Zone system

Discussion in 'The Darkroom' started by santino, Oct 21, 2004.

  1. santino

    santino TPF Noob!

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    I'm wondering if anybody could give me some info about the "zone system" by Ansel Adams?

    I read some articles about and I'm not sure if I got it right, if you would find time to make a short explanation (so that I can compare it, to what I know). Any help appreciated :)

    ps: hope it's the right place to post this article, cause it's only 50% darkroom work ;)
     
  2. ksmattfish

    ksmattfish Now 100% DC - not as cool as I once was, but still

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  3. terri

    terri Administrator Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Matt won't discuss the zone system anymore without a beer first, Santino. :wink:
     
  4. Canon Fan

    Canon Fan TPF Noob!

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    [​IMG]
     
  5. King Mango

    King Mango TPF Noob!

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    Broken link... But it's been four years or so since the last post in this thread and I've read at least ten articles on it this evening. I still can't help but wonder what I miss when I see broken recommended links. :D

    Surprisingly only half a dozen threads on the zone system here. (with zone system in the title specifically) I've read pretty much what I can of it from wiki and various photog sites, but I'm lacking in how to apply it to my cam. Keep in mind I'm on a slr-like P&S.
    I find blown highlights to be my biggest irritant. So I am using EV to help compensate. What I'm doing is just adjusting exposure til I see some detail in the sky or whatever else may be fooling the sensor.
    While it's some improvement, I'm still not exactly happy with my results and I'm not sure if that's just limits of my sensor, lack of filters, operator error, lack of experience in what to reasonably expect from a given setting, etc...
    I can get a ND for it, but that won't be practical til I settle into my new place in Texas so it's at least a month off. I'm under the impression that will help some.
    Using EV certainly helps, but there are some cases where I have so much shadow that it becomes impossible to bring out in PS w/o washing out contrast.

    Zone seems to be geared towards shadows. When so many of my exposures burn, I have to wonder, why? How can everyone else be exposing for zone 3 when that would leave everything useful in the picture blown out for my camera. Doesn't that mean they're OVER exposing? Bringing out more detail in the darks is the opposite of bringing out detail in the highlights right? Which requires underexposing. I just feel like I'm missing some key element.
     
  6. JC1220

    JC1220 TPF Noob!

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    I have to head out shortly so I can't respond in length at the moment. The zone system as applied to film exposure, is a way of breaking down the amount of retained detail or shades of grey from pure black to pure white, into the exposure values as they relate to film speed, shutter speed and aperture. But, you should be metering the scene at your highest and lowest EV and based on that where your shadows should land, or at the least where do you want to retain shadow detail without blowing out your highlights. Sometimes there is just too much of a gap to capture everything you want and you have to compromise in what you want to preserve, due to the films latitude and in this case your sensor's. Sometimes this can be adjusted with filters, in development and/or printing. It's been said before: if it is not there, on film or sensor, it won't be there in post processing.

    Don't be afraid of pure black in a photograph either, done well e.g. Brett Weston, it is a wonderful element.

    Below is a link to build a zone dial which my students have found helpful:
    http://www.largeformatphotography.info/articles/ZoneDial.pdf
     
  7. ann

    ann No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    your missing the part about developing the negatives for the expsoure range.

    the zone system is not easy to use with roll film unless one dedicates the whole roll to the same EI and same development times.

    see if you can find a book called the Simplilfied zone systerm by bahman farzao.

    reading about the system is much for difficult than actual use. (as are many things with photography)

    the concept can be very helpful with any medium (imho).

    color has a more limited brightness range than black and white and that is one reason black and white film users may decide to use this system or another system to fine tune their negatives.

    i am going to assume by your post y our using digital and so here is where HDR can be helpful (do not read alter funky colors) when you have a serious brightness range then make an exposure for the highlights, one for the shadows and then one for the normal exposure and blend them together which will give you a better control over the scene.

    You can then adjust the tones if you like using tone mapping , which may or may not be what your after, that is up to you. However, the blended exposures can give you the range your looking for.

    the above was directed at King's comment.
     
  8. Helen B

    Helen B TPF Noob!

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    The Zone System, as already explained, was originally intended for use with B&W film. In a nutshell it is "Expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights."

    The fundamental concept , in common with other excellent ways of getting correct exposure, is to know your equipment. For a sensor you need to know what exposure will blow out the highlights (that is, in fact, the way the ISO standard for the speed of a digital camera is written). In general you set the exposure for the highlights, not the shadows. If you are using a digital camera, there isn't much you can do about increasing the dynamic range, other than to use Raw (to get the most dynamic range out of the camera) or set the JPEG settings to 'low contrast'.

    Then do some tests by varying exposure, to discover the usable dynamic range of your camera.

    Best,
    Helen
     
  9. Alpha

    Alpha Troll Extraordinaire

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  10. christopher walrath

    christopher walrath No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    The Zone System is a means of visualizing your control over the subject. I have used it (on the exposure end) extensively with roll film to some great success.

    There are eleven exposure zones. Zone O is pure black. Zone I is near black with some tonal seperation. Zone II is a lighter shade of grey and the beginning of texture. Zone III is lighter still as is Zone IV. Zone V is 18% middle grey. This is what most light meters are or should be calibrated to indicate. Zone V exposure. Zone VI is lighter as is Zone VII. Zone VIII is the lightest grey with some texture. Zone IX has some tonal differences from Zone VIII as it becomes near white and also differs from Zone X which is pure white.

    So, there are eleven zones in the total range of exposure in a B&W neg. There are nine zones in the dynamic range (I-IX) and there are seven zones in the textural range (II-VIII). This is to say that you can count on a seven stop range of possible exposures values in the subject area that will record detail in a negative as long as there is enough tonal difference or contrast in the subject.

    Say you have a typical wooded stream with open sunlit sky above. If you meter the scene by pointing it out in front of you and you get, say, a reading requiring EV14. This is because the meter you use assumes you want an average exposure so it provides an average reading from the area being metered (anywhere from 30 degrees down to one degree depending on the meter/metering system). You might want to expose the scene differently. Meter the sky and the meter says EV18. Meter the sunlit trees and get a reading for EV16. The shade in the trees offers EV13. The stream reflecting the sky says EV14. Now we take all of this information and apply the zone system to control the exposure. We want detail in the stream so it can go no lower than Zone II. So EV14 is on Zone II, that would put anything reading EV17 as a middle grey. So EV18, the sky would be a little brighter than the middle grey. Well, remember the tree shade is EV13, by placing the stream on Zone II, the lowest textural zone, we have bumped the tree sahde down to Zone I, no detail, but differentiation in tonal value. If we want to perserve detail in the shade we must move it to Zone II. The stream moves to Zone III. The sunlit tree will be on Zone V and the sky will be on Zone VII. All well within the range of texture.

    So, by using the Zone System we gain better control over our exposure. And we can use it even more with processing and printing. But that is a story for another day.

     
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2010
  11. King Mango

    King Mango TPF Noob!

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    I think I am getting the hang of it. I'm pretty sure my biggest stepping stone is not having the experience to know what to expect from my camera. Also I think I've been underexposing just a tad too much in some cases as I am finding more color info in the hot spots than I am in the shadows.
    JC that's a great explanation and link thank you. Probably the best in-detail guide I've seen that is still understandable for a layman.
    Ann I think you may be right about that. I am probably being overly paranoid about the blowouts now. I will make sure to spend some more time in different light levels for practice. I will also keep an eye out for that book. When I settle in to the new place I plan on starting a photography shelf in my library. :D
    Yes Helen. I will be sure to practice. I think photography is like an instrument. You can have fun just jamming and playing, you'll eventually get good doing that, but you can only seriously improve your technique when you sit down and focus on mechanics.
    Alpha I snatched that pdf from your rapidshare link in another thread the other night. Thank you. I'm about half way through.
    Christopher thanks for putting it into an example. That helps me visualize it better. I'm going to be spending some time on your site reading the tutorials.
     
  12. Helen B

    Helen B TPF Noob!

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    The application of the exposure part of the Zone System to digital is fairly easy - easier than applying it to film. Put simply, you vary exposure and read the resulting pixel value. You can use any evenly-lit, even-toned, neutral surface as the target. It doesn't have to be an 18% grey card, but it does have to fill the frame if you are using an in-camera meter so that it is the only thing the meter can possibly 'see'. It helps if you know what reflectance it is, so using an 18% card has an advantage.

    Take a meter reading from the card, and use that as your base exposure. Now do a series of exposures, increasing by a half or third stop each time until you are say five stops over. Do the same for six stops under.

    Now open the files in software that lets you read the pixel values, and make a correlation between the relative exposure and the pixel value. The base exposure should come out to about 118-ish on an 8-bit scale in Adobe RGB or sRGB.

    This will give you an idea of the usable dynamic range of your camera, and how to adjust the exposure shown by a meter reading to give you the pixel value you require (how to place tones). It will also show you when you need to expand the dynamic range by using multiple exposures. The film version of the Zone System achieves that by altering development, so that more (or less) than seven exposure zones can be turned into the relevant seven print values, for example. The relationship between exposure zones and print values is not fixed, and neither is the dynamic range of B&W film.

    This method can also be used with an incident meter, but then it is more important to have a target of known reflectance.

    If you want a Zone System book that takes a different approach, I recommend Minor White's Zone System Manual. It covers the incident method of estimating scene brightness range, and it has MW's vision written right through it.

    Best,
    Helen
     

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