Zone system : LUSENET : B&W Photo - Film & Processing : One Thread

I'm interested in learning more about the zone system. I have seen a couple of very long windwd - one was a whole book 1/2" thick - on how it works. Can someone please kindly give a very brief description of how to use a spotmeter on a landscape so that I can begin to understande how it works. Are there any short one or two page entree leaflets into the system ?

-- Anthony Brookes (, February 27, 1999


Anthony, your meter wants to make everything gray. If you meter the shaded side of a tree your exposure will be for a middle tone gray on your negative, if you meter sunlit snow your meter reading will be for this same middle tone gray. The zone system interprets these readings so they fall on the exposure scale where they should so it makes sense to your eyes when printed. By making the shadow gray you are giving too much exposure and by making the snow gray you are giving to little exposure. So when you are metering the shadow you would give 1 or 2 stops less exposure than what the meter calls for and when metering the sunlit snow you would give 1 or 2 or 3 stops more exposure than what the meter calls. This is the basic premise for the zone system, to take it one step farther "expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights." Fred Picker's Zone VI Workshop is the easiest book to understand on the zone system and Ansel Adams' The Negative is considered the "Bible" on the zone system. Hope this helps.

-- Jeff White (, February 27, 1999.

That couldn't be more on target... the meter wants to make everything 18% (middle) grey. The Zone System gives you the language (or mechanism) necessary to think about how to control the exposure (lighter or darker) of specific areas of you image once your meter gives you the reading for 18% grey.

A good non-technical resource that talks you through the Zone System concepts can be found at For $5 you can download a simplified Zone System manual. That will help you understand what it is the Zone System enables you to do. Another source is an on-line manual at And A. Adams' The Negative is a must-have/must-read/must-study book to really get good control over your photographic process.

-- Brian Parsley (, March 02, 1999.

First half well explained as above. The second half is deciding if the scene has too much, too little, or normal contrast and changing the development time to swing things back to "noral" contrast. That is accomplised by comparing your shadow reading to your highlight reading. A 5 stop range is normal.

-- Peter Thoshinsky (, March 04, 1999.

There is a 5-step description of the zone-system on Photodo ( I can recommend "The practical zone system" book, if you don't want to bother with the scientific side of the zone-system, only the practical result. The book teaches you (if you put in the work) to get a result that YOU like, no matter what the "scientifically correct" exposure, development etc. should be. It's like a shortcut to the way many people use the zone-system once they have learned it in detail. You can learn the details later.

-- Peter Olsson (, March 05, 1999.

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