Exposing with the Zone System: An easy how-to guide

My favorite way to meter in camera and get beautiful and intentional SOOC (straight out of the camera) images is with the Zone System method of metering.

The Zone System method was developed by Ansel Adams and Fred Archer in the 1930’s for film photography but it is also a great tool for digital photography.

When I first started researching the Zone System I have to admit that I was very overwhelmed. Now, instead of worrying about zone numbers, I only worry about the actual color of what I am metering from.

To explain it very simply, each color tone falls into a particular zone on your camera’s meter. Because each color correlates to a particular value on your meter, you are able to tell the camera exactly how to expose the image using spot metering.

The Zone Method has 10 zones but for digital photography, there are only 5 zones that apply to your camera’s meter. This is key because it means that you won’t always be trying to get your in-camera meter to 0.

By thinking of your metering values in colors, it doesn’t matter what kind of light you are in, you will always able to achieve correct exposure. The metering value itself for each color never changes but your settings (ISO, shutter speed, aperture) will change each time to adjust for the light.

Each color tone falls into a particular zone on your camera’s meter. Because each color correlates to a particular value on your meter, you're able to...

Each color tone falls into a particular zone on your camera’s meter. Because each color correlates to a particular value on your meter, you're able to...

When looking at your cameras meter, you will see smaller dots/lines that each represent each 1/3 of a stop and larger dots/lines that represent a full stop of light each.

Once you learn the metering value for each color, you will move your in-camera meter by changing your settings (ISO, shutter speed, aperture) to be at that corresponding spot on your meter for correct exposure. For example, the color white will always meter at +2 (2 full stops from 0) on your camera’s meter.

Like I mentioned above, a common mistake is assuming that you will always meter at 0 no matter what color you are metering from. This was a mistake that I practiced when I first starting shooting in manual mode.

When I would hear about metering something above 0, it sounded like my image would be overexposed. I thought this way for a long time and didn’t realize that exposing this way was actually exposing correctly.

Have you ever tried to meter white at 0? The image will be underexposed and look dark – not truly white.

Each color tone falls into a particular zone on your camera’s meter. Because each color correlates to a particular value on your meter, you're able to...

This chart below shows very simply how to remember the value for each color. Like I previously mentioned, the color white meters at +2. Pastel colors meter at +1, middle gray/primary colors meter at 0, deep colors meter at -1, and black meters at -2.

Of course, you can get more specific for each color on your meter using 1/3 of a stop but those general guidelines are a great place to start. The best part is that once you learn the values for each color/tone, it will never change.

If you are not sure about a specific color, start with those general guidelines and then always make sure to watch your histogram for a more exact metering value and exposure.

Each color tone falls into a particular zone on your camera’s meter. Because each color correlates to a particular value on your meter, you're able to...

When you use spot metering, your camera samples from a small area in your viewfinder.

On most Canon cameras, the metering area is the very center of your viewfinder – right where your middle focal point is. No matter if your focal point is in the middle or somewhere else, you will want to make sure that you place the color you are metering from in that middle area.

On a Nikon camera, your active focal point is where your camera meters. Just simply place that active point over the color to meter. Filling as much of the frame as possible with that color is not necessary but can be very helpful. Our in-camera meters can be tricked easily and so using a solid color that fills the frame can help eliminate some potential troubleshooting issues.

Once you move your camera away from that solid color, it is normal to see your meter jump around. I most often meter somewhere completely different than where I am focusing. When I take a step back to focus and compose the shot to how I would like it in-camera, I will see my meter jump all over the place because multiple colors are now being seen by my camera.

Once you have metered and changed your settings (ISO, shutter speed, aperture) for the light, your metering value is locked in until you change those settings again. You won’t need to change your settings until the light changes. Simply ignore your jumpy meter.

Each color tone falls into a particular zone on your camera’s meter. Because each color correlates to a particular value on your meter, you're able to...

Each color tone falls into a particular zone on your camera’s meter. Because each color correlates to a particular value on your meter, you're able to...

Having a simple and yet very consistent system for metering can give you more confidence and freedom in your ability to shoot in any situation. It isn’t always practical to meter from your subject’s cheek (think fast moving toddler or a bride walking down the aisle) and using the Zone System to meter makes it possible to meter from anywhere in the scene that is in the same light as your subject.

No matter what method you are using to meter, you are metering for the light.

Metering from the brightest spot of light on your subject (or somewhere else that is in the same light as your subject) will help you avoid any true overexposure in your highlights.

Your settings will change each time you pick up your camera, but the Zone System color values will be constant and give you beautiful SOOC images.

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Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR Announcement

Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR

Nikon is under a lot of pressure in 2018, because this is the year that the public is anticipating hot new products from the company, especially the highly anticipated full-frame mirrorless camera that the company is currently working on. The very first product that Nikon has launched in 2018 is a lens – it is the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR – a beast of a lens targeted specifically at sports and wildlife photographers and videographers. Many Nikon 200-400mm f/4G VR shooters have been waiting for a replacement to the lens and it looks like Nikon didn’t just deliver an update – the 180-400mm is a whole new lens with a completely revamped optical design and engineering. At $ 12,399 MSRP, it is the second most expensive lens in Nikon’s line-up after the exotic Nikon 800mm f/5.6E VR and for a good reason, if you were to look into what Nikon has packed into it. Without a doubt, it is a marvel of a lens, something that is soon to become one of the most desirable lenses in Nikon’s arsenal. Read on to find out why.

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Photography Life

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29 Sparkle photos that will make your eyes shine with happiness

Are you looking for a photography challenge?

Maybe you love taking photos or maybe you just need some motivation to start taking pictures again (or maybe you simply love contests that promise the chance at a prize!)

Well, we’ve got you covered! (More on that below!)

Every month on the Clickin Moms photography forum, we select a new theme and ask our members to interpret it in their images in any way they wish. Last month, the theme was ‘Sparkle’.

Our members wow’ed us with a beautiful collection of pictures that gave us a glimpse inside their lives and showed up what childhood looks like to them.

We have selected some of our favorites for you to enjoy here, and we want to congratulate Heather Owens for winning a live Breakout Session seat from Click Photo School with her image!

Erica Williams
Erica Williams

Katy Bindels
Katy Bindels

Nataly Kazankina
Nataly Kazankina

Robyn Dartnall
Robyn Dartnall

Heather Owens
Winner! Heather Owens

Kathleen White
Kathleen White

Julie Audoux
Julie Audoux

Karen Schanely
Karen Schanely

Anna Hurley
Anna Hurley

Amanda Dalby
Amanda Dalby

Kathy Chapman
Kathy Chapman

Dana DiSalvo
Dana DiSalvo

Susie Pedersen
Susie Pedersen

Jyotsna Bhamidipati
Jyotsna Bhamidipati

Kara Soileau
Kara Soileau

Brandi Markham
Brandi Markham

Andrea Johnson
Andrea Johnson

Sarah Gupta
Sarah Gupta

Kristen Peterson
Kristen Peterson

Kerry Rainbird
Kerry Rainbird

Kristen Ryan
Kristen Ryan

Veronica Miller
Veronica Miller

Shilpa Lobo
Shilpa Lobo

Lisa Astle
Lisa Astle

Mellisa Pendleton
Mellisa Pendleton

Natalia Rasmussen
Natalia Rasmussen

Aubrey Bahr
Aubrey Bahr

Michelle England
Michelle England

Maggie McCabe
Maggie McCabe

Would you like the opportunity to be featured in next month’s photo share here on the Clickin Moms Blog and be entered to win a Live Seat to any Click Photo School Breakout Session? (Told you we’d share more details here on how to do that!) This month, we’re looking for your best ‘Color Pop’ photos which you can submit here.

Not a member of the Clickin Moms forum? We’d LOVE to have you join us! You can do that right now! (Questions? Please feel free to post those below!)

Join the Clickin Moms photography forum

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How Light Creates Emotion in Photography

Backlit damselfly

At the end of the day, there’s only one reason why people like good photos. It’s a simple concept, really, but it also forms the foundation for all of photography. Emotion. For a photo to succeed, it has to resonate with your viewer. That could happen for a number of reasons, ranging from your subject to your composition. But the strongest tool to capture emotion is far more fundamental than that — it is, quite simply, your light.

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Photography Life

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How to Buy an Apple MacBook for Photography

MacBook Pro 15

We are continuing our series on how to choose and buy computer hardware for photography needs and today we will be providing suggestions on what Apple laptops are worth looking into. First, we will do a quick overview of the Apple line of MacBooks, then we will provide our top recommendations for doing post-processing work. This article has been written in collaboration with our team members who use Apple’s MacBook products exclusively and extensively for their photography work.

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Photography Life

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