The new features in the Zone System Express 4.0 (ZSE 4)

Since April of this year (right before launching Palette Effects) I started working on a new Zone System Express panel.  It started out as a simple patch to fix some bugs with the way some masks ran and it turned into a completely new panel.  It has evolved so much since it’s release nearly a year ago and I am pretty proud, so I certainly hope you are too!

If you are new to the Zone System Express, it is an extension that I have coded for Photoshop© CC that is a complete workflow workhorse for your images.  It encompasses my practical workflow of Tone, Color, and Effects in a simple to use panel.  Almost like a Checklist with buttons to help you along.  I have to stress that this is NOT just another Luminosity Masking panel.  It is a complete Workflow solution to guide you along while you edit your photos.  The Panel also comes with over 6 hours of targeted workflow education!

So what are my new favorite features in the ZSE 4.0?

Luminosity Masking

I have added a very light weight, but highly effective, Luminosity Masking section to the panel.  It resides in the tone section and gives you 3 types of Luminance Masks, one for your Lights, one for your mid tones and yet another for your shadows.  With the Addition of the Luminosity masking options, the ZSE now has 8 different ways to create practical masks for separating various parts of your photo.

Along with the addition of the Luminosity Masking is a Mask Refinement tool.  It is a simple Levels adjustment that is applied directly to the mask of the selected layer that allows you to adjust the contrast of the mask making it larger or smaller at your command.  While it was intended for use with the Luminance Masks, it can be used on ANY layer that has a mask.

Luminosity Masking, ZSE 4, Zone System Express

An example of the Luminosity Masking and Tone Refinement in the ZSE 4

Automated Curves Adjustments

This is probably one of the coolest features on the planet!  Automated Curves Adjustments.  In the past, you’d make a mask, manually move the curve and move onto the next adjustment.  However, now there are various buttons that will make your image darker or lighter by automatically adjusting the selected curve in your layer’s palette.  This Curves Modifiers section also adds enhanced functionality over the layers palette with directional arrows to select your layers and many ways to view and control your precious masks!

ZSE 4 Zone System Express Curves Modifiers

The new Curves Mask Modifiers in the ZSE 4 allows you to stay on the panel while you edit your image with Automated Adjustments.

The New Dramatic Radiance

This new feature in the effects module of the ZSE 4 is like a cheat code for great photos.  In the past, the Radiance 2.0 was the decided victor of the effects module, but I think it may be time to remove that title belt.  The Dramatic Radiance effect adds a beautiful contrast to your image without the soft edge glow.

Zone System Express, ZSE, Dramatic Radiance

The new Dramatic Radiance adds all the beautiful Contrast without the soft edged glow of the Radiance 2.0


Learn More About the ZSE 4.0


Check out this video to see my 3 favorite new features of the ZSE 4.0 in Action! I may have added a bonus in there too 🙂

Are you using the new Zone System Express  4.0?  What is (are) your favorite Feature(s)?

Blake Rudis
f.64 Academy and f.64 Elite are the brainchildren of Blake Rudis. While he is a landscape photographer, he is most passionate about post-processing images in Photoshop and mentoring others.

For Blake, it's all about the art and process synergy. He dives deep into complex topics and makes them easy to understand through his outside-the-box thinking so that you can use these tricks in your workflow today!
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