Joyce's Quick Tip: The Zone System - The Basics

"The Zone System is a framework for understanding exposure and development and visualizing their effect in advance. Areas of different luminance in the subject are related to exposure zones, and these in turn to appropriate values of gray in the final print. Thus careful exposure and development procedures permit the photographer to control the negative densities and corresponding print values that will represent specific areas, in accordance with the visualized final image." ~ Ansel Adams, The Negative

After the light meter became readily available in the 1930's, Ansel Adams began to experiment ways to control the images captured on the negative to the end product, the print.  The Zone System was developed using shades of gray to control his visualized images through tones and exposure, using the medium gray (standard gray card) as the anchoring point. As a film photographer, The Zone System is one of the first things we need to learn besides the exposure triangle.  The combination of using a handheld light meter and the knowledge of The Zone System enable us to create the film image we have visualized when we click the shutter button.  The very first thing I teach in my Embrace The Grain Workshop (an Intro to Film Photography) is The Zone System.

I will be talking briefly about how we can use The Zone System for our vision and style a little more in the next few weeks.  So I think it would be helpful to show you how each zone of The Zone System is defined using printable tones by Ansel Adam.  I am sharing one of the PDFs I have created for my workshop for you all to download. You can print it out and laminate it as a handy reference when you are out and about with your film camera.  The Zone System is useful for all types of lighting and perfect for every skin tone.  To download your copy, click on the image below.

The Zone System is referenced from Basic Techniques of Photography by John P. Shaefer

Blog Contributor and Writer:  Joyce Kang

Joyce Kang is a fine art lifestyle children & family photographer in Austin Texas.  She is also a mentor and a film workshop instructor for Embrace The Grain.  She is married to her best friend and enjoys outdoors with her family.  She loves to curl up with a good book and has a terrible addiction to any thing that tops with a heaping scoop of ice cream drizzled with chocolate fudge!

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