Zone System for Color

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by b.d.trabitz___, Jul 28, 1999.

  1. I use a 1 degree spot meter ( an old reliable Soligor ) and have been
    happy with the Zone System in Black and White with my 4x5. I recently
    purchased a 6x6 ( Mamayaflex C330S ) with which to use color , both
    slide and negative.
    My question is how does one meter for color? I realize the film range
    is narrower than B&W. Does one still place skin tones ( caucasion )
    on zone VI? Will zone III yield Shadow detail. Where is the
    threshold for highlight detail?
    Any help to get me started will be appreciated. Many thanks to all in
    Barry Trabitz
  2. david_henderson


    I find this a useful concept for colour photography which gives me better exposures than any other regime I've tried. The range of most transparency films is about 4 stops - some people would say 5 and of course this will vary somewhat (but not hugely) with the contrast of the specific film.

    What this means is that you'll retain detail in Zones VII and III but not in zones VIII and II, and in colour you'll spend a lot of time trying to reduce the contrast range within your chosen framing to fall within this limitation, using grads, polarisers etc. I think you might also find yourself thinking in half zones. Zone VI is often right for skin tones, but of course it does rather depend on what else you want accurately rendered and how important the skin tone is to the image overall.

    Incidentally, there's a brief but useful description of this on p26 of John Shaw's "Landscape Photography". He doesn't use the term "Zone System" and I think this is most often restricted to black and white in the context of visualising a final print. Nevertheless the principles are clearly related.
  3. I second Mr. Henderson's reference to John Shaw's books. Shaw advocates first calibrating your light meter to the film you are using to determine "medium" tone. Then you work in "stops."

    For transparencies, Shaw uses a range of five stops. You meter the main subject, then decide how many stops over or under "medium" you want that subject to appear. For example, you are shooting red clouds at sunset. You meter the chosen cloud, then decide either to shoot at the metered reading (medium tone), lighten (open) or darken (close) by one or two stops.

    For a much better explaination, please check out Shaw's "The Nature Photographer's Complete Guide To Professional Field Techniques," "Closeups In Nature," or the aforementioned "Landscape Photography."

  4. I was trying to develop a system using paint chips and a Pentax digital spotmeter, when someone in this forum recommended a book by Charles Campbell: "The Backpacker's Photography Handbook". Included is a chapter that explains his chroma-zone exposure system. If you understand the zone system for black and white photography, you'll have no trouble applying the chroma-zone concepts to color. The system works. Good luck, Jerry.
  5. The View Camera website shows they are having an upcoming article on color zone system, you might want to e them about it. Pat
  6. This site has information on using a "zone system" for color work:
  7. You can use the Zone System for color exactly the same way that you use it for B&W. Like white and black, colors too fool the meter. Here is the practical tips: the same way that you place the white on "X" and black on "0", you need to place the red on "V", orange on "VI-VII", yellow on "VIII", green on "V-VI", blue on "V", indigo on "II-III", and purple on "II-III". Similarly, you want to put their half tones on their half-indexes, pretty much like the 18% grey that is half way between "X" and "0". Source: Pentax Digital Spotmeter instruction manual.

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