How To Use The Histogram Tool For Getting A Perfect Exposure

Jun 23, 2014

Udi Tirosh

Udi Tirosh is an entrepreneur, photography inventor, journalist, educator, and writer based in Israel. With over 25 years of experience in the photo-video industry, Udi has built and sold several photography-related brands. Udi has a double degree in mass media communications and computer science.

How To Use The Histogram Tool For Getting A Perfect Exposure

Jun 23, 2014

Udi Tirosh

Udi Tirosh is an entrepreneur, photography inventor, journalist, educator, and writer based in Israel. With over 25 years of experience in the photo-video industry, Udi has built and sold several photography-related brands. Udi has a double degree in mass media communications and computer science.

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Looking on the back of the camera to see if you got a shot properly exposed can be misleading. The LCD may not be calibrated showing a too dark or a too light image. Or the sun hitting the LCD can be laying tricks on you.

Yet there is a tool, that is often ignored that can give you a very quick and good indication if you exposed correctly – The Histogram.

In a nut shell, the histogram is a graph that show how many pixels of each brightness level are present in a frame.  John Greengo of CreativeLive give a full back to basics course on photography, in this installation he discusses the Histogram in very easy to understand manner.

Generally, John mentions that you would want a histogram that looks like a mountain with a strong peak in the middle and a slope that goes out to either end. While specific captures may be unique, (such a capturing snow, or night shots), a strong peak on the right may indicate an over exposed image, while a strong peak on the left may indicate an under exposed image.

Here a sample image from John’s course that illustrates the point. Remember, the shape of the “mountain” in the middle may vary, but you are probably good if you don’t see any peak that touches the left or right edges.

histogram-cl

How To Display The histogram on Your Camera:

Canon DSLRs – While in review mode, hit the info button. A histogram will appear next to the image. Hit the info button again to show the RGB histograms. You can do the same while in Live view – hit the info button to show a histogram while in live view.

Nikon DSLRs – This kinda depends on your model. While in review mode hit the 4-way selector up or down until you get to the histogram overlay mode. If up/down moves between photos, press the left/right arrows. Sadly, Nikon changes the way up/down and right/left work around 4 years ago.

Sony DSLRs – Press DISP (Display Contents) repeatedly in shooting mode to display histogram.

Pentax DSLRs – Press info and then the right and left arrows to get to the histogram view. then use the up down arrows to toggle standard/RGB histograms.

[Your Camera’s Histogram: Explained | John Greengo via No Film School]

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Udi Tirosh

Udi Tirosh

Udi Tirosh is an entrepreneur, photography inventor, journalist, educator, and writer based in Israel. With over 25 years of experience in the photo-video industry, Udi has built and sold several photography-related brands. Udi has a double degree in mass media communications and computer science.

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12 responses to “How To Use The Histogram Tool For Getting A Perfect Exposure”

  1. Paula Willems Avatar
    Paula Willems

    i need to learn this. thanks!

  2. Paula Willems Avatar
    Paula Willems

    i need to learn this. thanks!

  3. Amede Phonon Avatar
    Amede Phonon

    If in real life that was so simple, any auto-tool would work perfectly :)

  4. Amede Phonon Avatar
    Amede Phonon

    If in real life that was so simple, any auto-tool would work perfectly :)

  5. Richard Jane Avatar
    Richard Jane

    Michelle Saxby

  6. Richard Jane Avatar
    Richard Jane

    Michelle Saxby

  7. Stephen Masiello Avatar
    Stephen Masiello

    A good intro but it should be followed by examples where a centered curve is not properly exposed… night, snow etc.

  8. Frank Ball Avatar
    Frank Ball

    True enough for beginners, but if progressing in the photography hobby, it’s better to shoot RAW and to slightly overexpose so that the histogram is toward the right but not so far as to “clip” the brightest whites (unless intentional). This is because there is more digital information available in the high (bright) end of the image (i.e., recorded shades of brightness are finer than on the dark end).

    1. Shifty303 Avatar
      Shifty303

      I agree with that.

      I’ve also noticed with Canon that shadows / underexposed areas are pretty noisy so bumping them up in post increases it.

  9. Anthony Hayes Avatar
    Anthony Hayes

    actually the top picture is UNDER exposed approximately 1/3

  10. Anthony Hayes Avatar
    Anthony Hayes

    actually the top picture is UNDER exposed approximately 1/3

  11. Murray Avatar
    Murray

    Here’s the best way to set exposure using the histogram. http://super.nova.org/DPR/WhiteTowelRatios/