Photography Tutorials

The Ups and Downs of the Photography Histogram


Use the Histogram to take your images to the next level.

The Histogram is one of the most useful tools in Photography but is also little understood and often ignored. When used correctly it can help to take your images to the next level ensuring the exposure and contrast is the absolute best it can be.

Since the arrival of digital photography assessing your shot is an instantaneous event. Briefly looking down at the camera screen to check your shot is quick, easy and will give a good indication of the exposure and the quality of the image. This is a perfectly acceptable way of shooting. It is quick and effective in the vast majority of situations. When accuracy of exposure is your number one priority then reviewing the histogram and using a light meter may become essential.

The histogram is a mathematical measurement of the image you have captured. It can be used to accurately assess your image for exposure and contrast. The horizontal x-axis represents the tones in the image and goes from 0 - 255 where 0 is absolute black and 255 is absolute white. The vertical y-axis measures how much of each tone there is present in the image. If a tone goes off the chart it indicates that tone has clipped and detail will be lost.

In the video above I explain the histogram. We go through several images with different histogram readings explaining how to interpret them, what they mean and how images can be processed to maximise their potential. There are some occasions where the histogram is of less use such as high key and low key lighting setups and this is also explained.

The histogram serves little purpose to me when shooting. I shoot RAW so do not need to be 100% accurate with my exposure. My process is to estimate the settings I require based on the conditions I see with my eye, take a test shot, look at the screen and then adjust the settings and repeat if required. I generally get within half a stop of the correct exposure which can easily be corrected in post with virtually no drop in quality. Another option is to use a light meter and the histogram, but I value speed and time more than getting everything 'right in camera'.

In post-processing I use the histogram on virtually every shot. In Adobe Lightroom it sits nicely in the top right corner and I reference and look to it throughout my editing process. My main use for it is to ensure proper exposure and be certain of getting absolute black and white.

Shots that are properly exposed with good contrast, bright whites and beautiful deep blacks are the hallmarks of a photographer at the next level; someone who consistently produces beautiful images time and time again. A gallery made up of images created and developed in this way will stand out amongst many others and for most of us that is the attention we seek.

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