The Zone

The key element of the Zone System is a "visual ruler" that allows photographers to visualize and actually measure the difference between normal-, low-, and high-contrast subjects. This is called the Zone Scale.

FIGURE 13 The Zone Scale.

FIGURE 13 The Zone Scale.

Ideally, the tonal values in a photograph should logically represent the light and dark values we see in the world around us. When we photograph a dark wooden wall, for example, our expectation is that the resulting print will have the tonality and detail of dark wood. The visual unit that makes this correspondence between the real and the photographed world possible is called the Zone.

A Zone can be defined in three simple ways:

1. Print Values. Each zone symbolizes a different range of dark, gray, or light tones in a finished print. For example, Zone 0 is black, Zone V is middle gray, and Zone IX is white.

2. Texture and Detail. Every zone reveals a different amount of texture and detail.This allows zones to be associated with familiar objects that typically appear as certain zones. For example, in a normal black-and-white print, dark hair is usually Zone III, and snow can be printed as Zone VIII.

3. Photographic Measurement. Zones can easily be measured in terms of f/stops, shutter speeds, and meter numbers.

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