Sometimes I have the compulsive need to just take a picture of something… anything! That’s what these photos are. I tend to spend too much time thinking about things and reading about technical stuff rather than actually going out and making photos. Anywho, with my trusty new (old) Pentax spot meter, it was time to put the legendary Zone System to the test.
It turns out that the Zone System is pretty simple. The hardest part is just judging which zone something should fall into. The one lesson I’ve learned so far is to not meter what I like to call “exposure singularities”. In simple terms, don’t meter straight into the sun or a light bulb and say, “That’s zone 9”. Also, don’t meter something totally black and think that it’s automatically zone 0. These two extremes reach so far into infinity over and under exposure that they’ll not let other parts of your scene fall into the right zone.
It’s also good to meter many things in the frame. Let’s say I want something in the shadows to go to zone 3. It’ll have some delicate detail there. Then I should meter the main subject and some brighter areas to make sure they are being exposed properly. This is perhaps described in the wrong order, since the main subject should be the reference point, not the shadows. On the other hand, nothing is more annoying than trying to pull detail out of a grainy/scanner-noisy shadow area. This is especially gross when the shadow is on someone’s eyes. But this is why we have spot meters and the Zone System: to avoid such predicaments.
It being my first attempt at the Zone System, it seemed appropriate to use the least forgiving film as my gauge. Kodak Ektar 100 is described to be ruthless and unforgiving in its latitude. Some claim that half a stop off ruins the picture. What I found, however, is that Ektar is much more forgiving than expected. The dynamic range is also very impressive. Take, for example, the photo of a covered shed area below. I metered it so that the upper right shadow of the door would be middle grey (zone 5). The lab print had the bright background almost completely blown to white, and the shadows were significantly crushed. After seeing all the detail on the negative though, it was apparent that there was more to be had. It took a lot of color tweaking, but I got some nice shadow and highlight detail here. The stuff in direct light is probably about 6 or 7 stops above the grey door shadow. Cool, huh!
This explained why I always thought Ektar had dynamic range nearly as bad as digital. It’s all because of photo lab auto correct settings. They want to give your pictures contrast, so they totally destroy your highlights and shadows. Personally, I prefer a lower contrast picture that retains detail.
Next comes the color. The previous photo wasn’t much to look at, but look at this:
Here are some more that I hope someone likes. Hopefully, my zone system skills get better with practice.