An Overview of the Zone System

This chapter briefly summarizes the Zone System method of exposure and development and answers a number of questions usually asked by students at this point in the process.

What we have learned is that when the contrast of the subject photographed is flat or con-trasty it is necessary to control the contrast of your negatives.

Here are the general steps for producing consistently printable negatives:

1. Previsualize your subject in terms of the finished print. This means that you should mentally assign a zone to the important textured shadow and highlight areas of the subject.

FIGURE 53 Previsualization.

To choose the correct exposure you need to decide which parts of the picture you want to be Zone III. Zone III is the zone for the area of the subject that you want to print as a fully textured shadow value.

2. Determine the correct exposure by carefully metering the Important Shadow Area and placing it on Zone III. This is done by stopping down two full stops or shutter speeds from the meter's recommended Zone V exposure for that area.

To determine the correct development time for the negative you need to identify the Zone VII area of the subject. Zone VII is the zone for textured highlights. (See Figure 53.)

3. Measure the subject's range of contrast in terms of zones by plotting the meter readings of the scene against a Zone Scale.

The specific method you use for this step depends on the type of light meter you are using.

With hand-held spot meters that read with EV numbers what you would do is write the EV reading of the Textured Shadow Area on the form under Zone III, then apply the rule: One meter number equals one zone.






meter numbers 5 6 7




FIGURE 55 Placing the textured shadow reading on Zone III.

With in-camera meters you learned the two-step process that uses an Zone Metering Form:

• The first step is to enter the Reference Reading that will not change between your Important Shadow and Highlight readings in its designated box.

• For step 2 you meter the Important Shadow Area and write the Measurement Reading under the Zone III section of the chart. All of the other Measurement Aperture Readings fall on corresponding zones on the chart.

Remember that the Measurement aperture reading that falls on Zone V, together with the Reference Shutter speed is the correct exposure for this image.

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