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Optimized Large-Format Image Exposure

Posted in PHOT 152 by Paul Turounet on September 6, 2007

© Nicholas Nixon, Clementine, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1986


The formal considerations of image capture (exposure) and optimization (analog and/or digital image processing) need to be translated to the photographic print where the importance of tone and description will further articulate visual sensation and intellectual attention with the image. These tonal and descriptive possibilities can be realized, particularly with the use of large-format materials, by utilizing the Zone System to capture the best tonal information possible in the camera and make crafted photographic prints that reveal a full, dynamic range of tones. It is this range of descriptive possibilities, the effects of image exposure, and analog and/or digital image processing that will further communicate the possibilities of visual engagement and pleasure (beauty) and the interpretive meanings suggested.

Just as the exposure index (E.I) and making correctly exposed negatives is determined in relation to variables in camera shutters, lenses, exposure meters, and personal exposure metering techniques, the image processing techniques will vary from one photographer to another. Once an exposure index has been determined, greater command in utilizing the zone system and the placement of tonal values is achieved through the refinement of film processing, specifically with development times.  For additional information, click on Image Exposure and Development Controls.  Low values in the print are created primarily by exposure of the negative and relatively unaffected by film development.  However, the density of the high values will increase with increased film development.



With this Technical Assignment, the relationship between the film exposure index, film development times and the placement of tonal values through the use of the Zone System and large-format film will be examined.

Expose four (4) sheets of 4″ x 5″ film at an E.I. of 200 of the same scene at the following exposures:

  • One (1) normal exposure as established by light meter reading
  • Two (2) exposures one-stop over-exposed (+1 exposure)
  • One (1) exposure one-stop under-exposed (-1 exposure)


Process the exposed sheets of film using the basket/tray or processing tanks/film hangers as follows:

  • One (1) normal exposure and one (1) over-exposed exposure (+1) at 6 minutes/70º (N – normal development)
  • One (1) over-exposed exposure (+1) at 5 minutes/70º (N-1 development)
  • One (1) under-exposed exposure (-1) at 7.5 minutes/70º (N+1 development)



For the critique (see Calendar for Due Date) and evaluation, please complete the following:

Four (4) exposed sheets of 4″ x 5″ film identified by image exposure (N, N+1 and N-1 shutter | aperture combination)

One (1) digital contact print that includes each of the four (4) exposed sheets of film

Turn-in prints in a manila envelope for evaluation and feedback.



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