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 complete creative control, performance & flexibility over how your overall image looks.
• As an example: the image below is divided into 2 Zones – the 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.
• Why use “Zones” for this image? We need to employ Zones because the foreground is way too dark, & correcting for the foreground washes out the sky – – and vice-versa …
• 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.
• When do you need Zones? When there are differences in contrast, color, brightness, sharpness, etc. in the image – sometimes subtle, sometimes major – that prohibit you from making corrections globally The best example would be a landscape/scenic with sky, such as the image above.
• When do you NOT need Zones? (Depending on the type of photography, this is quite 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: https://blog.main.wattsdigital.com/?p=2381
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 (or Layer Mask) – in a landscape, it’s usually the sky). It’s important to spend the necessary time creating that initial Selection as accurately as possible.
• The 2nd Zone (or Layer Mask) is easy to create – simply 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”: https://wattsdigital.com/small-group-workshops
• Want to see Zones in action? Check out my “Photoshop 101” series of FREE online & live Photoshop Meetups – available nationwide:
• Was this information helpful?
• 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 🙂