Feininger's Zone System remarks
Clyde McConnell <cmcconne@...>
Re Feininger's remark about the Zone System:
I know Dan won't let this thread morph into a heated or tedious exchange, but I'd like to make one observation. The California Musuem of Photography at UC Riverside sometimes shows material from the time that Adams was photographing campuses throughout the University of California system, and I recall seeing a mounted proof sheet of roll-film images that were likely taken in what looked like a desert canyon (might have been a field station). It was a tough exposure situation, with late, raking light and important shadow information. The exposures were ALL OVER the place. No Zone System here, but rather a very profligate and pragmatic bracketing in the face of near-total uncertainty as to what was going to work, and what the "best" print would turn out to be...or if there would be a print at all.
THE ZONE SYSTEM.
I deliberately omitted discussing the so-called Zone System of film exposure determination in this book because in my opinion it makes mountains out of molehills...
Yes. These two artists were talking past each other but what they were saying is still relevant.
Ansel Adams would be a far more significant figure today if he had lived a quarter-century later. He was an interventionist who would immediately have seized upon Photoshop as a creative tool and would have shoehorned his way into the production process whether the prepress industry liked it or not. He was very inquisitive about new techniques and surely would have led the photography field into embracing the new possibilities. The Zone System as described is a predecessor of what all professionals do digitally today. Its problem was that it anticipated methods that did not exist at the time.
As visionary as the concept was, I have to agree with Andrea Feininger's remarks *given the era in which he made them.* Today, every serious practitioner would agree that some kind of digital tweaking is necessary every time, and that there is no default method to process a picture to optimize results. Feininger was saying the same thing, given the time frame: every picture benefits from some kind of tweaking in the darkroom.
His condemnation of the Zone System indicates that he was taking Adams's writings at face value. As Clyde notes, Adams talked up the Zone System for shooting--for other people. When the chips were down, he didn't use it himself, he simply experimented with multiple exposures, with which we can all sympathize.
We have a lot more use for the Zone System's fundamentals today than a photographer of the 1970s would. As advice on how to expose a picture, as Feininger said, it was way too complex and probably caused more problems than it cured.
On Sun, Jul 3, 2011 at 3:58 PM, Dan Margulis <DMargulis@...> wrote:
We have a lot more use for the Zone System's fundamentals today than a- back in the 1996 - 2002 time frame, Quad came out with "4 stop
photography" - it was all about exposing transparencies of products that
were so flat - the scanner operators could "set it and forget it"
It was as welcome as an drywall sandwich.
I had no idea just how unpopular it was until just now - i can't seem to
find anything about it on Google.
2137 Shielah Way,
Sacramento, CA 95822
Oh, I dunno'.... "4 stop photography"
sounds like the best thing since sliced
bread (or zeroing-out the raw developer)
- that is, if one wants better results
- George Machen
I seem to recall running across an article claiming that Adams used one
other technique that does not appear to have become common knowledge. From
my recollection, the author said that Adams produced a single, master print
with the aid of considerable darkroom manipulation. When he had just the
effect he wanted, he used a copy camera (not sure of the technical term) to
produce "orignals" from his master print. Until then it had been my
impression that he laboriously produced each new print with the same
labor-intensive technique he had used for the first print. It seemed
unlikely that any man could faithfully reproduce all those complex darkroom
moves in subsequent prints, but that appears to have been-and still is-the
prevailing thought about Adam's technique. So far as the Zone Method is
concerned, it would seem that Adams relied far more on his darkroom and his
copy camera than on trying to get the perfect exposure in the field.
Is this information correct?
On 7/2/11 Clyde McConnell included the following in his post:
The California Musuem of Photography at UC Riverside sometimes shows
material from the time that Adams was photographing campuses throughout the
University of California system, and I recall seeing a mounted proof sheet
of roll-film images that were likely taken in what looked like a desert
canyon (might have been a field station). It was a tough exposure situation,
with late, raking light and important shadow information. The exposures were
ALL OVER the place. No Zone System here, but rather a very profligate and
pragmatic bracketing in the face of near-total uncertainty as to what was
going to work, and what the "best" print would turn out to be...or if there
would be a print at all.
I first came across this article from Sinar originally in the 80's.toggle quoted messageShow quoted text
The lower density range papers (ie, newsprint) require even less range than 4 f/stops, however I wonder how many photographers understand how to use a spot meter to assess the brightness range of a scene. Likely a lost art in the age of histogram worshippers.
--- In colortheory@..., George Machen <gmachen@...> wrote:
Adam's approach to photography was valuable in that it introduced a systematic way of thinking about the end results when you were planning the picture. The amount of control you could exert after the exposure was very limited by the technology of the day so it helped to have some idea of where one should start before you could pre-visualize the end result.
To say that many of his images were bracketed does not necessarily invalidate his conceptual approach to technical quality, identifying zones and determining how these would print, etc... Certainly exposure today is made easier with automatic through-the-lens matrix metering BUT I still feel we can benefit from the original concepts of identifying the real limits of the dynamic range of the camera through a testing procedure and applying this knowledge to exposure judgements to maximize quality.
Yes... one can simply defer all judgement to post processing by using an HDR approach (blending multiple exposures into a high dynamic range file and "tone mapping" to suit one's taste) but not all circumstances lend themselves to that approach and the statistical averages approach of matrix metering cannot replace a decision guided by informed human intelligence.
My own testing, using Ansel Adam's principals with modern digital technology, has shown me that most cameras (and exposure meters) do not respond the same under different color temperatures and that this is not something that is compensated for by any automatic metering system. There IS something like an ideal exposure for digital captures that minimizes noise and maximizes detail and tonal variation AND allows for maximum creative manipulation without negative side effects – very often this requires some level of human judgement to determine!
I think a lot of photographers have gotten lazy with the power of Photoshop to rescue less than ideal exposures and certainly the notion that files only need to be "good enough" is prevalent in the commercial world. Still, I would argue that the quest for excellence is relevant today even with all the technical advances in digital imaging.
President of the LADIG
Photographer & Author of
Skin: The Complete Guide to Digitally, Lighting, Photographing
and Retouching Faces and Bodies - 2nd edition
Paperback, 368 pages, Aug 2010
Mastering Exposure and the Zone System for Digital Photographers
Paperback, 257 pages, 2010
the DVD series: "Beyond Skin"
Begin forwarded message:
George,- George Machen
Paco Marquez <paco@...>
Hi to all!toggle quoted messageShow quoted text
Ansel Adams came up with the Zone System when he taught at the Art Center College of Design where I graduated from. To understand it, we were assigned the dreaded "9 neg test." Basically, and interestingly enough similarly to Dan's teachings, for most situations, what he proposed was to over expose and then under develop in order to get a flat neg, which would be easier to print because of the compressed tonal range.
This is exactly what Dan proposes when he says that flatness is our friend. The proof of which is undeniable in the series There Are No Bad Originals.
As someone who started out as a B&W printer in a commercial lab, I can tell you that both approaches are identical in as to what the ideal workflow starting point is; be it chemical or digital.
And then, even though the starting point is good, both need work; maybe lots of it in some cases but... what does not?
All the best!
San Juan, PR 00907
On Jul 4, 2011, at 2:26 PM, Lee Varis wrote:
Adam's approach to photography was valuable in that it introduced a systematic way of thinking about the end results when you were planning the picture.
Iliah Borg <ib@...>
Basically, and interestingly enough similarly to Dan's teachings, for most situations, what he proposed was to over expose and then under develop in order to get a flat neg, which would be easier to print because of the compressed tonal range.Jenő Dulovits, 1937, Lichtkontraste und ihre Überwindung - the book where he exposes the technique he developed in 1932, adding later the use of pinacryptol green as a desensitizer to control the development of the film visually. I have his book from 1951, Meine Technik – meine Bilder. It sums up his experience and methods to achieve flat negs.
John Denniston <john_denniston@...>
Hi Howard,toggle quoted messageShow quoted text
This information is not correct. Adams like a lot of photographers would save a difficult print with areas of dodging and burning marked on it as well as paper grade, developer, and exposure times so the print could be duplicated at some future time.
When I cleaned out my darkroom a few years ago I came across a box of my own "master prints".
That's not to say he didn't ever make a copy print for a particular project. Karsh did that with his pictures that were sent out to newspapers and magazines in the 1950's. I found a bunch of them when the newspaper I worked for moved it's newsroom to a new building. Adams possibly did the same thing for prints meant for publication in newspapers and magazine.
On 7/4/2011 6:44 AM, Howard Smith wrote:
Adams produced a single, master print
john wrote: <That's not to say he didn't ever make a copy print for a particular
project. Karsh did that with his pictures that were sent out to
newspapers and magazines in the 1950's>
just a clarification regarding master prints/printers... for a publication that was creating halftone screens, you might be able to get by with a nice copy print... karsh/adams/everyone else on the planet during the 50's throught 80's, never made a copy print that was an equivalent to the original 'master print' created from the original negative... all copies have a signature look that says "I am not created from the original negative."
I completely agree with the classic b&w processing, expose for the shadows-dev for the hightlights'... this includes many times photographing dark complexions during events such as presentations/graduations/etc with electronic flash/flash bulbs, you would frequently 'over expose' and 'under develop'...to create a printable negative. perhaps similar to today's, low gamma moves that help to get dan's black dog out of the black chair.