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

Can anyone explain simply about the zone system of metering and development and the realtionship between the number of zones, development time alterations etc. I have looked at many web sites but they all seem to overcomplicate it.

Thanks Vic

-- Vic Walsh (, May 25, 2000


That's probably because it's a bit complicated. If you're not prepared for a little reading and thinking about it, you shouldn't consider using it.

The nine-word summary of the zone system is: "Expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights!" No one can give you numbers of zones with this or that development because - that's the central point of the zone system - you have to calibrate the system to your technique and your equipment.

-- Thomas Wollstein (, May 25, 2000.

Vic - It can be confusing at first. I highly recommend you find a copy of Fred Picker's "Zone VI Workshop". He explains, and shows with understandable illustrations, how the Zone system works, how to establish your own standards, and lots of useful darkroom information.

You're going to have to read a lot first before you start asking questions which will have any meaning.

-- Alec (, May 25, 2000.

Vic, in a nutshell, here's the drill:

The zone system is mainly for B&W materials. With B&W film, changing the amount of development generally changes the contrast response of the film (more development makes the contrast increase). Another way of describing this contrast increase is to say: the scene shadow areas have their density (on film) increased a little bit, the brighter scene areas have their density (on film) increased a lot.

The zone system thing is to discover the extent of these response changes with the particular film, developer and printing paper that you are using and to correlate these with your meter readings. Once you have done this, you will be in a position to control film density produced by certain specific parts of the subject which you have decided are important to you.

I imagine that what you have been reading describes the mechanics of setting up these procedures, which in essence is a simplified application of sensitometry. Hope this nutshell description helps!

-- Bill C (, May 25, 2000.

I will second the recommendation for the Zone VI workshop, never did understand zone systems until Fred explained it in relativly simple terms, while it is not something any dummy can do, it is not as complicated as some people try to make it. Regards, Pat

-- pat j. krentz (, May 25, 2000.

check out for some useful discussion on zone system. even a basic understanding of this system can set you off improving your approach to your B&W photography. Have fun.

-- ginsberg (, May 26, 2000.

I think Ansel Adam's own description in his book "The Negative" is the best description. Buy the book and work through the chapter on the zone system doing all of the excercises.

I think Pickers book is pretty poor, if I recall corectly it doesn't even give you zone 1 densities to aim for, (Fred wanted you to send him your negs to read so he could make a buck)

That same book has a lot of crap about the alleged superiority of cold light heads.

Remember, Adam's was a great photographer and teacher and a great one at that, Picker was simply a businessman out to make a buck from Ansel Adam's wannabes


-- Mark Bau (, May 29, 2000.

I have been through Pickers book. Lives upto his name. More like a marketing broucher. I definitely reccomend Ansel Adams Book " The Negative Regards Raj

-- Rajkumar (, May 30, 2000.

If you are going to learn the zone system, let me humbly suggest you learn the new and improved one. It is much more powerful, easier to understand (somewhat) and is available free at

-- Al Robinson (, November 20, 2000.

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