Welcome back to Hohenfels Volks. This time we’re going to deal with the Zone System.
Ansel Adams and Fred Archer developed the Zone System. Most of us have heard of Ansel Adams, and seen some of his magnificent works. Fred Archer was another big name in the early days of photography, pioneering the use of still photography for motion picture and movie star publicity, and was an early proponent of photography in advertising. Together they developed a system that brought the concept of sensitometry and print density together, allowing for proper exposure of film and prints.
It sounds pretty complicated, and an in depth analysis of it can be, quite technical. We won’t go too deep here, but we will hit upon it more than in our exposure topic. Learning about the basics of the zone system can bring some zing into your work, and help deliver you from the dark ages of auto mode, so here goes!
There are 11 steps, or zones, from black to white. Here is an image I made showing the zones.
The actual full range is smoother, but given the nature of photography, we end up with approximately these zones.
At zone 0, there is no detail and no texture. There is no usable information at all. This is the same at zone x. At zone i and ix, there is limited tone, but not much else in the way of detail. Ansel Adams described the ranges as; full spectrum, zones 0 through x, dynamic range, zones i through ix, and textural range, zones ii through viii. In his book, The Negative, he describes the zones as:
0 Total black in print
I Black with some tonality but no texture
II The first suggestion of texture; the darkest part of the image where texture and detail are required
III Average dark materials and low values showing adequate texture
IV Average dark foliage, dark stone, or landscape shadows
V Middle gray (18% reflectance): clear north sky; dark skin, average weathered wood
VI Average Caucasian skin in sunlight; light stone; shadows on snow in sunlit landscapes
VII Very light skin; shadows in snow with acute side lighting
VIII Whites with texture: textured snow, highlights on Caucasian skin
IX white without texture; glaring snow, may print as pure white
X Pure white: light sources in the picture area and specular highlights
When metering from a source, your camera, or meter, will render the metered object in zone v. Knowing this, you can use your exposure compensation or manual settings to bring the desired part of the scene into the zone you desire.
In practical application, you identify the main element in your scene, then expose for the desired zone, the other elements exposing according the placement of your main element. If you desire an area to be zone v, then the rest of the image exposes for the zones according to what you placed in zone v. It’s fairly straightforward. Take a meter reading from the parts you want in zone 5, and you will end up with something that matches what you visualized.
A great way to see the effects of the Zone System is to look up Ansel Adams on Google, or your favorite search engine. His work is quite addictive, though, so be prepared to spend some time admiring his art. Then look into the Zone System. After a few hits and misses, you’ll be glad that Fred Archer and Ansel Adams collaborated to create such a wonderful tool to make the pursuit of our passion a little easier!
I hope you have a chance to shoot away over the next few days. Hohenfels alone has enough incredible scenery to try out the zone system, not to mention the surrounding communities and towns. Maybe in a church or a field, or even a portrait. Let the magic work for you! Who knows, you may capture a real prizewinner! Get out and give it a try!
How do you plan to use the sone system? Let us see by posting at the Hohenfels Volks Facebook page. you might inspire a convert!
Remember; leave your comments and questions here and on our Facebook pages, also.
Thanks to all of you, have a great day!