Zone System: Step by Step Guide for Photographers

The zone system simple stated is a precise system of exposing and developing black & white film. It allows the practitioner to pre-visualize their finished photograph and translate the image into negative densities which will render a print with the correct gray values. There have been many books written on this subject and these books range from reasonably complicated to almost incomprehensible. As a photographer, I have been using the zone system and as a teacher teaching the zone system for over twenty-five years. In this digital world, little has changed with the science of the zone system - the chemistry and physics remain the same. I believe, however, that over the years I have revised and refined my teaching of the zone system to an approach that is understandable and presents the techniques in as simple a manner as the subject

In 1998 Parsons School of Design in NYC awarded to me a development fund grant to turn my zone system lectures into a manual for their students majoring in photography. My goal was to write a text that made the technique of the zone system as user friendly as possible. By eliminating most of all the graphs, charts and math that was not essential for its application as a photographer, I set out to simplify the use of the zone system. To me the zone system was a practical application of a system to aid me in taking technically better photographs, not an exercise in the science of light values and photo sensitive chemistry.

After a year of writing, I field tested my manuscript with my students and it was met with good reviews and more importantly accomplished what I had set out to do; the manual made it easier for my students to understand and use the zone system. The manual quite serendipitously found its way to Amherst Media, a publisher of how to photography books. The book was refined, edited and re-edited for the next year and a half, a section on making the fine black & white print was added along with many photographs as examples.

The zone system is a difficult subject to convey in words and illustrations. My approach from a teaching perspective was to divide the material into manageable components. I structured the book as I teach my classes. Years of teaching and hands on experience helped me anticipate and address the questions and obstacles the reader might encounter while learning this subject. The book presents in a step-by-step order a lecture, an assignment if necessary, a review, establishes an understanding level by asking questions and then moves on.