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Masters of Photography

Lesson 12 of 34

The Meyerowitz Color Zone System

Joel Meyerowitz

Masters of Photography

Joel Meyerowitz

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Lesson Info

12. The Meyerowitz Color Zone System

Lesson Info

The Meyerowitz Color Zone System

(dramatic violin music) We're all fortunate to live in a time when digital cameras have exquisite metering systems for color film. Black-and-white too, but color is exquisitely balanced in the camera except, and I know you've all noticed this, sometimes if you're in a very bright space with a lot of bright sky, your picture tends to be darker where you'd like it to be lighter and then you have to do something in Photoshop or in Camera Raw or something to adjust the picture back to the proper exposure. So I have a system that I've developed. It's sort of like the Ansel Adams zone system. It's the Joel Meyerowitz color zone system for helping you to make absolutely correct exposures all the time, thereby allowing you to set your camera when you go out at this particular f-stop and speed and you pretty much could work for an hour in this manner and get very consistent, solid exposures. Let me see if I could explain to you how this came about. When Kodak manufactured color film, let's sa...

y Kodachrome, the greatest of all color films, they tried to make a film that could contain the most information in the darkest shadow of the film and the most information in the brightest highlight of the film. And so the mid-tone had to be a place that allowed skin, Caucasian skin, to look right all the time. And that point for Caucasian skin, the palm of your hand, was called the 18% gray because 18% gray is equivalent to slightly pink. If you were to photograph the gray card and a hand, in black-and-white, they would both be the same value. This is a color card and this would be 18% gray in here. So it used to be with color film, and it's true with the digital camera too, that if you were outside and you were standing in the sunlight, and you looked in front of you, you would see that people coming towards you, because the sun was over here, had a highlight on this side of their face and a shadow on this side of the face. So you have to find the midpoint between the highlight and the shadow so that you could make a balanced exposure. The secret to that would be to shape your hand so that one side had sunlight and the other side had shadow, thus imitating the faces of the people coming to you because really, it's only the skin that you wanna focus on in terms of getting the right exposure. And so if you looked at a face that was half sunlight, half shadow and you took your digital camera and you looked through it here and you allowed the camera to measure the highlight and the shadow and you adjusted until the little red dot was perfect, you could then go out and skin, the thing that determines the neutrality of a picture, would be the color focal point of your image. And you could work as long as people were coming at you in that same direction, you could work for an hour without having to change your f-stop because I know you've seen many times when you've looked at your files, that they are too bright, too dark, there's always a little adjustment. As good as these meters are, there's always a little adjustment. So if you wanna try this system, you can do it by yourself a little bit, keep your hand in there and make sure to model the light. Don't tilt your hand too far over. Don't tilt your hand too far up because it'll be too bright. Just look at your hand in daylight and watch what happens to the light and shadow on it, and you can see how it mimics the face. And then you'll get your reading. It could be at ASA 200, it would be 250th of a second at f/8, let's say. You could just go, just shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot and everything will come out pretty much spot on. So it's fairly simple or you don't have to do this at all. You could just use the camera system and then you could, you know, back and fill when you're on your computer and you're making adjustments in Lightroom or Photoshop or whatever processor you use, but if you want consistent results and if you want to think, I think this is important, if you wanna think like a photographer, you make that lesson for yourself and you remember it. Oh yeah, when I'm out in sunlight like that, 250th at eight. When the light is behind somebody, it's a two stop difference, it's 250 at 4.5 or something like that. You'll learn these numbers and they'll stick in your mind and you'll always be within a fraction of being perfectly right. It served me well for 50 years. I go outside, I look at the light, I know the exposure. Try it, you might find that you've got a new asset in your wonderful digital camera.

Class Description

Internationally renowned and award winning photographer Joel Meyerowitz is known for his iconic images that encompass decades of capturing all genres of photographs. Masters of Photography is bringing Joel’s class to CreativeLive to share the learnings from his vast career.

You’ll learn:

  • How to find a subject to photograph
  • How to improve your compositional skills
  • How to determine correct lighting
  • How to print your images and also create a photo book

Walk with Joel through picturesque Tuscany, bustling Siena and the vibrant streets of New York as he shows you how he creates his photographs. He will shares ideas, experiences, and his secrets on how to make great images. Joel will also suggest ideas for projects to try yourself. You can use any device from camera phone to DSLR, but in the end it’s all about you and your photography.

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I have an all access pass and thought oh no, I have to pay for this one? I bit the bullet and I am so glad I did. Joel has a great deal of wisdom and experience because of his age. BUT, despite his age, he exudes a fountain of enthusiasm, playfulness, curiousity and constant wonder surrounding his subjects. He opened within me the possibilities of exploring different photographic subjects and allowing myself to experience the fun in pursuit of those subjects. I love the way he shows how someone can take the same ho hum scene, but then look around for a different point of view. He is indeed a Master and I thank Joel for the class.


This is a absulutely fantastic class. Joel Meyerowitz takes you on an journey of little but important advices. In each short video you got some jewels to improve your approach, your view and your art. I own a lot of classes here on CL, but this one is one of my favourits! Gentle and human. Thank you Joel Meyerowitz, you helped me a lot on my journey to develop my photography.

Cosmin Dolha

What do you do after you learn all the mechanics, the technical stuff, exposure triangle, lights, where do you start? Because I am starting, now! You will find encouragement and guidance, and real applicable wisdom. If you are new to photography as I am, this course will point you in the right direction. What a treasure! Thank you CreativeLive for this and thank you Joel Meyerowitz for taking such a gentle approach to such a complicated subject, that is photography.