zone chart descriptions : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I'm putting together a Zone chart that I'll carry in my equipment bag that shows the gradations with some quick descriptions of common objects or scenes that often fall in those zones. Example: Zone VI is caucasian skin tone, light stone, etc. The more I shoot and practice the Zone, the better I'll get, and this "list" will grow with my experience.

Anybody care to share some of their "favorite" Zone subjects? I know its subjective, but I'd love to hear from you folks that have been doing this for years...

Thanks in advance - Bill

-- bill youmans (, April 28, 2000


Bill, As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Go out and get a copy of "The Zone System Manual" by, Minor White, Richard Zakia et al. and follow their instructions for making a "zone ruler" (basically small pieces of photo paper exposed and developed to zones I througn IX.) I carried one with me when I was learning, and it really helped. I still make them when calibrating new films/developers. You can pull it out of your bag and compare it directly with the subject, and, it's matched to your film/paper/developer combination. Hope this helps, ;^D)

-- Doremus Scudder (, April 28, 2000.

Doremus -

Thanks for the Minor White/zone patch idea. I'd also like to add to my list of "what falls in that zone" descriptions - do you have any standard objects that seem to always be a particular zone? Ansel says that a clear north sky usually falls on zone V, Fred Picker says very bright concrete is usually zone 8, etc.

thanks for helping!


-- bill youmans (, April 28, 2000.

A slice of good, rich chocolate cake (not the icing) is usually Zone 3. Although it depends on whether your wife or your mother made it.

-- Sean yates (, April 28, 2000.

Bill, it is hard to answer that question because zone system shouldn't be about set standards or lists of subject placements (although it can easily become that), rather, it should be about how you react to a given scene. This creative control allows you to get different renderings of the same subject. zone placement is whatever you want it to be.

-- Dave Anton (, April 28, 2000.

Bill, The reason I recommended the Zone Ruler idea is that, many times, there are no "standard" placements for subject values in the zone system. Sure, if you want some kind of strictly "realistic" representation, you can invent some zone placements for specific things (skin in zone VI, textured snow or white water, zone VII, etc.) but, if, like me, you are after an expressive print, then it is better to be able to see how a certain value "feels" in the final print before you expose. And, until you are able to carry those zone placements and feelings around in your head with you, the zone ruler is a great way to get an idea, especially when you are interested in the amount of tonal space between two very close or distant values. I hope you don't mind my begging out of giving you what you asked for, but I simply don't work that way. The suggestions Ansel Adams, Minor White and others give in their books are more than adequate to get started and get a feeling for what a zone looks and feels like, and how much detail and texture you get in the outside zones. After that, let your imagination and creativity direct you. The same blue sky lends itself to many different expressive placements, especially with the use of filters, and maybe that zone VI skin would have a much greater effect in zone VI, or perhaps that zone III shadow needs the luminance of zone VI, or... You get the idea. Regards


-- Doremus Scudder (, April 29, 2000.

I think one of my least favorite is Zone VII. When I started using the Zone system, I tried to develop to a VII, but didn't have much luck. I prefer to develop to a Zone VIII, which to me is the beginning of texture in the highlights, versus full texture in the highlights. This is also the way I print, pivoting on the values that provide the beginning of texture in the highlights.

My favorite is probably Zone III to Zone II, since it's these areas that provide the foundation or base in most prints. This is true not only technically, since it establishes the exposure, but aesthetically as well. The darker areas that still have texture are like the bass fiddles in an Orchestra. You feel them more than you hear them.

-- neil poulsen (, April 29, 2000.

Go to A Large Format Photography Web Page.

Look at Luca Paradisi's Zone System Wheel. I think it will fill in some of your answers.

I'm new at this, too, and I realize that the zone system is about visualizing your final image and placing zones where you want them, but if you're starting out, or just learning to use your spot meter, then it's helpful to have some guidelines like you're asking for to get you in the exposure ball park, or allow you to get a quick picture when you don't have a lot of time to contemplate zones.

-- John H. Henderson (, May 02, 2000.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ