Frequently Asked Questions I

Selected questions and answers, based on the collective wit and wisdom of contributors to the original Black & White Photography Forum. Be sure to visit our Community and participate in current discussions. Our thanks to all who have contributed!

The Zone System

Q: The Zone System... I've heard it mentioned a hundred times, but have no idea what is involved. Could somebody give me a brief synopsis of Ansel's theory and point me in the direction of a good book which will explain it in detail?

A: A very (!) brief explanation of the zone system is that your camera's meter will give you the reading for average gray (Zone V). If you want white (Zone I), you will have to open the aperture or use a longer time. If you want black (Zone IX) you will have to close the aperture or use a shorter shutter time. That's very brief. Ansel's own books The Camera, The Negative, and The Print can explain the whole process. (Tina Manley)

A longer explanation: Zone system is a method of correlating the exposure range of your subject with the gray scale of a black & white print. For argument's sake, let's say that a normal neg/normal print combo has range of 5 zones (or 5 f-stops) The would be from Zone III (the darkest gray showing some little detail) to zone VIII (the whitest gray showing some little detail). You meter the scene to see if you have that 5-stop (5 zone) range that will give you a "normal" neg.

When you use a reflectance meter (such as a spot meter or the meter inside a camera), whatever you point the meter at in the subject is put at mid gray (Zone V) by the meter. That's the way the meter is designed to work.

If you point the meter at something very bright, the meter thinks its looking at mid gray and if you were to shoot at the indicated exposure, that white object would print at mid gray. So, you must adjust your exposure so that white comes out white. Each zone of the Zone system has a gray value. White with detail is said to be at Zone VIII. Each Zone also equals one f-stop of change from the next or previous zone. So, to get that white object at Zone VIII, knowing that the meter has placed it at Zone V, you need to open your lens 3 zones (zone V up to Zone VIII) or to pur it another way, open your lens 3 stops. (Don Connors)


Signing Prints

Q. How and where should one sign one's prints, and with what?

A: There are several ways: here is a sampling of approaches:

1. Sign the board on which the print is dry mounted in pencil just below the print near the right edge of the print. Then when you mount the overmat make it slightly larger about 3/8" on the top and sides and about 1/2" on the bottom. This leaves room for the signature below the print to be seen. (Dell Elzey). Use a 6H to 9H drawing pencil. The mark is light and delicate and does not draw attention to itself. (Mike LeBlanc).

2. It might have been Adams who said "does God sign the sky?" Whomever it was the message is clear. Maybe I'm just too arrogant but I will only sign my name to the back of a print in light pencil, dry mounted or not. I figure that if someone 30-40 even 50 years from now views my work as valuable they will take the time to look at the back and it will never distract from the original image. (Patrick Murtagh).

3. I sign on the back. I use a fine tip, perm. black ink, Pilot type pen and use the following standard about 1/8" up from the bottom edge of the print The and date, the print date my name printed, my signature. e.g. "Neg. 17-14, 9/1968, Printed 1/21/97, Sam Tumminello, Sam..(signature) The print date refers back to my darkroom log for the printing technique. I use RC paper. (Anon)

4. Most galleries and museums prefer work to NOT be dry mounted for the reasons mentioned previously. The most common method for signing is usually on the back with date, copyright, etc. If you use pen, it should be archival (Light Impressions sells these) and outside the image area, to protect against bleed-through ruining the print. Pencil is safer and seems to last forever. (Kerik Kouklis).

5. I used to sign the overmat but I now print with a 1/4" border on top and both sides and 3/8" at the bottom. I use a fine permanent marker to title the print on the left bottom and sign the right bottom. My prints are "hung" with tape from the top (backside) of the overmat in the same manner as any other fine print. I never drymount anymore. I do use archival mats and backing and consider that to be the only "rule" worth following. (James F. Bullard).


Flattening Prints

Q. How can you flatten prints and make them stay flat?

A. I flatten prints after they are dry by putting them in a dry mount press under pressure and fairly high heat. I don't use alot of hardener in the fix so the prints don't get cracks. This usually works but for some reason there are "problem" prints. If they won't flatten I rewet them and start again. I never dry-mount and I exhibit this way with good success. (Chuck Baker)

A. For FB papers, squeegee on plexiglass front side down, and lay prints on a fiberglass screen face down. When dry simply stick them between a couple of layers of acid free mounting board and place a heavy book on top. For RC paper, dry them face up. All else is the same. (Kenneth Grunzweig)

A. What has worked well for me is to use two pieces of 100% rag board and place them on a perfectly flat surface and place the print or prints in a perfect stack between the two pieces of rag board. Then place a fairly heavy object that is flat and covers the entire rag board on top. I have found it works best if the print or prints are still slightly damp, not still wet. I found it helped to air dry the prints on a wooden frame with plastic window screen tacked to it. The prints placed face down. I always hoped the plastic screen did not contaminate the prints and never saw any indication of it. I found the longer you leave the print in the sandwich under weight the better the flattening. A day or even two works well. (Dell Elzey)


Using Selenium Toner

Q. What effect does selenium toner have? I have seen it produce different results with different papers and beautiful results in gallery work, but I just can't get satisfactory results.

A. I have found that the effects of selenium toner are affected by paper type (fiber vs. RC-most fiber papers tend to tone more easily than most RC papers), brand of paper (Ilford seems more difficult to get dramatic toning effects than say Kodak; also the warmer-tone, chloro-bromide papers like Agfa Portriga can tone more easily and with a reddish tone; selenium concentration (straight toner will result in a greater effect than a 1:10 solution; time spent in toner (longer will typically result in more toning; temperature of toning solution (warmer solution will tone faster an a colder one), etc. Also, using hardener in your fixer makes it very difficult to gain the effects of the toner. (Katerina Kaya)

A. I have been using Kodak selenium on Agfas' Premium RC paper for over a year and have been very happy with a 1:20 dil. as it can remove the brownish cast if you want to bring out the 'BLACKS".I usually go 10 min. but I see results in 1/2 the time. Agfa Classic FB tones very well but I mostly use the toning for what is supposed to be a protective coating. I used Ilford exclusivly but always had the odd problem. Agfa seems more consistant with the results and I like the "feel" of it. (Stephen Lahman)

A. Selenium toning on cold-tone VC paper will remove its slight greenish cast and give you a nice, deep, neutral-to-warm black. (It will also enhance its stability.) The effect on graded papers is usually more pronounced, on warm tone papers even more so. In my opinion, *all* exhibition prints *must* be toned in *something*. It's part of the process, like fixing or hypo removal. Even though the effect is slight, I can spot an untoned print across the room!


Developer-Incorporated Paper

Q. What's the difference between non-developer incorporated emulsion paper and developer incorporated emulsion paper?

A. Developer incorporated papers have a developer agent incorporated in the emulsion for the use in processor machines. It works like a 2 part developer with part A incorporated into the emulsion of the paper and part B is in the processor. This speeds up processing which is used mostly in commerical labs. One of the most common papers is Kodak Kodabrome II. The II in the papers name denotes that the paper has a developer incorporated in the paper. (Stan Hemby)

A. Developer incorporated papers were originally designed for use in an activator solution, notably in the now-discontinued Kodak Royalprint Processor. Although not in as good quality, acceptable results were also achieved in so-called stabalization processors (Ektamatic, Spiratone, etc.) used in newspapers for doing screend prints. Due to the high pH of the activator, the Hydroquinone in the emulsion would develop the print. A developer has no effect on this processor, so no time gain is seen with developer-incorporated paper in a regular print developer solution.(Phil Nielsen)

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