The Zone System

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The Zone System

Post  rohape on Sat Jan 17, 2009 7:04 pm

This information is taken from "Exposure and Lighting for Digital Photographers Only" written by Michael Meadhra and Charlotte K. Lowrie

The Zone System was made famous by Ansel Adams and originally designed for B&W photography. It's an excellent tool to help photographers develop a better understanding of the interrelationship of exposure and tonal range, which in turn makes it easier to predictably produce properly exposed images.
The zones progress from absolute black to pure white, with each zone being twice as bright as the next darker step. Thus the zones are arranged in increments that correspond to one stop of exposure (one EV)

Zone 0: Pure black, no tone or texture whatsoever, absolute darkness, or its photographic equivalent.

Zone I: Near black, barely discernable tone, no texture - deepest shadows and silhouettes - dark end of the dynamic range.

Zone II: Textured black, very dark but showing a hint of textural detail - deep shadows on dark hair or cloth - dark end of texture range.

Zone III: Dark gray, shows distinct tone and textural detail - detailed shadows such as the dark bark on the shaded side of a tree

Zone IV: Medium-dark gray, an open dark gray with excellent textural detail - open shadows such as the shadowed side of a sunlt building or a strongly lit portrait, dark green foliage

Zone V: Middle gray, the tone of a standard 18% gray card - a luminous shadow such as the shadowed side of a low-contrast portrait, weathered wood, or dark stone - the standard target value for light meters

Zone VI: Medium-light gray, a bright midtone showing sharp detail - average Caucasian skin in good lighting, a concrete or stone building

Zone VII: Lightest gray, the brightest tone that still shows good textural detail - gray hair, light colored cloth

Zone VIII: Textured white, very light but showing a hint of textural detail - highlights on light skin, textured snow or white sand - light end of the texture range

Zone IX: Near white, barely discernable tone, no texture - highlights on white or light colored objects such as an egg shell or teacup - light end of the dynamic range

Zone X: Pure white, no tone or texture - specular highlights and light sources


This book is amazing. I can't compare it to any other exposure specific books. I just feel that this book explains the elements of lighting and leaves it to you to take what you read and use the information to learn to take better pictures. It doesn't tell you how to take the picture, it helps you understand what your doing and why things work.
There is more to using The Zone System, but it's way too much to write and there are pictures to help you understand how to use it.
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Re: The Zone System

Post  Susan on Sat Jan 17, 2009 8:51 pm

I have to read this book again. I read it when I first got my camera but then never looked back at it again. A photographer friend keeps pushing me to go fully manual and get a grey balance card and set my own white balance, get lighting equipment and stop using my on board flash LOL

When I use my 50 mm I do switch over to manual - but I really need to do that more regularly and practice again!

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Re: The Zone System

Post  rohape on Sat Jan 17, 2009 11:12 pm

In the book I read that for a quick reference in Caucasian's you can actually use the skin as a quick reference. It's not exact but the reflection is about 2 stops above middle gray. So just stop down 2 to get better balance.
Example: Using spot metering, you meter your subjects skin (given they are Caucasian) and get a +2 reading. Stop down (actually up in number, you have to think in the sense of aperture size not number) 2 full stops. Just in case anyone's still confused: Your aperture is f/11. You spot meter and get a +2, adjust your f/stop to f/13.
Man I hope thats right, give it a shot some time. I haven't had the chance to test this, just regurgitating what I read. Very Happy
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Re: The Zone System

Post  Susan on Sun Jan 18, 2009 6:09 am

First I have to be brave enough to take it off of manual metering! LOL!

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Re: The Zone System

Post  rohape on Sun Jan 18, 2009 6:28 am

Since I have been going out to shoot I've noticed I shoot a lot faster, more accurately and feel more comfortable in M. I'm starting to take less incorrect pictures. Now I still shoot a few of one subject with different settings just in case, but I also shoot in RAW. I don't even realize I'm doing it.
Once you get to M-anual you won't notice either. You'll enjoy the creativity! I bet you know what your doing, you just have to do it!

Do I need to give you an assignment? I'll PM you, it will be really cool! I promise! Very Happy
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