Zone System

A process formulated by Ansel Adams and Fred Archer in the late 1930’s , the zone system is a photographic technique for determining optimal film exposure and development.


Fred Archer


Based upon the 19th century sensitometry studies of Hurter and Driffield, the zone system provides photographers with a systematic method of precisely defining the relationship between the photographic subject and the final product. The process is simple, render light subjects as light and dark subjects as dark according the the visualization of the photographer. It divides tones from white to black and the grays in eleven separate zones.


The zone system has had it’s share of criticism early on, specifically in regards to how it’s process makes simpler things more complex. Later on this was fixed by Picker (1974), providing a concise and simple treatment that helped to demisfy the process. Adams, with the help of Robert Baker, also helped to simplify the zone system in the early 1980’s.

– Diana Powell


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