The Practical Zone System for Film and Digital Photography
Focal Press, $39.95 (376 p)
ISBN-10: 0240817028, ISBN-13: 978-0240817026
In this fifth edition of his well-regarded book Chris Johnson explains why the Zone System, developed as paradigm for film shooters, can also be easily applied in the digital age. First developed by Ansel Adams (with whom the author studied) and Fred Archer, the Zone System encompasses both the scientific and quantifiable relationship between lights and darks within a frame as well as the more 'right-brain' process of pre-visualizing the tonal relationships within the desired final image.
In essence, the book functions as an excellent primer for thinking technically and creatively about exposure.
Johnson begins with an introduction to the system and a description of the 'Zone Scale' - a gradated line broken up into 10 symbolic tones arranged in order from black to white. He follows his overview of the Zone with several chapters about how to employ it when exposing, processing, and printing film (especially B&W). In the later chapters, using the same precepts, he describes an entirely digital workflow. In writing about both processes, he covers some of the major differences of exposing film vs. digital sensors.
A recurring adage in the film chapters, explained in great detail, is that when using film photographers ought to expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights. Digital photography on the other hand, especially when using a Raw workflow, encourages the photographers to expose for the highlights (i.e. to the right of the histogram).
Johnson argues that with the Zone System, practitioners (regardless of what camera they use) have an especially useful way of addressing some of the conistent challenges in photography: high contrast or low contrast scenes. Johnson’s tome, with its straightforward style and its density of information, sometimes seems designed for classroom use. But thankfully Johnson periodically peppers his work with relatable explanations (well-toasted bread labeled as 'Zone IV') and vivid metaphors (using the Greek myth of Procrustes to discuss the limitations of photographic papers) that make the book more readable than the average textbook.
Because the Zone System touches on the entire workflow, a side benefit of Johnson’s book is its clear descriptions of a range of photographic concepts beyond the System itself. Confused about bit-depth, the difference between hardware pixels and image pixels, or effectively using a handheld meter? Johnson provides lucid explanations.
Other pluses: thorough appendices with suggested reading, valuable web resources, recommended artists and museums, as well as a decent glossary. Although readers who have no interest whatsoever in the many chapters on film could easily skip them, I worry they might ultimately may be frustrated with the heavy coverage on this mode of image-making.
But for readers wanting a deeper knowledge of how to best expose an image so as to realize their photographic vision, I recommend giving this book a close look. It makes an excellent case for the Zone System as a powerful tool, regardless of mode of capture.
'The Practical Zone System for Film and Digital Photography' is available on amazon.com
Adam Koplan is head of the Performance Department at the Dreamyard Project which brings arts programs to NYC schools. He is also Artistic Director of The Flying Carpet Theatre Co. Follow him on Twitter @FlyingCarpetNYC
|It's good to be at home by Nightcrawler12|
from Best photo of the week...
|Tiny tree by Kaappo|
The Olympus 17mm F1.2 promises to open up new possibilities for Micro Four Thirds shooters seeking razor-thin depth-of-field and smooth, 'feathered' bokeh. Take a peek at our extensive sample gallery.
Are you a speed freak? Hungry to photograph anything that goes 'zoom'? Or perhaps you just want to get Sports Illustrated-level shots of your child's soccer game. Keep reading to find out which cameras we think are best for sports and action shooting.
Still yearning for an Aperture replacement? Here's a quick overview of RAW Power, a Raw image editor for iOS that pairs with the Mac application introduced in 2016. Take a look at some of its capabilities.
Video features have become an important factor to many photographers when choosing a new camera. Read on to find out which cameras we think are best for the videophile.
Tech lover Albert Lee was one of the first to pre-order the intriguing 16-camera module Light L16. Two months in, here's what he has to say about using this not-so-little computational camera.
The public art installation featured blurred portraits, ostensibly captured by the artist under that same underpass... except they weren't. They were actually portraits of comedians, pulled from the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Festival program.
Edelkrone has upgraded its SliderOne with a SliderOne Pro and introduced a new generation of Wing and Wing Pro models, all while simultaneously improving the app that controls its entirely lineup.
People have waiting a long time for the Canon 85mm F1.4L IS lens, but how does it compare to Canon's 85mm F1.2L and Sigma's 85mm F1.4 Art? Phillip Pettit of Lensrentals took all three lenses for a spin to find out.
Affinity Photo for iPad, one of the first full-featured Raw editors designed specifically for tablet use, has been named Apple's Best iPad App of 2017. And what's more, it's currently 50% off!
VSCO Messages allows VSCO X subscribers and free users alike to share text, images, photo editing 'recipes', VSCO journal entries and more.
Flickr has revealed their top 25 photos of 2017, and there are some truly stunning shots in the mix.
Testing of the Canon G1 X Mark III is well underway, inside of the studio and out. We've just added it to our test scene comparison tool, where you can take a look at its performance side-by-side against peers like the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 V.
Whether it's a trip to the beach for some snorkeling or scrambling up a 10,000 ft volcano, the Olympus Tough TG-5 proved to be a great travel companion for Jeff. That's why it's his 2017 Gear of the Year.
Last year, the DJI Mavic Pro and the Phantom 4 Professional took top honors in our end of year buying guide. Read on to find out who it this year for beginners, consumers, prosumers, and professionals at a price tag less than $2,000.
Meyer Optik Goerlitz is resurrecting yet another classic lens. This time, the company has set its crowdfunding sights on the Primoplan 75mm F1.9, a lens originally manufactured in a run of just 2,000 back in the 1930s.
The folks at Kolari Vision—an infrared camera conversion company based in New Jersey—recently tore down a brand new Sony a7RIII, giving everybody a peek at the camera's much-improved weather sealing.
Resource Travel's Brandon Cunningham recently joined The Giving Lens for a 10-day adventure in India. A trip he won't soon forget, to a country that left him in "sensory and soul overload."
Meet the new Freefly Movi, a handheld gimbal stabilizer designed by cinema stabilization pros for use with the iPhone. Freefly is calling this little beast "the world's most portable, adaptable, and intuitive cinema robot."
Photography portfolio site PhotoShelter is adding their voice to the growing group of online companies that are speaking out in favor of net neutrality, and against the FCC's upcoming vote to kill it.
The Direct app would replace the current Inbox on the Instagram app, doing for Instagram what the Facebook Messenger app did for Facebook on mobile.
Qualcomm's latest high-end mobile chipset offers higher frame rates and a wider color gamut, among other important camera improvements you can expect to see in next year's flagship smartphones.
Photographer Josselin Cornou recently got trapped in a blizzard in the Snowy Mountains of Australia with his Fujifilm GFX 50S and new Tamron 15-30mm F2.8 lens. Find out how they held up to 110km/h winds and -15°C temperatures.
While film nostalgia reaches an all-time high, Seattle-based pro photographer Sofi Lee is turning back to 'digicams' made between 2008 and 2011.
The fixed prime lens camera market may be a bit niche, but it's here that you'll find some of the best cameras you can buy. Sensors ranging from APS-C to full-frame are designed to match their lenses, which cover ranges from 28-75mm equivalent, so image quality is top-notch.
With a capacity of 512GB, Samsung's new UFS chips take built-in storage on smartphones to desktop-PC levels. Will this eliminate the need for microSD slots?
Photographer Josh Rossi decided to go big for this year's Christmas card, so he recreated the Star Wars: The Last Jedi poster using himself, his wife, and their two kids.
In response to a NY Times article about how some traffickers were using Instagram as part of the illicit animal trade, Instagram has added a content advisory screen that pops up to warn users any time they search for hashtags "associated with harmful behavior to animals."
Kodak is expanding its instant photography lineup today with the release of the Kodak Mini Shot Instant 10MP camera. A tiny little digital camera that spits out either 2.1 x 3.4-inch or 2.1 x 2.1-inch prints.
Huawei'e next high-end smartphone could be the first to take computational imaging to the next level with a triple-camera that spits out 40MP files.
Landscape photographer Spencer Cox recalls the single most rewarding—and frightening—landscape photography experience of his life: photographing a sandstorm.