The Zones

ZONE 0 is the easiest to define. It is the blackest black that the photographic paper can produce. Zone 0 has no texture or detail and appears as the most transparent areas of the negative. Because of the slight color added to the film base by the manufacturer to prevent halation and the chemical fog resulting from development, this density is sometimes referred to as "film base plus fog."

ZONE I is also completely without texture and detail. A glance around you will reveal many areas that should be printed as Zone I, including dark recesses or tiny cracks. In a normal print, Zone I would appear to be as black as Zone 0 until you put them side by side.

ZONE II is slightly textured black. This is the first zone in which you can begin to detect a trace of texture and detail. If your first impression of an object is that it's black, but you can still see the details of its surface you can safely assume that it should be Zone II in a normal photograph. Black cloth, black hair, or dark shadows are good examples of Zone II in the real world.

ZONE III is extremely important for many reasons as you will see later. The best way to distinguish between Zone II and Zone III is to remember that Zone II is black while Zone III is instead dark gray with texture and details that are easy to see. Dark foliage, brown hair, and blue jeans are usually perfect Zone III subjects.

Note: A common mistake is to consider the darkest shadow you can find in the subject as Zone III. Actually, the darkest shadows in a scene obscure most of the detail in that area and should be rendered as a textured black value in the resulting print.Very dark shadows are generally Zone II. Remember that Zone III is the first dark zone that is fully textured. For this reason, we define Zone III as the zone for Important Shadow Areas (see Glossary).

Note: A common mistake is to consider the darkest shadow you can find in the subject as Zone III. Actually, the darkest shadows in a scene obscure most of the detail in that area and should be rendered as a textured black value in the resulting print.Very dark shadows are generally Zone II. Remember that Zone III is the first dark zone that is fully textured. For this reason, we define Zone III as the zone for Important Shadow Areas (see Glossary).

ZONE IV is best described as the average print value for dark-skinned subjects. Of course, a variety of complexions are common to dark-skinned people, but generally they fall within Zone IV. Shadows falling on a dark person's skin would be Zone III, and the lighter areas would be Zone V.

ZONE V is fully textured middle or "18 percent" gray. Like most things that are average, Zone V is difficult to describe. A dark blue sky will usually print as Zone V, as will stone in normal light or weathered wood.

As you will learn in the next chapter, Zone V is more important as a reference for determining the correct exposure than it is for visualization. In fact Kodak manufactures a Neutral Gray Card for use as an exposure guide that is precisely Zone V.

ZONE VI is fully textured and easy to describe because you can again relate it to skin tone. Caucasian skin that is not overly tanned usually prints as Zone VI. Shadowed white skin would be Zone V, and the highlights would be Zone VII.

ZONE VII is light gray and fully textured. Sunlit concrete and light clothing are normally printed as Zone VII. Zone VII is textured as is Zone III, but on the light end of the scale. Just as Zone III is the first zone that is fully textured and detailed, Zone VII is the last. For this reason, Zone VII is defined as the proper zone for Important Highlight Areas. (See Glossary for a definition.)

Beyond Zone VII, the remaining zones become progressively less detailed.

ZONE VIII is textured white. Objects such as paper, snow, and painted white walls are often printed as Zone VIII.

ZONE IX is pure untextured white. This is the zone for specular reflections or light sources. The whitest white that the photographic paper can produce is Zone IX.

Our zones are now much closer to resembling the world as we see it, with various amounts of texture and detail in areas that are darker and lighter.

At this point, you should be looking around trying to see the various zones in subjects you may want to photograph. Begin by asking yourself questions such as "In a print, would that wall be Zone IV or Zone V?" It's easy to see how confusing this can be so, to simplify the process of seeing the real world in terms of zones, think of the Zone Scale as being divided into the three distinct sections illustrated in Figure 20.

BLACK ZONES

TEXTURED ZONES

WHITE ZONES

0 1 II

I

IV

VI

VII

VIII

IX

FIGURE 20 The Zone Scale's natural divisions.

Any well-lit or textured surface should fall somewhere in the textured range of zones. In fact, you will find that most areas of any normal print are made up of these five textured zones. If the object you are considering is dark and textured, you will want it to print as Zone III or Zone IV. If it is light and textured, such as concrete or light clothing, it must be either Zone VI or Zone VII.

This same line of reasoning can help you easily identify all the other zones. If an area of the subject is black, it will be Zone I or II, depending on the amount of detail that is visible. If the subject is white and slightly textured (snow or paper, for instance), it will realistically print as Zone VIII. Zone 0 is pure black, and Zone IX is pure white.

FIGURE 21 The zones of a normal print. (By Christine Alicino)
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