Learn How to Test Your Film and Use the Zone System for Large Format Black and White Photography

Course Description
Get ready to learn the zone system and apply it to your black and white large format photography.  The Zone System is a photographic technique for determining optimal film exposure and development, formulated by Ansel Adams and Fred Archer in 1939 at the Art Center School in Los Angeles.

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In this course I teach a simplified visual-based approach that does not require a densitometer.  If you have always wanted to learn how to test your large format sheet film and use the zone system to create optimal negatives, then this is the right course for you.  I will walk you through the entire process from beginning to end.  This process works with any large format sheet film, so you can apply it to all of your films.

Learn and Master the Important Concepts in this Course

  • Master the zone system and use it to create black and white photographs with complete control over all of the critical variables
  • Using a step wedge, you will be able to confirm the proper exposure index (EI) for your film based on your developer and local environment.
  • You will learn a step-by-step method to determine normal (N), expanded (N+) and contracted (N-) development times for your film
  • Learn how to create and use a proper proof as the ultimate feedback system

Many of the greats before us created world-class images with very basic large format gear using the zone system. These iconic images continue to impress us to this day. Every time I visit my local art museum and view the fine prints of these masters, I am humbled and realize how much potential I have within myself. I want you to have the confidence in when working in the field to create high-quality negatives that meet your creative vision.

Downloadable Content: All content with this course is completely downloadable. That way you can take it with you when you are on the road or away from an Internet connection.  Please note that all content included in this course are the sole copyright of Tim Layton Sr. and Tim Layton & Associates, LLC and protected under federal law.  Please enjoy all of the content for your personal use and respect the copyright laws.

What are the requirements?
You should understand the basic concepts of aperture, shutter and film ISO.  You will need to own or have access to a large format camera and at least 10 sheets of film to get the most out of this course.  You will need to acquire a Stouffer Transmission Step Wedge for your 4x5, 5x7, or 8x10 large format view camera.  You will need a place to process darkroom prints and the associated materials and chemicals.

What am I going to get from this course?

  • Learn how to determine the proper exposure index (EI) for your preferred sheet film and developer using a visual method versus requiring a densitometer.
  • Learn how to create and use proper proofs to aid you in the film testing process and as a feedback system.
  • Learn how to properly determine normal (N), extended (N+) and contracted (N-) development times for your film, developer, and paper combination.
  • You will be learn how to evaluate your proper proofs to make adjustments in your exposure and/or development process as appropriate.

I provide clear and concise instruction on each technique used throughout the class.  I don’t assume prior knowledge of film testing on your part.  If you need more help, just review the classroom forum to see if your question has already been asked and answered.  Submit a new question and I am happy to answer.

Section 1 - Course Introduction

  • Intro video and introduction to the zone system

Section 2 - Materials

  • Discuss and inventory the materials needed to perform the testing
  • Order the Stouffer Transmission Step Wedge (if needed)
  • Review enlarger setup, b&w paper, chemicals, misc. supplies
  • Discuss film, developer, and development choice

Section 3 - Exposing the Step Wedge

  • Discuss and illustrate the step-by-step process of properly exposing the Stouffer step wedge
  • Review EI determination process

Section 4 - Developing Step Wedge Negative

  • Review the details for negative step wedge development 
  • Develop the first sheet of film with a blank sheet

Section 5 - Test for Proper Proof Time

  • Using the blank sheet of film that was developed, walk through the process of determining the proper proof time for your film, developer and paper.

Section 6 - Determine Personal EI (Exposure Index)

  • Walk through the process of evaluating the EI proper proof to confirm or adjust for proper rating of your film
  • Discuss the variables used to adjust the EI rating if needed

Section 7 - Test for N Development

  • Discuss the starting point for choosing a normal (N) development time
  • Review and define a normal contrast scene
  • Discuss and illustrate the variables on the step wedge to ID and confirm your N development time
  • Discuss and illustrate how to make adjustments to determine normal (N) development

Section 8 - Test for Expanded (N+) Development

  • Discuss the starting point for choosing an expanded (N+) development time
  • Review and define an expanded contrast scene
  • Discuss and illustrate the variables on the step wedge to ID and confirm your N+ development times
  • Discuss and illustrate how to make adjustments to determine normal (N+) development

Section 9 - Test for Contracted (N-) Development

  • Discuss the starting point for choosing a contracted (N-) development time
  • Review and define a contracted contrast scene
  • Discuss and illustrate the variables on the step wedge to ID and confirm your N- development times
  • Discuss and illustrate how to make adjustments to determine normal (N-) development times

Section 10 - Field Testing

  • Head out into the field and put the zone system to use when creating real-world exposures
  • Come back to the darkroom and develop your negatives
  • Make proper proofs and confirm your results or make adjustments