Classic B&W Photography Frozen Lake and Cliffs by Ansel Adams Winston Churchill, 1941 by Yousef Karsh
The Zone System in a Nutshell Composition is the image Performance is the print Conceptualize zones of tonality in final print Expose & develop for essential detail Map detail to limited dynamic range of print Adams was an accomplished technician as well as a great artist.
The Eleven Zones Eleven zones equated to approximately eleven stops of dynamic range in the print.
Mismatches in Dynamic Range MediumRangeStops Real world1:840000023.0 Human eye1:100000019.9 Color slide film1:505.6 JPEG image data1:4008.6 Color negative film1:100010 RAW image data1:400012-13 B&W negative 19391:200012 B&W negative film now 1:1600014 Monitor (consumer)1:1006.6 Print paper1:2508.0 Monitor (pro. grade)1:100010.0
Comparison of Zones, Gradation and Stops Zones Even Perceptual Gradations Stops
The Digital Age: What’s Changed and What Hasn’t Digital cameras have dynamic range of 11-13 stops Unlike film cameras, choice of digital camera can make big difference in image Editing (the performance) more important than ever Prints limited to same dynamic range Still best to visualize end product before shooting
Maximizing Information Capture Brightest stop on 14 bit camera gets 8,000 gradations of white Next lower stop gets 4,000, and so on Twelfth stop and below only get 8 So long as you’re not clipping, overexposing a stop doubles gradations in all zones
Example of Shooting to the Right This shot is “overexposed” a couple stops and seems bleached out. But actually it has rich detail, revealed by compensating two stops in the editor.
How Reversible are Over- and Under- Exposure? +0 EV +1-1 EV -1+1 EV Lightroom seems to compensate pretty accurately for overexposure in the D7000.
The Downside of Shooting to the Right Possible color / luminance distortion Overexposed preview image gives poor feel for final image Beware of clipping clipping preview histogram spikes STR won’t buy much in high contrast scenes
ISO and Dynamic Range Proper contrast, noise and sharpening adjustments enhance dynamic range to 12.5.. Shooting at ISO 800 versus 100 can cost two stops of dynamic range.
Managing the Extremes of Tonality Place darkest dark in what zone? Lightest light? Objects of interest?
Compensating for Low Contrast In this example blacks and highlights are diminished, and shadows and whites augmented, bringing out detail and visual contrast.
A Problematic Image Eye is drawn to light areas Deep blacks & whites not always helpful Color luminance option
B&W, Color or Both? Should your choice of tonality differ for color versus black and white?
The PrintThe Print Ideally, what you see is what you get (color management) calibrated monitor ICC profile for printer ICC print profile for monitor daylight balanced lighting matched luminance neutral backgrounds Plan on proof prints, too Assure print longevity certified paper/chemistry/process with profile detachable matting, backing UV blocking glazing
Resources Ansel Adams Video of Interview Frozen Lake and Cliffs Yousuf Karsh Portrait of Churchill George Jardin article on Revisiting The Zone System which discusses perceptual grey scales and f stop grey levels captured by canon camera Revisiting The Zone System synthetic 11 tone brightness scalebrightness scale Exposure & Tone Mapping videovideo other free content Exposing for the Highlights Exposing for the Highlights by Gisle Hannemyr Descriptions of the Zones (summarized from Adams) Table of Dynamic Ranges
More Resources ISO and dynamic range graphic is from this articlethis article Dan Ballard Dan Ballard offers excellent training in photo editing and other aspects of photography. Reed photo Reed photo produces quality prints from (uncompressed) TIFF images. Here’s an article on print longevity.print longevity Sorry, I’ve lost track of the origin for the RGB Zone System graphic.
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