanding the zone system concept is fairly easy once you grasp the idea that your meter only gives you a starting value. The zone system gets real complicated when you try and figure every value in the scene and try to adjust values by developing compensation.
expose for the shadows...
The zone system gets real complicated when you try and figure every value in the scene and try to adjust values by developing compensation.
I agree! It takes all the fun out of photography for me. For me, photography is more about helping me explore/develop/get in touch with, my creative and intuitive side. Different strokes for different folks though, and it is a good thing that we're not all the same! What a boring world that would be.
:D David, i've forgot to attach the disclaimer at the end of the blah blah... Should have been "You may follow these ideas, but i take no responsability whatsoever regarding the outcome of your pictures depicting your cats."
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