Living a dream as a photographer & filmmaker

Demystifying Ansel Adams' Zone System

Zone system - image via

Knowing the fundamentals is half the battle!  Photographers, and beginner DPs - get your learn on!

Ever marvel at the work of Ansel Adams and wonder how he created such masterful and extraordinary images that seemed to defy the capabilities of modern photography? At last, a detailed but simple explanation of the Zone System by Kim Balsman to dispel the myths and pull back the shroud of mystery preventing aspiring photographers from fully utilizing this incredible innovation.

Ansel Adams was a genius. He was methodical in his work and extremely demanding in terms of the quality of his prints. Those who admire his work or attempt to imitate his methods are often perplexed or intimidated by the results. It seems that a vast majority of people believe that Ansel Adams’ techniques, often shrouded in mystery, are impossible to master. This is simply not so. This article is dedicated to demystifying the clever, yet relatively simple Zone System so masterfully devised by Ansel Adams and perfected by other virtuosos of photography.

To fully understand and appreciate the Zone System, one must first have at least a basic understanding of photography nomenclature. Mastery of the Zone System requires significantly more dedication to the fundamentals of photography and lots of practice. I will assume, for the purposes of this article, that my readers have a basic command of the principles of exposure - the interplay of light, shutter speed and aperture.

The f-stops here! The Zone System focuses on two very important aspects of photography – image exposure and development, which naturally centers on the f-stop (the size or opening of the aperture as expressed by a number indicating the amount of light transmitted through the lens). Unlike the vast colors, tones and brightness found in nature, the Zone System recognizes the limitations of film and/or digital image processors and works within these limitations. Sadly, no single camera, lens or film available today can absolutely equal nature’s immensity. However, by utilizing the techniques of the Zone System we can reproduce, as precisely as possible, images of nature that exemplify its tonal ranges and varying degrees of brightness with little discernable difference.

Imagine a ladder. The bottom rung of the ladder represents pure black (Zone 0). The top rung of the ladder represents pure white (Zone 9). The mid-point of the ladder (Zone 5) represents 18% gray or the accepted average reflectance of light from a given subject, which is interpreted by your camera’s integrated light meter as the correct exposure for both B&W and color images. From the mid-point, Zone 5, each sequential step or zone represents a change of one f-stop. Zone 4 requires an exposure of one f-stop less than your meter reading (or Zone 5). Conversely, Zone 6 requires an exposure of one f-stop more than your meter reading. Therefore, the entire Zone System encompasses a nine-stop differential, which is more than adequate to address even the most daunting high contrast scene in nature.

Now, let’s add values to these Zones. These are values Ansel Adams himself associated with the nine Zones.

Zone 9 – known as key white or pure white – pure white paper or snow in bright sunlight.

Zone 8 – gray/white, near white – distinct highlight detail, like a white wall in sunlight or brilliant surfaces in flat light.

Zone 7 – light gray – pale “white” skin, a concrete walkway in sunlight.

Zone 6 – mid-tone gray – average “white” skin or shaded areas in snow on a bright, sunlit day.

Zone 5 – medium gray or 18% gray – darker “white” skin or lighter “black skin,” light foliage or the dark blue of a clear blue sky.

Zone 4 – medium dark gray – slightly darker “black” skin, dark foliage or shadows in landscapes.

Zone 3 – very dark gray – distinct shadow texture is visible.

Zone 2 – dark gray/black – only subtle textures are visible.

Zone 1 – near black – shadows in faint light or rooms without light.

Zone 0 – key black or pure black – carbon or photo paper black.

Remember your camera is calibrated to read 18% gray as “correct” and assumes that is the desired amount of light reflectance. Thus, it will average the light readings of extreme shadows or highlights resulting in over-exposed or under-exposed images, respectively. The Zone System eliminates this problem by assigning these familiar “values” to each zone. The key to success with the Zone System is to carefully pre-visualize your subject and apply the correct Zone values to the important exposure areas. Then, you must adjust your exposure settings accordingly to accurately produce the results you want.

Let’s say you are on vacation and want to take a photo of snow-covered Pikes Peak. It’s a typical sunny day in Colorado. You take a meter reading of the snow, which suggests a shutter speed of 1/500 and a corresponding aperture of f/16. If you snap the photo using these settings, the resulting image will be dull 18% gray. According to the Zone System, snow in bright sunlight falls under Zone 9, which is four stops above Zone 5, or 18% gray. Therefore, you must first open up four stops to f/4 and shoot at 1/500. Now, your photo will clearly show the brilliance of the white snow under the Colorado sun.

What should you do if you want to photograph an interesting rock formation with a bright blue sky and fluffy white clouds in the background? The rock formation is moderately shadowed with lots of texture. You want to bring out as much detail in the rock formation as possible. You take a meter reading of the shadowed areas of the rock, which indicates a shutter speed of 1/60 with an aperture of f/2.8. Then, you take a reading of the sky, which indicates the same shutter speed but an aperture of f/16. Keep in mind that in high contrast scenes, you MUST expose for the shadows if you want to reveal the shadow details. Sometimes this means sacrificing some of the highlights in your subject landscape. You decide that the shadowed areas fall within Zone 2. Therefore, you must stop down three stops and shoot at 1/60 at f/8. Of course, this means that you will lose some of the highlight detail from the bright sky. Don’t despair. All is not lost.

Recall that the Zone System integrates nine f-stops. Yet, the latitude or exposure range of most readily available film varies from a low of three f-stops to a high of seven f-stops. Likewise, photo paper, in general, has a range of no more than five f-stops. How, then, can you compensate for the limited latitude of film and photo paper? The Zone System incorporates both exposure AND development techniques. Ansel Adams used large format “sheet” film affording him more control over the development of each individual negative. By varying development time, plus or minus according to a comparative f-stop scale, Ansel Adams was able to effectively defy the limited latitude of his film and photo paper.

Contrary to the photographic rule of exposing for the shadows, you should develop film for the highlights. Concentrating on the range of brightness in a given image negative, Ansel Adams established the following development scale:

Normal development time, plus 100% @ 3 stops

Normal development time, plus 50% @ 4 stops

Normal development time only @ 5 stops

Reduce normal development time by 20% @ 6 stops

Reduce normal development time by 40% @ 7 stops

The Zone System works best with large format “sheet” film since you can isolate each section of the negative and vary its development time. While you can apply these techniques to roll film, it would require identical exposure for each frame, which isn’t very likely or practical. If you are a digital photographer, like me, or a roll-film photographer hoping to take advantage of all the aspects of the Zone System, you can utilize both the burning in and dodging techniques. Burning in refers to darkening specific areas of your image. Dodging refers to lightening specific areas of your image. For digital applications, you can use the tools in Adobe Photoshop. For film, you can appropriately mark your prints for these advanced development processes.

By employing both the exposure and development techniques of the Zone System, you will be able to produce amazing images like those of the masters. Ansel Adams was, indeed, an innovator. He created a unique and valuable tool, in fact, a legacy for all photographers. Fine Art Photography wouldn’t be the same without the Zone System.

I hope this article will help you to realize that the Zone System is not complicated or mysterious at all. It merely requires a reasonable investment in time, effort and careful but straightforward calculations to achieve extraordinary results. If you wonder whether or not the effort is worth it, simply look at a handful of Ansel Adam’s photographs.

© Balsman Photography, LLC

Kim Balsman is the chief photographer and owner of Balsman Photography, LLC, a small, professional photography studio in Longmont, Colorado.

Article Source:

Adobe Project: Lightroom (beta)

Adobe Lighroom

Below is what Adobe Labs has to say about their new product Lightroom (beta). I think it's worth a try. Check it out!

Adobe Lightroom beta is a new, exciting product built from the ground up for professional photographers. It is an efficient, powerful way to import, select, develop and showcase large volumes of digital images. It allows you to spend less time sorting and organizing images, so you have more time to actually shoot and perfect them. Project Lightroom aims to get direct product feedback from the photography community, via our new Adobe Labs web site, so that photographers will have a huge say in what Adobe actually ships.
Project: Lightroom™ is Adobe’s effort to engage the professional photography community in a new way, giving you the opportunity to kick the tires and shape the feature set of a new tool being created just for you. Ultimately, we want Lightroom™ to be truly built from the ground up by photographers, for photographers, helping solve your unique workflow challenges.
We’re releasing a preview build now so that you have plenty of time to give us feedback on what’s working for you, and what isn’t. Your participation is important. Download now and send us your feedback before the Lightroom™ Beta 3 build expires January 30, 2007.
To learn more, check out the Lightroom Beta Overview and Getting Started with the Develop Module video below which will help get you up and running on Lightroom.
Note: Although initially available as a beta for Macintosh, Lightroom will later support both the Windows and Macintosh platforms. Sign-up to be notified when the Windows version becomes available.

Get Lightroom Beta for Macintosh Now or Discuss Lightroom in the Labs Forums

Information provided by Adobe Labs

O'Reilly's Photoshop Contest 2006

Win some great prizes (and learn new tricks) in the 2006 O'Reilly Photoshop Cook-Off!

"This contest is open to anyone and everyone in the United States* who shoots photographs and manipulates them with Photoshop. Not only can you win Adobe Creative Suite 2, an Epson Stylus Photo printer, and other cool prizes, but you'll also quickly expand your knowledge of Photoshop with easy-to-follow recipes from the O'Reilly Photoshop Cookbooks. And we've lined up judges from the industry's A-list — here's a chance to get your work in front of experts like Mikkel Aaland, Bert Monroy, Deke McClelland, Katrin Eismann, Vincent Versace, Eddie Tapp, John Beardsworth, and the glitterguru, among others."

The contest ends August 15, so grab a few recipes, fire up Photoshop, and start cooking!

Enter Contest at O'Reilly Digital Media

Nikon Capture NX trial available

Last week, Nikon has made available a trial version of its all new image workflow, editing and conversion software Capture NX. Announced back in February this year NX is a result of collaboration between Nik software and Nikon, and is widely anticipated by Nikon owners (as its speciality will be Nikon raw, NEF, conversion). Capture NX will cost $149.95 for the full package or $89.95 as an upgrade when it goes on sale later this month. The 30-day trial is availlable for download at the website. Read full report on

Memory Cards Explained

Memory cards are used by digital cameras to store photos and video clips. In this sense they perform the same role as film in a traditional film camera. There are many different types of memory card available. You need to be careful when buying a memory card to make sure it is compatible with your camera.

The capacity of a memory card is measured in megabytes (MB) and Gigabytes (GB). The number of photos you can store on a memory card depends on the number of megapixels your digital camera has. The more megapixels the lower the number of images you will be able to store.

To give you a very rough idea of capacity a 1GB card can hold 400 photos taken with a five megapixel camera, 335 with a six megapixel model and 280 with a seven megapixel camera.

A memory card is not always supplied with a new digital camera. This is because more and more cameras are being made with small amounts of memory built into them. Typically you will be able to store between five and twenty photos on the card that comes with the camera or in the internal memory. Therefore before you are able to do any serious picture taking you will need to buy a card with a higher capacity.

Most digital cameras are only compatible with one type of card. Others can use two, three or even four different types of card.

The most common type of card used in consumer level digital cameras is now the SD card. This type of card can also be referred to by its full name, Secure Digital. There are two reasons for the growth in popularity of the SD card. The first is its relatively small size (30mm x 22mm approx). The second is it is capable of storing large numbers of photos. The SD card is commonly found in Canon, Casio, Kodak, Nikon, Panasonic and Pentax digital cameras.

Olympus and Fuji have worked together to produce the xD card. These cards are smaller than SD cards (25mm x 20mm). All current Olympus and Fuji consumer level digital cameras use the xD card to store photos on. There are three types of xD card. These are the H card, M card and a standard card that comes without a letter. The standard card was the original xD card. The two newer types were introduced because they could hold larger numbers of photos. The H card is a higher speed card. This means photos can be stored more quickly on the card. This can increase the speed at which the camera is ready to take the next shot. The M card and the standard card are both normal speed cards.

Sony have their own type of memory card. This is known as Memory Stick. There are two types of Memory Stick. One is original Memory Stick. This is around 50mm x 20mm in size. More recently smaller Memory Stick DUO cards have made their mark. These have dimensions of 30mm x 20mm and are also thinner than the original Memory Stick. Memory Stick DUO cards are now being used as the card of choice by Sony in their digital cameras.

Previously CompactFlash cards were the most common type of memory card. Their large size (42mm x 36mm) has counted against them and they are now only found in a handful of the most advanced digital cameras.

Points to keep in mind when buying a memory card include the fact that you can buy high speed cards and that there may be a maximum capacity card that your camera is compatible with. Although a high speed cards may sound like a good idea it is quite possible that unless your camera is an advanced model it will not be able to utilize the higher speed capabilities of a fast card. This is because of limitations of the technology within the camera itself. Before you go out and buy a 4GB card check with your manufacturer that your camera is capable of working with such a high capacity card.

With regard to brands I happily use cards from Sandisk, Lexar and Kingston.

This article was provided by Andy Needham of provides digital camera reviews, price comparisons and general help for buying digital cameras. There is also a special section where you can ask a question if you would like further help.

Article Source:

Understanding Image Resolution

Resolution is a term used a lot in photography these days - regardless which type of photography you do, or which type of camera you use, understanding image resolution, pixels and the different properties attributed to them is so important.

Whether you are printing, scanning or sending an image by e-mail, you need to understand and know how to keep your images sharp and preserve as much detail as possible in your final print.

This topic does cause some confusion, so I hope the following will help.

Image resolution explained: Photography resolution is a measurement of image quality, so you may define resolution by how much detail is in your print. If your print has sharp detail you may consider your image to be of good resolution. If detail is blur in your image you may consider your image to have poor resolution. Good resolution is a direct result of having a large number of pixels in an image.

Pixels explained: Digital images are made up of millions of small dots - each dot is called a pixel. Each dot contains a small piece of image information, and when added together with the other pixels you’ll get your final image.
Print resolution is measured in pixel per inch (ppi) or in dots per inch (dpi) - both hold the same value. 300ppi means that there are 300 pixels per inch or 90,000 pixels per a square inch.

What size can I print my images?

A digital image that’s 1500ppi wide will print a 15-inch wide print if the print resolution is 100ppi.

If you change the same image to a print resolution to 300ppi your final print size will become a 5-inch wide print.

If your image file is 3000ppi wide x 2400ppi high with a print resolution 300ppi, your final print size will be 10 x 8 inch. The same file with a print resolution of 150ppi will give you a final print of 20 x 16 inch.

Divide the print resolution into the pixel width or height of your image.

Higher resolution should not be taken to mean that your images would be of higher quality - your images would only be of high quality if you print to the correct format.

Example - if you print a 3000ppi x 2400ppi size file to a print size of 20 x 16 inch at 300ppi, the pixels may be visible resulting in a blur image. You need to print it at 600ppi to attain good quality.

What size resolution should I use?

At 600ppi (which is an extremely large resolution) your image will be supreme sharp. You will be restricted with print size.

Printing your images at 300ppi is the standard quality. Image sharpness doesn’t get much better. The only setback is that the maximum print size will be restricted - you might need to drop the resolution to get a larger image.

If you need a large print from a small file print your file at 150ppi - your print will lack detail and the pixels may be visible. You should not print an image any smaller than 150ppi.

72ppi is standard with your computer screen. Don’t print your images at this size - the pixels will be visible.

Resolution tips: Scan your images as large as possible; it's easy to resize them later. If you scan an image to small you may have to re-scan at a later date to get a larger print.

If you need a print that’s twice the size of the original - scan it at 600ppi and print it at 300ppi.

Try to print your image at 300ppi.

If you use a tripod when taking an image you may be able to push the print resolution lower than the recommended 300ppi - this will enable you to get a larger print.

Other Tips: Be very careful when cropping an image, if you crop it too much you will reduce the print size.

Be careful not to confuse print resolution with printer resolution; printer resolution is measured in dots per inch (dpi), but these values are a great deal higher- common printer resolutions are 2400dpi and 5760dpi - this is a measure of the amount of ink dropped onto your paper per inch.

About the Author: TJ Tierney. Award winning Irish Landscape photographer. If you are looking for more photo tips visit to view some of his images visit his on line gallery @

Article Source: