Have you seen something like this on your camera and wondered what the hay this weird landscape was for?
It is your histogram and in this article you’ll learn how it will provide you greater exposures in the field!
At first the histogram might seem a little complex to understand, but once you know how to read it, you will never again open your images on the computer and realize that they are underexposed, even though they seemed great in the field.
But remember: the histogram is an assistant, you’re still the boss!
How to read it
All ditigal images consist of a large number of pixels – dots with a specified colour. The histogram is a graph displaying the amount of bright and dark tones in the image.
The shape of your graph depends on how many pixels in the image are dark-, middle- and bright toned.
At the far right of the histogram you can see the amount of bright pixels (the whitest white) and at the far left you can see the amount of dark pixels (the blackest black). The higher the graph goes, the more pixels of that specific tone is present in your image.
Under normal circumstances a well exposured photograph will show a pyramid, with a fair distribution of both dark, middle and bright pixels.
Much like in this photo
The great thing with the histogram is that your LCD often is hard to see in the field and most often isn’t large enough to to show the photograph properly. When you know how to read the histogram you will always know whether your image is under- or overexposed right away – giving you a chance to change the settings and return home with well exposed photo. Yay!
If your image has to many dark pixels, your graph peaks at far left, your image will most likely be underexposed – too dark.
If your image has to many bright pixels, the graph peaks at far right, your image will most likely be overexposed – too bright.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution in photography (that is why it is such fun!), and often you will aim for a underexposed image. Here the histogram will still be a great assistant, because you want to avoid the peaks a the furthest left and at the furthest right. These peaks means that parts of your image is pure white or pure black and there will be no way to recover these parts later.
There is no such thing as the “perfect” histogram, and there is no rules in photography. Remember, it is all guidelines making it easier for you to achieve just what you wanted when you bought the camera. So follow the guidelines and work creatively with the results!
A few examples!
In this last shot I intentionally wanted the bright and dark pixels to peak. This was to gain contrast in the image, so that I could show how the sun came throught trees from behind and how the mushrooms were growing in the shadow. To be fair this photograph was shot in RAW and went through a fair amount of post-processing. But the end result would not have been this good if it was all over- or underexposed. I used my histogram in the field to ensure that I had enough bright and dark pixels.