Demystifying the histogram to get great exposures every time

Jan 1, 2019

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Demystifying the histogram to get great exposures every time

Jan 1, 2019

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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We often hear that people meter with their histograms. And although that method comes with some caveats, it can be a fantastic way to meter your shot and fine tune your exposure. In this video, Becki & Chris (well, mostly Chris), walk us through what the histogram is, how to read it and how to apply it to your photography.

Chris breaks down the histogram into its minimalist components to explain how it works. It might seem boring, but it’s essential for knowing how to read it, and then to be able to act on that information.

While I’ll never be convinced that using the histogram is better for me than a handheld light meter, wherever possible, it’s certainly better than not having anything at all or just relying on your DSLR’s meter in the viewfinder. Even those of us who do still use light meters don’t take them everywhere we go. Mirrorless users, too, benefit from having a live histogram on their viewfinder or LCD helping them to nail the exposure without even taking a test shot.

Sure, we could just take a shot and look at the image on the LCD on the back of the camera, but our eyes lie to us when it comes to LCD screen brightness. You could have a dozen cameras in front of you with the same image up on their LCDs and they’d all look different to each other, throwing off your judgement. But a histogram (mostly) doesn’t lie. It shows you exactly how much of your image falls in what proportion of the shot – and whether you’ve blown your blacks or whites.

The histogram allows you to get around those quirks of LCD tech and the issues of viewing it in different lighting conditions. But remember that histograms aren’t based on your raw image data. They’re generated using the jpg processing settings that are in your camera.

If you’re only ever shooting jpg (or video), this is fine. But if you’re shooting raw, you’ll want to compare the in-camera jpg to the actual raw file on the desktop to see how close the two really are. You may find that while your jpg looks good, the raw is under or overexposed. I used to get this a lot on my Nikon D300s and regularly have to go a stop over what the histogram suggested to get shadow detail and colour than the preview & histogram suggested I had.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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One response to “Demystifying the histogram to get great exposures every time”

  1. Caner Avatar
    Caner

    do light metering modes have an effect when using the histogram? If yes, which measurement mode should be used ?(spot measurement, average measurement)