Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 1996/04/21

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Subject: Re: the zone system vs. the Big Picture
From: Eric Welch <>
Date: Sun, 21 Apr 1996 08:53:46 -0700

At 02:26 PM 4/21/96 +0000, you wrote:

>- auto-triggered wildlife photography (where you may well use colour neg
>  film, but certainly not a point & shoot).

But when I see this kind of picture, I certainly don't admire the
composition and timing of the photographer. It takes skill to know where the
animal will cross, and luck that a racoon doesn't trip it instead. <g>

>You can make intelligent guesses about exposure in all these situations,
>but you can't stop black animals taking your bait or guarantee to render
>the highlights on that riotshield correctly...

But that doesn't mean you aren't using the zone system. You use it like any
other tool. It can be used instantly. You know the light in a given
situation and you apply your best understanding of sensitometry to it, and
that's using the zone system. The zone system isn't making perfect pictures.
It's understanding exposure and development and the interaction of the two
and applying it to whatever situation you face. 

When I was in journalism school we used to have 6 photographers cover a
typical football game. Everyone but me shot tri-x at 400 at 1/500 at f/8. I
would pick my exposure with my Leica selective meter based on the highlight
(you can do it that way in the Zone system, btw). Most games were on bright
sunny afternoons starting around 1 to 3 p.m. Very harsh light, deep shadows.
I used T-Max 400 pulled to 200 with a reduction of development in T-Max
developer. When the sports editor would look over the 30 or so prints, he
would invariable hold mine up and say "why are these so much better than the
others?" I would say "Leica glass" and everyone would groan and I'd say,
"Actually I pull my film." And they would look at me quizzically. Never
knowing what I meant. Not only did they look better, but they were much
easier to print. And guess who everyone asked to make their portfolio slides
once they knew I had control of the process? I'm not more skilled than the
average person, I just knew the zone system and applied it appropriately to
the situation. (And even made me money!) 
Eric Welch
Grants Pass Daily Courier