Friday night, we had dinner with another photographer in Phoenix (link forthcoming) and had a few beers and, as photographers do, yakkyakked about photography. I recall mentioning "The Zone System" and Carlos looked at me and said "Wow - it's been a while since I heard anyone talk about that
When we got back to the bed and breakfast where we spent the night, I thought I'd do a little zone system exercise. So, I metered the highlights in this shot to fall on zone 8, with the shadows around zone 3, placing the dark parts of the bench at zone 2. My previsualization was that I'd use a levels adjustment in photoshop to simulate timed negative development to "pull" the contrast so it'd fall right where I wanted it, but as it worked out, the contrast range was spot on and this needed no negative development shift at all. In order to cement the image as "fine art" I needed something blurry, which Sarah provided with her elbow - exposure time being about 1/2 second I knew there'd be a little motion blur from the way she was standing blah blah deconstructed zone system art you're not really listening to me anyway. In fact, I'm not really listening either. Composition rule of thirds interesting blah blah um. Holy crap she sure has a nice butt. Development simulation, huh?
Actually, The Zone System is mostly made irrelevant by digital technology, since camera raw images allow a photographer to re-assess exposure as many times as he wants to, in photoshop. Add to that HDR techniques of layering multiple exposures (a trick some of us did with film in register "back in the day") and exposure is pretty much of a "solved problem" in photography, assuming you have a basic clue what you're doing.
The Zone System workers had a dictum "expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights" which is completely turned on its head by digital. What they meant was that, with a negative, the highlights became the black part of the film, and thus were the hardest part to print detail through. So Ansel Adams and his ilk would make sure that they had exactly the right amount of highlight detail in their film, and would then develop the negative to put the shadows where they wanted them (usually close to absolute black) With digital, what you want to do is expose for the highlights, because if they're blown out they are unrecoverable, and then you use photoshop to "stretch" the contrast range down into the shadows so the shadows are as dark as you want them. Or, you just put the camera on auto-exposure and fire, then fart with "levels" in photoshop until it looks right.
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