Zone System

Imagine your world in black and white…

This system is split into 10 sections:

0 – Being pure black

5 – Being mid grey

10 – Being pure white light

A photograph will consist of a variety of zones, ranging from pure blacks to pure whites. Some great examples of the variety of zones you can include in one photograph can be seen in Ansel Adams and Edward Westons work. But an image I have been greatly inspired by in the past, to create a wide range of tones in my own photography, is by Bill Brandt, whose image is displayed bellow.


To get a mid grey exposure (zone 5) of your subject then you can use a light meter, which we were shown how to use this week in a workshop. A light meter will only ever give you one reading, which is zone 5, so depending on where you take the reading within your image, that section will be mid grey. If you were to photograph a subject in front of a bright background and took the light meter reading from your subjects position then the background will become over exposed. Take the reading from the background and the subject will be under exposed and will appear as a silhouette. Here are some examples of photographing with a light meter.

As you can see from these first two images (left, centre) the mid grey area is where the light source is coming from, as that is where I took the light meter reading from. Because the rest of the image is darker than the area I took the reading from, it is under exposed. The light meter reading of the third image (right) has been taken from the centre of the room but the light coming through the window is a lot brighter. This has caused the light in the background to look over exposed.

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What makes a good or bad image?

Once I was asked to find an example of a good photograph and a bad one I struggled, because I think it is difficult to define what makes a bad image, as photography is such a subjective topic. What may be characterised as a technically bad image (out of focus, over exposed… etc) may be irrelevant, as the meaning or purpose of the image could outweigh these faults.

I see that an image taken out of context could possible be perceived as a weak image, as it may not clearly get it’s purpose across to the viewer. But once the viewer understands the context of the image then their perception of whether it is a “good or bad” image could change. Once a photograph is placed amongst a set of images, or given a meaning, it begins to tell a narrative that the audience can begin to build an opinion on.

After reflecting on this task I can understand that I should explore a photographs origins and try and put it into a context before forming an opinion, on whether I think it is a good or bad image.

Martin Parr inspired images

A main theme within Martin Parr’s work is about capturing a culture but not in a way that people would want to be associated with as they are usually represented in quite a vulgar style. I chose to use this theme, of capturing the cultures I observed around coventry, not focussing on one culture but instead finding a variety.

The people I chose to photograph are those ones that stood out as having a distinctive presence and characteristics, which is either displayed in their choice of clothing or their interaction to their surrounding location and people.

Nan Goldin inspired images

I have attempted to create a collection of intimate photographs of the people around coventry, which have been influenced by the intimate work of Nan Goldin. I went about trying to achieve this effect by looking into the style in which Goldin photographs and found that it is best achieved when a shot has fundamental errors. These errors, such as being over exposed, out of focus or crudely cropped, resemble the type of shots seen in a family album or photographs that may be shared between friends. Allowing the images to have more of a personal connection between the subject and he viewer.

In some of these photographs I have composed the image so that part of the subject sits outside of the frame causing the viewer to think more about the more subtle indications towards the subjects persona (eg their clothing and body language), which i think will cause anyone looking at the image to be more critical about the people I have selected to photograph.

Duane Michals inspired images

I was intrigued to make a set of images that tell a narrative, such as how Duane Michals does in order to express his concepts. So as you can see in the two images above I have attempted to recreate the ghostly figures that appear in Michals work. Starting with a normal shot of a crowded area and the people within the frame gradually becoming more and more distorted with every progressing shot, till the point where no features of the subjects are distinguishable at all. This relates to Michals concepts about the unclear nature of death (as the figures in the frame gradually fade to nothing) and doubts people have with identity.