The Zone System is dead!

The Zone System is dead.  Well, that was what one guy posted at his blog.

Zone system is not dead. At least not for the anal landscapers and still life shooters. I don’t think Ansel and Fred would have approved of all the darkroom masturbation Johnny Patience does with his film. But, Ansel was an anal tripod shooter for the most part, whereas Johnny is mainly a street shooter. So lets be clear…one tool does not always work for all jobs.

Now, with my street and doc work the zone system was seldom of much use to me. I didn’t have time to do much thinking as I was chasing this guy down a dark alley for a photo in 1971.

Untitiled no.1 copyright 1971 Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

The anal photogs are used to working with pretty perfect files and trying their anal best to get it perfect in-cam. Whereas street / documentary photographers are used to working with imperfect files and making something great out of it.


Infrared flash photo – New York 2016 by Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

Busey mr

Mike Busey 2015 Daniel D. Teoli Jr. mr

With fast shooting or even slow shooting, we are not always able to get the exposure or composition right in the camera. Cropping and post processing can make or break a photo. In my case, almost all my photos are cropped and the vast majority of them can be improved with post processing.

Sunlit Slipper Silver Print vs Inkjet Print Copyright 2013 Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

'Sunlit Slipper' Copyright 1973 Daniel D. Teoli Jr V16.

The Sunlit Slipper

This shows what 2.5 hours of Lightroom can do for a pix. I shot it in the early 1970’s when I was 19 in Hollywood, CA. The only light was the window. I had a tripod and beat up SWC and that was it. The Sunlit Slipper never amounted to much from my wet print days. Digital revealed what was hiding in the neg all those years.

De Wallen Selection Copyright 2014 Daniel D. Teoli Jr. DSCF Sample No PP mr

Selection from De Wallen: Amsterdam’s Redlight District artist’s book

Here is an example of push processing an image. The gal was pushed 2 to 2.5 stops. The guys head was pushed 4 to 4.5 stops. Normally a photo pushed this much would be trash for me. But, shooting in Amsterdam’s Red Light District is forbidden, so I have to allow for a wider net of acceptable quality under the circumstances.

My landmark book De Wallen: Amsterdam’s Redlight District was shot in 5 days. That was all limited budget allowed for.

PD Daniel D. Teoli Jr mr- Co

Infrared flash photo series from Piercing Darkness artists’ book by Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

One of the problems with IR flash at night is most of the time you are dependent on flash for 100% of the light. The little ambient light that is available gets lost with IR. You can see the fall-off in the shot above; the foreground was pulled 1.5 stops the background was pushed 3 to 4 stops.

50 img028-view V19 Print Final MR

When I shot Captain of Wall Street 90014 all I had for light was the window and one bare bulb on the ceiling. While this photo did not need cropping, it did require lots of post processing to make it doable.

Order Women Like Pizza Daniel D. Teoli Jr. v29 mr

Shooting into the sun made it a hard one to develop – this is the 21st version.

Order Women Like Pizza Copyright 2014 Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

That is how it usually goes for candid street work. You can’t pick and choose your lighting. (Unless your one of the modern day ‘street posers’ that try to pass off staged work as candid street photography.) With fast street shooting – you turn left it is one exposure, turn right it is another. We have to split the difference many times.

BTW…‘Order Women like Pizza’ is the world record for how close you can get shooting a candid with a digital rangefinder….less than a foot!. (I got candids going down to 2 or 3 inches from the subject, but, I liked this one best.)

Homage to Weegee 2012 copyright 2012 Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

Homage to Weegee 2012

Again, shooting into the sun has to be balanced the best you can do in post.

When you do street or doc work, if you come back with 70% to 80% of what you were after, you can still have a winner. We just try and do the best we can…in the blink of an eye it can be gone. No time to even say ‘zone system’ many a time.

Further Reading:


De Wallen Graffiti copyright 2014 Daniel D. Teoli Jr.