A step-by-step guide to using the Waveform Monitor

Sep 1, 2016

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.

A step-by-step guide to using the Waveform Monitor

Sep 1, 2016

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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waveform_monitor

The waveform is video’s answer to the histogram. Like a histogram it shows the brightness levels throughout your image. Also like the histogram, it can be confusing to those new to video or colour correction. While the information displayed is essentially the same, how it displays it is very differently.

This video from Aputure walks you step by step through what exactly the waveform is and how to interpret it. Once you learn how it works, it lets you quickly and easily see under or overexposure as well as colour or white balance issues. And when you are used to it, you won’t want to shoot or edit without it.

YouTube video

While the video talks specifically field monitors, the waveform is also useful for colour correction and grading. Depending on the software, it can appear as either a single overall brightness level, or as separate RGB levels.

The top left of the screenshot below shows Adobe Premiere’s waveform, which displays brightness across the range of the image. You’ll note that the Premiere presents the channels on top of each other for an overall level of brightness. The “RGB Parade” along the bottom of the image gives you three separate waveforms; One for each of your red, green and blue channels. The other thing in the top right is the vectorscope.

premiere_waveform_rgb_parade_vectorscope

DaVinci Resolve, however, shows a combined RGB waveform, similar to that used with field monitors at the time of recording. You can see it here in the bottom right of Resolve’s UI.

davinci_resolve_waveform

Since I started shooting and editing more video, I actually find histograms to be somewhat frustrating. The data is the same, but how the waveform presents it is far more useful than the histogram. The waveform hasn’t made it much into the world of stills photography yet, but I’m hoping it does at some point.

For those who have experience with both the histogram and the waveform, which do you prefer working with? Do you wish that Photoshop implemented tools like the waveform and vectorscope for working with stills? Or do you find the histogram more useful? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

[via No Film School]

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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 “A step-by-step guide to using the Waveform Monitor”

  1. Gregg Bond Avatar
    Gregg Bond

    Different horsed for different courses. As far as I can tell Histograms are simply an idea of relative exposure across tones which is at best representative of the RGB colour space.

    Waveform parades and Vector scopes are (should) be calibrated to a standard, to ensure broadcast transmission requirements are met.