Ansel Adams- The Zone System

  • With Fred Archer, Adams developed the Zone System as a way to determine proper exposure and adjust the contrast of the final print. (could analyse a photograph showing good contrast and exposure, before and after the zone system) The resulting clarity and depth characterized his photographs. Adams primarily used large-format cameras because their high resolution helped ensure sharpness in his images.

  • Exposure meters are dumb, really dumb. They are clueless about what they’re photographing. They assume that all scenes have the same average tonal value — middle gray — roughly Zone 5 in the chart below. If a scene is different, for example a snow scene, it will be exposed incorrectly. It will come out middle gray — underexposed. If you follow the meter’s reading, every scene will have the same average middle gray density. You’ll get lots of bad exposures, especially if you photograph in difficult light.
  • It produces prints with exceptional tonality

  • Provides photographers with a systematic method of precisely defining the relationship between the way they visualize the photographic subject and the final results. Although it originated with black-and-white sheet film, the Zone System is also applicable to roll film, both black-and-white and color, negative and reversal, and to digital photography.
  • Visualization- An expressive image involves the arrangement and rendering of various scene elements according to photographer’s desire. Achieving the desired image involves image management (placement of the camera, choice of lens, and possibly the use of camera movements) and control of image values. The Zone System is concerned with control of image values, ensuring that light and dark values are rendered as desired. Anticipation of the final result before making the exposure is known as visualization.

  • Having a system allows you to understand and be in control, instead of taking whatever you get. Makes the photohrapher consider and carefully think about the photograph- taking time to compose it this will mean the photograph is better
  • The Zone System applies as much to color, digital and video as it does to black-and-white. Ansel Adams even shows us in The Negative how to use it with point and shoot cameras!
  • With digital in the 2000s the Zone System focuses more on understanding how digital cameras respond to different levels of light and dark. The Zone System is the basis of understanding PhotoShop’s Curves command. With digital cameras you set contrast in-camera, or do as I do and let the camera do this automatically.

  • The camera metering is designed to give correct readings under average circumstances. This means that the camera would look at a scene and try to render it as average reflectance (18% reflectance), which is middle grey (a value right in the middle between pure black and pure white). When a scene contains too much bright, however, the camera tries to render it as average so it darkens it causing under-exposure. On the other hand, when a scene contains too much dark, the camera tries to render it as average so it lightens it causing over-exposure.
  • In digital photography, a generally correct exposure (technically speaking) of an average scene is one that is exposed for the mid-tones, with no blown out highlights. I emphasize on blown out highlights because, highlight clipped photo details are more troublesome than shadow clipped photo details. (Can reduce time wasted on editing)–photo-5607

zone system

zone system example

The Zone System Example


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