Zone System Negative Design needs an Update

Ian Grant

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It's rather like the Mormons or Jehovah Witnesses, I have good friends of both oddball faiths they know better than to even think of trying to convert me. I actually respect them for that and they have no idea of my actual beliefs, or lack of, it's not something I ever really talk about :D

Basic technique is the key not these false prophets. There's no magic bullets . . . . . .

Ian
 

David M

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So.
Very generous exposure for the shadows, a very flat negative and a high-contrast grade for printing. Fair enough. Horses for... I didn't understand his repeated insistence that printing with two grades is not split-grade printing, but this is bordering on theology.

Has anyone else seen a Blakemore neg and his demonstration of producing very different prints from it?

Am I right in thinking that in fact, there are no individual contrast layers and that the different contrast emulsions are precisely mixed and coated in one layer? (Plus all the other necessary layers, of course.)
 

Ian Grant

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So.
Very generous exposure for the shadows, a very flat negative and a high-contrast grade for printing. Fair enough. Horses for... I didn't understand his repeated insistence that printing with two grades is not split-grade printing, but this is bordering on theology.

Has anyone else seen a Blakemore neg and his demonstration of producing very different prints from it?

Am I right in thinking that in fact, there are no individual contrast layers and that the different contrast emulsions are precisely mixed and coated in one layer? (Plus all the other necessary layers, of course.)

The emulsion is made up of 3 parts mixed for coating, all parts have the same contrast and speed when exposed to Blue light, but the second part has slight sensitivity to Green light, while the third part is sensitive to both Blue and Green light. The sensitity depends on the amount of Green sensitiser.

The principle of Multigrade was discovered because it was noticed that Graded papers gave slightly different contrast depending on the colour temperature of the enlarger light source.

Your point about a Blakemore negative is very valid, it's a key that master photographers and printers like Ansel Adams, Minor white, John Sexton, John Davies etc have used for a few decades now.

The issue is going down a road that doesn't allow negatives to be explored in different ways.

Ian
 

David M

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To be as fair as possible, Mr Sherman is pointing out that multigrade paper extends the possibilities of contrast control.
To an old-fashioned fixed-grade user it sounds as if he makes terrible negatives and them makes equal-but-opposite terrible prints to compensate, but it seems to work very well for him. I have no quarrel with the prints he makes.
I'm not quite persuaded that writing (eg) minimum agitation as Minimum Agitation constitutes a system. Perhaps this is marketing.
Ian has a point, that a beginner should learn conventional practice, before embarking on other methods. (I paraphrase.)
 

Alan9940

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Hmm...allow me to toss out a few names: Ansel Adams, Edward/Brett Weston, Paul Strand... I think we might all agree that these photographers made fine prints without the panacea of EMA and split-grade printing on VC papers. I've tried diligently to craft and print negatives like Mr. Sherman, but IMO you need specific equipment and years of understanding his process to produce fine prints. Speaking from experience, his techniques are fraught with failure for someone trying to learn his processes. Perhaps, that's why he does one-on-one mentoring?
 

David M

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I've only seen a few of Mr Sherman's images and he seems to prefer an engraving-like effect in his prints. It's certainly attractive, but it's not the only way to print. Presumably his method is honed and burnished towards this end.
 
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Ian Grant

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Hmm...allow me to toss out a few names: Ansel Adams, Edward/Brett Weston, Paul Strand... I think we might all agree that these photographers made fine prints without the panacea of EMA and split-grade printing on VC papers. I've tried diligently to craft and print negatives like Mr. Sherman, but IMO you need specific equipment and years of understanding his process to produce fine prints. Speaking from experience, his techniques are fraught with failure for someone trying to learn his processes. Perhaps, that's why he does one-on-one mentoring?
Think your comments are widely agreed, also DavidM's comments about marketing himself are correct, there's nothing wrong with that but there are many ways to break an egg.

Those of us who have done workshops with people like John Blakemore, will have learnt a number of different approaches to printing and all usually based around using the Zone system for negative control. If Steve Sherman was achieving the range of images and quality of John Blakemore I might take more interest but he's not remotely close. I don't mean his quality isn't excellent just he's a league or two lower . . . . . . . . .


I've only seen a few of Mr Sherman's images and he seems to like an engraving-like effect in his prints. It's certainly attractive, but it's not the only way to print. Presumably his method is honed and burnished towards this end.
Some of his methodology makes sense for ULF contact printing but not for enlarged negatives.

Anyone who has seen John Blakemore's prints first hand knows he make Ansel Adams seem like a rank amateur when it comes to using the Zone System. But most of AA's work was made before the ZS.

Ian
 

David M

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I've just re-read Mr Sherman' article and found this:
... if I don’t like something I make only one change at a time and re-evaluate the final print. In that sense I subscribe to the “eye test”.
Very encouraging, because it seems to me that the eye test is the only real test.

He does repeat one heresy that's common to almost all ZS advocates. He says that film testing establishes the true speed of the film. It does nothing of the kind, but it does establish a number to set on your meter that will you give the results that you want. If you have a cloudy lens or the inside of your bellows is shiny, or your local water is not neutral, or even if your meter needle is bent, your Zone tests will give a number that includes all these factors. If any of them change significantly and you are very conscientious, you should do the tests again, even though you may be using the same film with the same inherent emulsion speed. I don't, but it's still sound advice.

Dare one mention that, provided that some kind of information is captured on the negative, digital processing can provide the advantages that he describes? This is not to suggest that exact duplicates can be made, in either direction.
 

Ian Grant

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I'm just re-reading the article and it's so way off how Multigrade papers are made and work and bears no resemblance to Ilford's own comments.

For a start he claims different layers and differing mixes of Silver Chloride, Bromide, and Iodide in each component, "each emulsion made from a different mixture of light sensitive Chloride, Bromide, and Iodide". The problem here is that would have a very profound effect on image colour at different contrasts. Warm tone papers are Chloro-Bromide, papers like Multigrade IV or Classic are more traditional Bromide type papers.

On an Ilford factory tour we were actually told MG papers only use one emulsion, that's split in three and and two parts dye sensitised, one to slight green sensitivity the other to full green sensitivity. The three parts are recombined for coating.

Ian
 
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