Using “Zones” in Photoshop



The method / procedure described below is inspired
by the great Ansel Adams’ Zone System – –
consider this the post-processing “digital equivalent” for Photoshop
(see more here, near the bottom) …


Also, this blogpost is material straight from my
personalized online Small Group Workshop,
“The Power of Layer Masks in Photoshop”:




By dividing your image into separate “Zones” of contrast, color, density (brightness), sharpness, etc., you’ll have superior control, performance & flexibility over how your overall image looks. 


•  These “Zones” are created by shaping your Layer Masks, and you’ll usually have multiple Adjustment Layers in each “Zone”.


 •  As an example:  the image below is divided into 2 Zonesthe sky is the 1st Zone, and everything else in the image is the 2nd Zone. Also, in this example, each Zone contains 2 Adjustment Layers.  


•  By the way, when you see the color black in a Layer Mask Thumbnail (part of an Adjustment Layer), it “hides” the effects of the Adjustment Layer – conversely, the color white “reveals” the effects of the Adjustment Layer.



Click to Enlarge …


We need to employ Zones because the foreground is way too dark, & correcting for the foreground washes out the sky – and vice-versa …




  When do you need Zones? When there are differences in contrast, color, brightness, etc. in the image – sometimes subtle, sometimes major.  The best example would be a landscape with sky, such as the image above. 


  When do you NOT need Zones? (Depending on the type of photography, this is rare) – When there’s a uniform initial exposure throughout your image, mainly – OR, if you’ve minimized and/or eliminated these differences that were apparent in the original exposure by using the 4 Goals of RAW.


If you do need to use Zones (which I believe is a vast majority of the time), then decide on which “Strategy” to use and / or start with – more here:


Some Finer Points:


  Generally, 2 Zones are all that’s necessary in most images, but you’re not limited in how many zones you can use – you can divide your image into as many Zones as you want.


  By using “Zones” properly, it’s easier to avoid working with or “adjusting” pixels more than once in multiple Adjustment Layers –  which can cause pixelization & posterization, as well as improper borders & edges between Zones.


  Start with the easiest Selection area to initiate your 1st Zone (in a landscape, it’s usually the sky), and spend the necessary time creating that initial Selection as accurately as possible.


The 2nd Zone (or Layer Mask) is easy to createsimply invert the 1st Zones’ Selection.  In other words, the 2nd Zone will be an exact reversal of the 1st Zone, resulting in less problems with the borders / edges between the Zones.


   Take your time, as it’s like painting a house – – the prep takes the most time (sanding, taping, etc.), not the painting – in fact, if you do the proper prep, the painting is easy!  It’s the same when shaping your Layer Masks / Zones – avoid problems later, and take the necessary time to get your initial Selection right! 




Don’t forget: this blogpost is material straight from my personalized online Small Group Workshop, “The Power of Layer Masks in Photoshop”:




•  Was this information helpful?

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•  By the way, this is all based on my Photoshop book designed for photographers, “Not just another Photoshop Book”available exclusively on Amazon:


Questions? Please contact me – also, feel free to comment and tell your photography friends!


Thx again, and cheers,


John Watts 🙂


File Backup Strategies for Photographers




Redundancy, Redundancy, Redundancy …


was 13 years old when man triumphantly walked on the moon. One of the finer attributes of NASA and the space program at the time was the concept of redundancy.


It was one of the reasons that Apollo 13, despite all of its incredible challenges, made it back safely. There was a backup for every system, and even the backups were frequently backed up. In the harsh and unforgiving environment of outer space, nothing was left to chance.


You should be treating your digital files the same way. This lack of redundancy in properly archiving your digital files is one of the weakest links in digital imaging for photographers.


Your images are too important!  Make your archiving system redundant and back up AT LEAST TWICE on different media.


I cannot tell you how many horror stories I’ve heard from clients who’ve had all of their images on a single hard drive – and it failed. They, of course, lost ALL of their files – all of the blood, sweat, tears, expense and creativity that went into creating those images was gone forever.


So, what to do?


Here is a 3-Step approach that should take care of everything, placed in order of importance:




•  Step One: Back Up Offsite


I consider this step mandatory – and it’s easy!


One of the best ways to backup and protect your images is to use an off-site web-based backup service, such as iDrive (this is what I use) or Carbonite. For about $100 a year, you can back up your entire computer. It’s “cheap insurance”!


Not only that, but since it’s offsite, your images are protected in the event you lose your images at home due to theft, accidents or natural disaster (fire, flood, etc). Don’t put this off – do it today!


•  Step Two: Back Up Onsite


Here’s a suggested (and relatively inexpensive) way of backing up your images onsite:


1. You have the original files on your computers’ hard drive.


2. Buy an External Hard Drive or Flash Drive. They’re available for anywhere from $20 on up, depending on features and the amount of information to be stored. Personally, I use a RAID Hard Drive, which backs up to 2 separate hard drives – all in one unit (more “redundancy”!).


3. Back up your important images to the External Hard Drive or Flash Drive.


By the way, if you are on a Mac, upgrade to OS 10.5 or later immediately! The “Time Machine” feature is worth the price alone. Not only does it back up your complete computer, the OS, Data, and applications, including multiple hard drives, but it allows you to go “back in time” to retrieve a file that you’ve deleted days or even weeks ago.


•  Step 3: Backup Onsite and Store Offsite


A better solution for your absolutely critical images is to buy multiple external hard drives and store them off-site, such as a safe-deposit box.  I use 2, rotating them about once a month.



So, here’s an example of how I make sure I’m “backed-up”:


First, I’m on a computer that’s A) using iDrive (with automatic backup) and B) has an External RAID Hard Drive connected to it via USB.


Next, let’s assume I’ve got a file on my computer called “MustSave123_M.tif” – – I want 3 copies total (double redundancy), and I’ve already got 2 copies (redundancy) saved: one on the Internal Hard Drive of my computer, plus one on iDrive, which is saved offsite.


Finally, I’m going to save this file to a designated spot on my External Hard Drive – – Now I’ve got 3 copies (4, if you take the RAID Hard Drive into consideration).  Not only that, but as I rotate the external hard drives, my 3rd (and 4th) copy is (eventually) offsite.


It’s better to be a bit messy and backed up than to not be backed up at all!


If you get busy (like we all do!) and don’t have time to look through your External Hard Drive to find a specific location to save a file, then try this: Create a Master Back-Up Folder on your Desktop, and save files that you want to “back up” directly into this folder as your day progresses.  I call mine “Clean this up!!!”  – – that’s because my Master Back-Up Folder serves 2 purposes:


1) I can organize when I’m less harried, and …


2) I’m assured of “redundancy” as I’m in the habit of saving this Master Back-Up Folder to my External Hard Drive daily.



Bottom line, be like NASA – be “redundant”!


Don’t use just one strategy, use more than one – better safe than sorry!






•  Was this information helpful?

Sign up for my free monthly newsletter here …


•  By the way, this is all based on my Photoshop book designed for photographers, “Not just another Photoshop Book”available exclusively on Amazon:


Questions? Please contact me – also, feel free to comment and tell your photography friends!


Thx again, and cheers,


John Watts 🙂


June 2021
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