Aspiring photographers should get familiar with all of their camera’s features. A camera’s histogram is one of most unknown, underutilized tools that your camera has. When used properly, the histogram is used to correct the exposure on your photos.
To get the most out of your camera, you must learn how to use the features. You’ll notice better photos when you learn some basic techniques in photo taking and photo editing. This mastery of your camera can all begin with understanding one simple feature: the histogram.
What Is A Histogram?
If you look it up in the dictionary, you’ll find that a histogram is just a bar graph that displays the distribution of frequency. The widths of the bars shown are proportional to the classes that the variables have been divided into. The heights are proportional to the frequencies of the class.
In layman’s terms, it is a representation of the pixels which are exposed in your image. When you look at the left side of the graph, you’re seeing the shadows or black areas of your photograph. The right side shows the bright areas or highlights. The middle section shows you the mid-tones. The height of the peaks in each area represents how many pixels are in that specific tone.
So what do these pixels tell you about your image?
Reviewing Images with Your Camera’s Histogram
When you preview an image on your camera’s display, you can’t accurately interpret the qualitative nature of a photo. You won’t be able to determine if it’s too bright or too dark until you’ve uploaded on to your computer to edit, which isn’t ideal. If it’s too dark or too light to fix in the editing process, you’ve lost your shot.
Luckily, the quantitative graphs that are on your camera do not lie. You can look at your histogram and immediately know the exposure. Knowing the exposure on the spot allows you to adjust your camera’s exposure setting so that you can lighten or darken the next shot you take.
When your image is well-exposed, the graph will show an even distribution of pixels from edge to edge with a nice arch in the mid-tones and without a space on either side of the graph. You also want to ensure that the graph isn’t leaning heavily to one side or the other.
Gaps that show up on either end are indications that you’re missing information. Graphs that have pixels shifted more in one direction or do not reach the other edge are signs that your image is too dark or too bright. In both of these instances, you can safely shift the exposure to avoid losing details and to cover more tones.
What Do The Spikes on The Sides Mean?
When you see spikes on either side of your histogram, you’re seeing clipping. Clipping indicates the loss of detail in that tone. Areas which are clipped are usually unrecoverable, particularly in the bright tones. If you have spikes in the dark tones, then you have more of a chance of recovering details in editing, but highlighted details often aren’t in the file. To avoid clipped areas, you want to make sure that your pixels barely touch the right edge so that you keep your highlight details.
Using the tools that your camera provides is essential when you want to take great photographs. A simple adjustment in exposure might just be what takes your photo from average to extraordinary. Keep in mind that there are many other techniques that you can try to enhance your photography. At the end of the day, your photography style is your own and do what you want to express your art.