Zone system useful for color photography?

Discussion in 'Lighting Equipment' started by sanjay_chaudary, Mar 2, 2008.

  1. Hi,
    1)I am trying to get correct exposure while shooting color prints and was
    wondering if zone system would be useful.

    2) Are there any drawbacks to zone system?

    3) Any other methods to get proper exposure?

    4) Is wratten viewing filter #90 recommended by Ansel Adams in Negative useful
    for color photography?

  2. not that I can answer your question off hand, but i was curious to know it the notion of
    exposing for the shadows and processing for the highlights works with colour/E6. I do have
    a big book on the zone system, but I cannot currently get to it.

  3. I posted this in another forum some time ago - you might find some value in it. Feel free to ask any questions regarding it ...

    "Hi Gerry,

    I think you've got the wrong end of the "metering" stick ;)

    In a nutshell the camera will try to turn every scene into a medium grey - whether this interpretation is right depends on the scene (so far so good).

    Here's some examples to think about ...

    If you take a picture of something that's white (regardless of how bright the scene is), the camera will turn it into a medium grey.

    If you take a picture of something that's black (regardless of how bright the scene is), the camera will turn it into a medium grey.

    If you take a picture of something that's 1/2 black and 1/2 white then the camera will will leave it as something black and something white. Why? Because the average of the two is (you guessed it), a medium grey.

    So ...

    If you're photographing something white then you need to tell the camera it's white by dialing in up to +2 EC (because otherwise it'll under-expose it). If you're photographing something black then you need to dial in up to -2 EC because the camera will otherwise over-expose it.

    OK - lets move on to the master class ...

    If you look through your view finder you'll see the light meter - it's normally got a big mark right in the middle (think of this as a medium grey point). It has 3 marks (indicating stops) above this middle point, and another 3 stops below it, indicating that the camera can handle approx 3 stops above, and 3 stops below a meduim grey (if you have highlight tone priority turned on then you can actually get about 4 stops over and 3 stops under without clipping).

    Now, consider this ...

    The light that the camera captures can be put into 2 broad categories: either it's reflected light (say off a white wedding dress) or it's direct light (or direct reflection) (say sun shining through a window, or severe glare off a bright surface). In general terms you won't get much "normal" reflected light above 2 stops above your medium grey (ie the reflected light that makes white wedding dresses visable to us), and shadow detail isn't normally very visable much below 2 stops under medium grey.

    Stick with me - we're getting to the good part ...

    If you put your camera into both manual, and spot metering modes (or as close as you can get to it if you don't have spot metering) - meter something white (like the brides dress) - adjust the shutterspeed or aperture until the meter reading is sitting 2 stops above the centre (medium grey) then the dress (or white reflective subject) will be perfectly exposed every time! But wait, there's more ...

    ... once you've dialed in the correct shutterspeed/aperture to get the dress right you can then point the camera at the grooms suit (without touching the controls) - if the meter drops to around 2 stops below the medium grey point on the meter (about right) then you know that you're still going to get the shadow detail in the shot. Of put another way - once you've got the white point set at +2 EV on the meter you can then spot meter all other points of interest and see where they appear on the meter - if they appear below about 2 stops under your medium grey point then then chances are they'll be "lost in the shadows" (so you may light to adjust your "white point" up a bit so that you still capture them) - conversely, if you find other things that go off the scale, but you still want the detail in the shot, then you may have to bring your white point down a bit (and risk losing some shadow detail).

    Using variations of this technique you can tell from looking through the light meter what amount of shadow detail is going to be visable - whether or not the highlights are going to be exposed correctly, and if any highlights are going to be blown (anything that goes above +3 stops).

    I was was teaching this technique to a friend the other day - I put the camera in manual mode - "calibrated" the meter by putting a reflected highlight at +2 EV and took a shot of a white car, black fence, and bright sky. Without looking at it I handed him the camera and said "The car will be perfectly exposed, the detail in the fence will still be visable, and parts of the sky will be blown". I was spot on. Not bad for "manual" mode eh? Learning how to set & read the lightmeter can do wonders for you confidence & keeper rate :)

    Hope this helps!


    Colin "
  4. You got a good primer on how a reflective meter works for photography in general.

    Zone system has you predict where certain luminences should be placed in relation to to middle grey or what the camera wants to do, a white dress needs to be overexposed 2 stops. Not really over exposed, but to bring it up brighter than grey, it needs more exposure. Same with blacks, they need less. The meter always thinks it sees only grey, that is the key. If the subject is not middle grey, you need to compensate.

    That much is the same a zone system.

    What Adams established was measuring the total range of tone in the subject and making it fit on the negative. If the subject tone range was greater than 7 stops normal, he would over expose by one stop or more to get the darker shadows to appear on the neg, but then the bright areas would over expose so much they would be pure white. To compensate, he cut the development time. For short tone range subjects, he would expand the range on the neg by over developing.

    Since color neg gets a fixed time, compensation is not possible.
    E 6 slide film can be pushed up to two stops or pulled 1 stop. I used to routinely pull one stop and use uncoated lenses to print on Cibachreome. Slide looked terrible, but the prints were georgeous without all the tedious masking.

    Do the first part to get the neg right, but forget the second of development compensation. I the range is more than 5 stops on color neg, you will have to decide whether to sacrafine shadows or highlights. For commercial no custom prints, sacrafice the shadow or dark end. If you will print or scan them your self, sacrafice the highlight end and either burn it in in printing or make two, one bright and one dim scan and combine the two in photoshop.

    Read and reread reread again until you understand and your photography will improve.
  5. Is the Zone System useful for Color ?

    This guy breaks the Zone System down to 5 shades for color slides(which have less latitude). He explains his method in a very simplified book. You can find it here:

    There is also a part about spot metering if you are interested, but I think Colin explained it all.
  6. The Zone system works just fine with color film. You just have to remember that there is a
    much smaller recordable range of contrast in color film. Also you can't do
    exposure/development compensation yourself. In this circumstance it's probably better to expose for the highlights and let the shadows fall where they may.
  7. Hi,
    thanks for all the inputs. I would probably need to re-read a bit to understand this. I got the gist of it. In color film, I wonder if I need to do anything additional.

    For instance, I might not have white. I could have black,green, red and other some colors in it. Not sure if I can visualise everything in black and white.

    Sanjay ( thanks for all the responses)
  8. "Not sure if I can visualise everything in black and white."

    It takes practice. Start by thinking "how bright is this". Spending some time with your camera on spot-metering mode helps a lot.
  9. Thanks.

    Btw, will the wratten viewing filter #90 help in visualizing tones for color photography?
  10. Think about green grass and foliage as being about "middle gray" or Zone 5. Bright yellow is
    about Zone 6 to 6.5. A good deep red is about 4. Snow white in sun is about 6.5 or so if you
    want texture to show. If you can spot meter, try putting green grass about zone 5 and see
    where all the other colored stuff in the scene falls.

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