Digital Zone System, Part 1, Channeling Ansel

This is the first of a several part series

The goal is improved B&W tonality

Which, in turn, leads to improved B&W images

Which match our vision for a subject

We will examine how the Zone System (Adams & Archer)

A mainstay of B&W film photography

Can be applied to digital images (B&W & Color)

Mountain Stream

Tonal “vision” via the zone system


“The Zone System allows us to relate various luminances of a subject with the gray values from black to white that we visualize to represent each one in the final image.  This is the basis for the visualization procedure….”
— Ansel Adams, The Negative (1981, 47)
At the heart of the zone system is the zone scale which divides the tonal space from black to white into eleven zones.

Above & below – Wikipedia


In subsequent posts we’ll delve into what Ansel’s quote means –

In general &

Its application to digital photography

Mainly B&W but it definitely applies to color as well


Here, in B&W, are illustrations of the 11 zones –

Click & enlarge to full screen to see the cross-hatching that depicts the zones (especially the first and last examples)

As an alternative view the slide show at the end in full screen mode

0 & I


IV, V & VI


IX & X


Here’s the “zoned-vision” transferred from B&W to color.

Original Capture ….. Zone based color

Original B&W ….. B&W after “dodge & burn” to make zone match vision

Click to enlarge


Click any image to enlarge to a full screen slide show


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