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posted Mar 26, 2011, 1:05 PM by   [ updated Apr 20, 2011, 5:44 PM by Tony Le ]


Zones are levels of light and dark.

A Zone System is a system control every level of light and dark, it works in digital just as it does for film. 
A system allows you to understand and be in control, instead of taking whatever you get. The Zone System is one way to get a handle on everything. The Zone System applies as much to color, digital and black-and-white. 


Visualization exercise for ICS members and photo friends.

The Zone System allows you to get the right exposure every time without guessing. Set proper exposure will make your digital photographs as good as they can be

Identify and photograph subjects that have tonal equivalents to the various NINE zones.
Take a light reading 8 to 12” from the subject.

Set the exposure by placing the value of the subject into the appropriate zone.

Zone 5 basic represents a middle-tone in the scene. Anything darker one stop will render as
Zone 4, two stops darker.
Zone 3, and so on… Anything lighter one stop will render as
Zone 6, two stops lighter.
Zone 7, etc

Almost DSLR digital cameras can hold details in Zones 3 and Zone 7.

Zone 8 and above are washed out, and
Zone 2 and below are black.

A light color will lose saturation above Zone 6, and
 A dark color can’t go below Zone 4 without becoming muddy.


Visualization exercise

ZONE 1: Four stops less exposure than ZONE 5.
  • Solid black; the darkest tone a print can yield. 
ZONE 2: Three stops less exposure that ZONE 5. 
  • The first tone that begins to reveal some degree of texture or sense of volume. A hint of detail.
ZONE 3: Two stops less exposure than ZONE 5.
  • The darkest shadows with full detail. 
ZONE 4: One stop less exposure than ZONE 5.
  • A medium dark tone such as found in open shade. 
ZONE 5: The MIDDLE-TONE that the light meter interprets everything it reads;
ZONE 6: One stop more exposure than ZONE 5.
  • A medium light tone such as Caucasian skin. 
ZONE 7: Two stops more exposure than ZONE 5.
  • The brightest highlights with full detail. 
ZONE 8: Three stops more exposure than ZONE 5.
  • The last tone that still reveals some degree of texture in the highlights. 
ZONE 9: Four stops more exposure than ZONE 5.
  • Solid white; the lightest tone a print can yield.


Zone 5 meter reading (Aperture and Shutter speed).

Zone placement:

(Zone the Subject was placed into, and the changed Aperture and Shutter speed that you used for the exposure).

Frame number and Subject identification.