Here is a question I can't figure out in my head. In traditional black and white photography the old addage says to expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights. This is based on the fact that development time has little effect on the shadow values but significant effect on highlights. My question is how does this apply to black and white images developed normally by a commercial lab that are scanned in via film scanner and adjusted in Photoshop? Does the rule still apply? Or should I simply expose for the area in the image where I want the most detail? Or should I bag the Zone System approach altogether and just make the exposure based on matrix metering and make all the adjustments in Photoshop? I have grown accustomed to the Zone System approach but can't really determine its palce in digitally adjusted images. I suppose too that the output device must be considered as well. Where do the strengths and weaknesses fall in typical Epson inkjets that might require consideration at the time of exposure?
#1. "RE: How to expose B&W?" In response to Reply # 0
The real problem here would be using the zone system with a commercial lab doing your development. The zone system relies on personal testing for film speed and development, and using a commercial lab and its standard development would negate the system. Aside from that, yes you could do testing for your scanner and printer and still use the zone system. As a start I'd recommend making your best traditional print and using that as a baseline for testing the inkjet. I still don't believe that an inkjet print can match a traditional print, but they are getting closer. Just some thoughts,
#2. "RE: How to expose B&W?" In response to Reply # 0
Salt Lake City, US
LAST EDITED ON Jul-30-01 AT 04:42 AM (GMT)
LAST EDITED ON Jul-30-01 AT 04:41 AM (GMT)
The biggest difficulty you'll face is producing neutral tones. Folks who are producing the best "black & white" (really monochrome) prints use special ink sets that replace the color cartridges with a set of grey shades in either cool, neutral or warm tones.
I'll second the suggestion that the zone system is really designed to optimize output based on your control of the image making process. Instead of using chemistry, however, you'll need to match your images to the properties of your scanner, your printer, the inks and the paper you choose. That control is best exerted through the use of ICC profiles.
When making your shot, you do need to be especially aware of controlling blacks and highlights. Scanners have a hard time covering the density range of film, so if you can use the zone system to keep the range withing the scanner's dMax, the image will have both shadow and highlight detail to work with in Photoshop. Otherwise you face the tradeoff of blown out highlights or lost shadows.
#3. "RE: How to expose B&W?" In response to Reply # 2
Rock Hill, US
Thanks guys, I appreciate the input and I suppose that the bottom line is to know your equipment and your work flow and make adjustments in exposure accordingly. The same is true with the Zone System of course, but there are just fewer variables and you have the comforting guideline, based on physical characteristics of film, of exposing for the shadows and developing for the highlights. I guess I'm just looking for a few hard and fast rules to minimize some of the variables.
Even though the decision making process of the Zone System does involve adjusting development times, the only effect this has is on contrast and is generally limited to modifcation of the highlights. Even with 'normally' developed negatives you can make contrast adjustments in Photoshop with much more control than you can via modifying development times in the darkroom. In addition, using curves you can theoretically make these adjustments relatively independantly to each individual 'Zone' by setting the Curves grid to 10 x 10. I typically abandon the 256 level measurements and use dot% which, just like the Curves, can be broken down into increments of 10 and thus correlate to Zones.
It is within this framework that I think the Zone System remains a valuable tool in B&W digital imaging. Certainly ICC profiles and proper calibration help in the overall simplification of the process but I still wish there were some physical rules to better guide my decision making at the time of exposure.
I suspect that what one will need to do initially is to pre-visualize the image, make Zone placements and meter readings as in any normal Zone System approach. If the scene is of normal contrast, no problem. Expose just as you have made your placements. If it is of low or high contrast then you must decide which is the most important, shadow detail or highlight detail and expose accordingly, then make adjustments in Photoshop. It is my hope that given the freedom allowed by Curve adjustments you will be able to compensate for the shadows or highlights that you did not expose for. Learning to fine tune this digital process will, I think, be similar to learning your development times, paper types, darkroom techniques etc. Only experience will allow proficiency and accurate pre-visualization in this regard but the Zone System will put the appropriate raw materials in place so that the fine tuning is in fact fine tuning and not pure remodling of a flawed image.
#4. "RE: How to expose B&W?" In response to Reply # 0
I'm a bit puzzled how you are applying (or thinking of applying) the Zone system to roll film in the first place. "Exposing for the shadows and developing for the highlights" is not all there is to the zone system. It is really designed for sheet film, exposing and processing a neg with a specific set of parameters. Not all exposures on a roll of film will have been exposed the same way and would not have the same development requirements. I use the Zone system with my large format camera but don't with the 35 and medium format gear.
#5. "RE: How to expose B&W?" In response to Reply # 4
Rock Hill, US
LAST EDITED ON Jul-31-01 AT 05:48 PM (GMT)
I've used the Zone System for a while now in 35mm format and I understand that ""Exposing for the shadows and developing for the highlights" is not all there is to the zone system." I'm not going to repeat what I said above or launch into any explanation of my understanding of the Zone System jsut to prove that I understand it.
Suffice it to say that I have have experimented enough (and read enough) to make a satisfactory application of the system to 35mm. It is the same process, you just have to make a few simple, and really quite obvious, modifications to how you shoot (not to the Zone System itself). You simply expose the roll in similar or identical light environments and have your lab develop the film per your instructions.
My whole point here is that the ability to digitally control contrast and individual tones is liberating for the roll film shooter, particularly those of us who primarily have developing done at 2nd rate labs. And sure, any modification to the Zone System means it isn't really _THE_ Zone System but the principles are the same, you visualize the image you want and you expose based on the ability to achieve the tones you previsualized given the limits of the interveneing process. I'm just trying to figure out those limits. Maybe in the future I'll forgo the capitalization ala zone system rather than Zone System.
#6. "RE: How to expose B&W?" In response to Reply # 5
"You simply expose the roll in similar or identical light environments and have your lab develop the film per your instructions."
This is the key. That is why it works for you but not for me. I rarely have the opportunity to have a roll exposed that way. It is obvious that if those conditions exist then you could make the processing adjustments required. Its not rocket science
#7. "RE: How to expose B&W?" In response to Reply # 6
Rock Hill, US
Yes, and admittedly those opportunities are rare. Frankly, I wish that good quality film could be obtained in 6-10 frame rolls. Anyone out there roll your own from bulk rolls? In any case, even when I'm too lazy or unconvinced of the benefit of taking these measures, using the Zone System to _know_ the limitations of your exposure choices is still of value to the roll film shooter.