THE ZONE SYSTE M FOR D-SLRS

Take con­trol of your ex­po­sures us­ing your cam­era’s built-in spot me­ter

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The sim­plest ap­proach to the Zone Sys­tem con­cen­trates on high­lights and ig­nores shad­ows. Start by picking the most im­por­tant high­light – not a tiny spot, nor some­thing that lacks de­tail. Pick the bright­est sig­nif­i­cant part of the scene that needs to have de­tail and tex­ture. Then de­cide what zone that high­light should be. If that sounds hard, it’s not, be­cause there are only two choices. Zone 5 isn’t a high­light, it’s a mid­tone. Zone 8 is washed out – too light for an im­por­tant high­light. So that leaves Zone 6 or Zone 7. Use Zone 7 for ob­jects that are white or nearly white, like white wa­ter, snow, light sand, or very light rock. Use Zone 6 for any other high­light, in­clud­ing tans, yel­lows, light greens, or some­thing that you would de­scribe as a light or pas­tel colour.

Next, take a spot me­ter read­ing from the high­light you’ve picked. Make sure the whole spot is filled with a con­sis­tent tone; you don’t want a mix­ture of light and dark ar­eas. A very small, nar­row-an­gle spot me­ter is in­valu­able. If you’re us­ing your cam­era’s built-in me­ter, try zoom­ing in or chang­ing to a longer lens. When us­ing a hand-held me­ter make sure you com­pen­sate for fil­ters. Add one-and-a-half to two stops of light for a po­lariser, or hold the fil­ter up against the me­ter and take read­ings right through it.

Ad­just­ing the ex­po­sure

To make the high­light Zone 6, in­crease the ex­po­sure by one stop from your me­ter read­ing. To make it Zone 7, in­crease the ex­po­sure by two stops. If you don’t do this – if you just use the me­ter’s rec­om­mended set­tings – the high­light will ren­der as a mid­dle tone, or Zone 5. Be­cause of this, you need to lighten the im­age to make that high­light Zone 6 or Zone 7. For ex­am­ple, if the me­ter in­di­cates 1/125 sec at f/16, lower the shut­ter speed to 1/60 sec to make that high­light Zone 6, or 1/30 sec to make it Zone 7.

You ac­tu­ally don’t need to make these cal­cu­la­tions with an in-cam­era spot me­ter. While you’re point­ing the me­ter at the high­light, just turn ei­ther the shut­ter speed or aper­ture dial un­til the ex­po­sure scale in­di­cates two stops of over­ex­po­sure for Zone 7, or one stop of over­ex­po­sure for Zone 6.

Not all Nikon’s spot me­ters read the same pro­por­tion of the frame: DX cam­eras me­ter a 2.5% spot and FX cam­eras me­ter a 1.5% spot.

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