Shadows on Zone IV

For those that shoot anything in B&W, film in particular, you've probably heard of this crazy process called "The Zone System" before (if not, click the link). The very essence of this system was to get the proper amount of detail from your sheet/roll of film by scientifically controlling exposure, development of the negative. Many of these very same principles apply equally to modern digital cameras, however, many practitioners prefer to leave the finer details to the camera's processor.

If there's only one thing you need to know about The Zone System, it's this. Expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights. After two years of practicing this system, I can say, without a doubt, that exposing properly for shadow details makes all the difference in the world.

Find the darkest shadow that you'd like to have detail in, meter (Zone V), and underexpose by 1 stop.

Find the darkest shadow that you'd like to have detail in, meter (Zone V), and underexpose by 1 stop.

Yes folks, it's that simple. The final image will only have as much detail as you let the film see. Back when I first started monkeying around with The Zone System, I thought I was hot stuff placing shadows on zones II & III, but the details weren't cutting it compared to when I gave them that extra stop of exposure. Modern photographic film is more than capable of handling this highlight detail, even in x-ray film!

But don't just take my word for it...here's famous photographer Bruce Barnbaum with all the juicy details on why this little metering tip can make all the difference in your photographs: