The Digital Zone System – An “e-Book”

The Zone System is a framework

That allows us to convert captured luminance values

To the values as we want them to be

Values that match our visualization of the subject


The above is a paraphrase of this quote by Ansel Adams.

As long as we must be able to work from a range of subject luminances that are to be represented as we want them to be by a range of gray values (or color values) in a print, the Zone System seems certain to provide an extremely useful framework.

As you read these posts, recognize that Ansel Adams’ images –

Reflected what he felt and

Not a literal reflection of reality

Even though he is often thought of as the paragon of

Realistic, straight photography

Nothing is further from the truth

as he himself stated repeatedly

Reality vs. his images, in his words –

….creativity in photography lies between….a literal interpretation….and freely interpreting it in highly subjective “departures from reality.”

My work is frequently regarded as “realistic” while in fact….my photographs are far from a literal translation of actuality.


The following 14 posts explain the three main elements of the Zone System –

  1. Visualization
  2. Image capture
  3. Image processing (development for film)

Where necessary, adaptations for digital are mentioned.

Some Parts are renumbered & appear in a different order than when originally posted.

For example, Part 1 below was originally labeled Part 0 and appeared after Part 5. 😉

Don’t let this confuse you. Focus on the words after the dash (-).

Part 1 – Visualization

Part 2 – Channeling Ansel

Part 3 – Image Capture

Part 4 – Spot Metering

Part 5 – Human Vision

Part 6 – Color, Tones, and Visual Perception

Part 7 – Beyond Capture

Part 8 – Displaying Zones

Part 9 – The Performance Act I

Part 10 – Image Interpretation, 1

Part 11 – Image Interpretation, 2

Part 12 – Digital B&W

Part 13 – Dodge & Burn

Part 14 – Color Images

The above cover the basic essentials. The internet can more than fill in any holes.


Subscribe (see sidebar) and don’t miss anything. New posts daily.

  • No sidebar? Click the blog title at the top of this page.

Another option – Click on the “Follow” button at the bottom right of the screen.

  • Or – “Follow” in your admin bar, displayed at the top of the screen, for logged-in users.


0 thoughts on “The Digital Zone System – An “e-Book””

  1. Thanks, Ed for getting back to me. The problem that I ‘ve been having is occasionally when my emails goes out to the subscribers, some can’t get any pictures that I enclose in the blog to open. I can see a preview of the blog before I publish, but I can’t see the actual email that is sent out. I’m beginning to think that the problem has more to do with the theme provider that I use.
    Yes, Pam and I are back home for the holidays. We left our trailer in the Atlanta area so that some warrentee work could be done. It is a good break, we were getting a little burned out. However, after two and a half weeks of constant grey and wet weather I’m regaining my mojo quicker than I thought I would. Got to love those marine layers.
    We are flying back to Atlanta on January 6th and will be home by the end of April as our first grandchild is due in mid May.
    I wish you and your muse a happy holiday season.

  2. Lee,

    The email sent when I post is just part of the regular WordPress blog system. When someone subscribes to a blog, WordPress automatically sends them an email anytime that blog is updated. Don’t know what, if any, options there are beyond that simple email.

    Hope that answers your question.

    Are you back home for the holidays?

  3. Thanks Ed for this educational series. I found it very entertaining. I have have wanted to research more about the Zone system, but hadn’t made the time to to do it. This series has helped me better understand how it fits into today’s photography world. The most important part of the series to me was not the technical part, but rather the concept that each image that a person makes is a good one if it works for them. Thanks for that realization.
    On a different topic, I was wondering if the link that you use in your email to direct readers to your daily blog is a WordPress plug-in. If it is, what is it’s name? Thanks for any help that you can give me,
    Lee Metcalfe

  4. Ed, This is a fine series………….you should charge something for it. Dave Roth

    >________________________________ > From: Photography Improvement >To: >Sent: Friday, December 14, 2012 6:08 AM >Subject: [New post] The Digital Zone System – An “e-Book” > > > >Ed Knepley posted: “The Zone System is a framework That allows us to convert captured luminance values To the values as we want them to be Values that match our visualization of the subject

Leave a Comment

Subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.