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Each Zone is separated by one stop of exposure, so this makes the decision-making process easier. Imagine your white dress. Many of you may not use external light meters anymore. These meters also meter for middle-gray. However, they have the advantage of reading incident light — the light falling on the subject rather than the light reflected from the subject.

Think of this in terms of sitting in the sun in a black coat. Your camera reads the amount of light reflected off the subject. In this instance, the black coat reflects little light. The light meter reads the light from the light source so, therefore not the reflected light. The external light meter is not affected by the tone.

Film and Digital Techniques for Zone System Photography by Glenn Rand | eBay

Clearly, we are getting into specifics here, but it is important to understand the difference and how it can help get a more accurate tonal image. There are many instances where extreme difference in lighting in one shot will cause your camera metering to throw out completely incorrect exposure unless you take control. Once you have the ability to look at your potential shot and divide it into different zones you are ahead of the game and more likely to capture what you want. The natural tendency is to aim for the area with average reflectance, hence collecting the optimum meter reading.

It is then up to you whether to over or under expose from there. Often, we find ourselves in a situation where our proposed image has too much contrast so we have to think about what we are looking for. I am referring to high dynamic range.

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It may be that bracketing is in order for some serious post-processing, or we can make a decision as we acquire the image. I would vote for protecting your highlights most of the time, unless they are not the focus of the image. Photography is always a choice, and rules are made to be broken, but the key is to know when you are breaking the rules. There are many happy mistakes, but how hard is it to go back and capture that same mistake once more? It is true that the exposure latitude is different depending upon your format.

I repeat that I am writing this for the digital photographer and not those of you ensconced in the world of large format sheet film or even 35 mm film. There are many bloggers out there who deal with tonal response with respect to different formats. His blogs are always thought provoking and, as a photographer, I thoroughly enjoy his work. A closing thought concerning Ansel Adams. While on my journey to attempt to recreate something akin to his amazing work, I became enthralled with infrared photography. I found, of course, that much of what I have referred to above needed to be manipulated in post-production, but if any of you are interested, I am happy to chat with you about working with a converted camera.

I have a few blogs posted on the Life Pixel site, and have included a couple of images below. It goes without saying that I could not capture any of these images without my tried and trusted tripods from Really Right Stuff! Hello I have reviewed your products.

How Using the Zone System Can Improve Your Photography

Wonderful I am an instagram photographer living in turkey I have studied the RRS brand, a product I will take photographs of my dreams. I would like to fulfill this request with you RRS I want equipment from you and I would like to be your product embassy in turkey If you see fit eger I believe I will do this task successfully.


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Thank you Olcay ulusoylu. Enjoyed your explanation of the zone system and as you say photographers today do not see or disregard the full use of using this system as in the days of Ansel Adams, a little forethought as you say in constructing your exposure and knowing where the appropriate zones are in the frame constitutes to a well composed image and the fact knowing that your image relays to the media that you have used forethought in your image exposure.

As you say that this system which i also studied when i used monochrome is still beneficial to the digital photographer of today and more so with the progress of the modern digital cameras. I too studied the zone system many years ago and agree that a knowledge of the system is useful in digital.

I believe that using and understanding the histogram is the digital equivalent. I review the histogram after almost every shot. A very interesting article and lovely pictures. To be honest I was lost. Your explanation now makes perfect sense. Thank you! Brilliant article. From that I can plan how to capture it. Call me a dunce, but I recently discovered in my cam a control which allegedly enables me to extend [??


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  • Nice introduction to the Zone system. The reason the Zone system is still relevant is because it lets you actively take control of the tonal range — you begin to tell the camera what to do rather than having the meter tell you how you should expose the image. In artsy terms, better control means you begin to make photographs, and not just take photographs.

    Photography becomes a process that more intimate connects you to the world in front of your lens. Here is a simple way to begin to explore the Zone system and understand how it works. Set your camera to use back-button focus. Set your shutter button to lock exposure on half press. Or alternatively set your AEL button to lock exposure, leaving focus on your shutter half press, but in this case take the exposure off the shutter.

    Remember as Ms. Lyle explains above, your meter thinks you are exposing for Zone 5. Try going outside, put the spot on some clouds or white cloth or white flower petals or whatever you want the lightest element in your image to be and lock the exposure. Recompose if you want and lock the focus and take the image.

    Whatever you metered your spot on will be Zone 8 and retain some detail. Next set your exposure compensation to -3 Zone 2. Set your spot on the darkest part of the image where you want to retain some detail and lock the exposure. Note that if the highlights are blown, the dynamic range of the scene exceeds the dynamic tonal range of your camera. Note also that these are just starting points. I am sorry, but with respect, this article is both misguided and misleading for digital photographers.

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    The Zone System is highly relevant only in film photography where placing tones in the appropriate place on the tonal scale determines how the image will look when output as a print. Whilst some of the principle behind the development of the zone system may seem to have little relation to modern digital capture, there are some very helpful principles that can still be of use. The zone system has always had two important elements for myself. One was thinking about what sort of print you wanted from the scene in front of you visualisation , and the other was the categorisation of whatever film you were using, both from an exposure and development point of view.

    The principles of exposure and tonal range maybe, but the inherent non linearity and processing options for film make it sufficiently different that I would not introduce the calibration aspects of the traditional zone system to someone without a film background. There is my professional commercial and architectural work where I almost always use a tripod and may bracket exposures so as to keep noise out of the shadows and retain highlights.

    I rarely have a tripod with me and may take half a dozen shots or more in a few minutes trying to capture an idea, a fleeting instance of how the view or scene made me feel. There are 9 other RAW files shot at the same time as the Hood Canal image above — this is the version that I think works best as a print. The image in the camera is merely some data waiting for me to try and create a print later on.

    The print will work if it evokes some of the response to the scene that moved me to want to create an image. This is where I find digital so much more liberating for my artistic expression. That kills the emotion stone dead for me YMMV in a big way here. To come back to the zone system as espoused and developed for a film based workflow , I see its roots as an attempt to codify and control an unruly and non linear recording medium, where a lot was needed to be correct right from the outset and throughout the process through to final print.

    It covers all of Keith's specialist articles and reviews. I am an old time silver photographer. I used Ansel Adams techniques extensively. In fact, spent an entire year calibrating my equipment and processes.

    A big book of Josef Karsh portraits was my inspiration into serious photography. The transition from silver to digital baffled me and I have not be seriously involved in photography for several years. Attempting to use what I learned through the Zone system in a digital format did not work well. My interest in photography is returning.

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    Sadly for the fundamentalists, the practicalities of the Zone system as originated by Ansel Adams have been outdated for many years. The original concept relied upon the film emulsions responding in a specific way when development times were changed. This worked well with the emulsions of the day which were predominantly silver chloride and had fairly short knees and toes.