Have you seen or heard of the histogram on your camera? Do you know what it is and when or how to use it? Is this an easy thing to learn and remember? Read on in this week's edition to find out the what, when, and why of using this very valuable tool on your camera.
When you take a picture using the LCD screen on your camera you see a LCD depiction of what that photo looks like. How often though do you look at it and say to yourself that photo looks amazing only to go home load it onto your computer and say what a bunch of crap. This photo is way too dark or light. This is when knowing how to read a histogram becomes so important.
Let's start with how to show the histogram on your LCD screen. On a canon camera when you choose view photo you can then press the info button on the back left hand side of the camera body. Nikon users will have to look it up in your manual but it should be similar. As you click through you see a variety of views from shutter count to RGB and then there is histogram view.
Now that you can see your histogram let's talk about what it is and how to read it. The histogram shows the tonal range of a photo. That is the dark, the light, and the neutral. On the left hand side is the dark or black, on the right hand side is the light or white, and the middle ground is the neutrals and grays. When you take your photo what you want to see is a nice balance over all three sections right? Wrong. This is where most articles confuse you and I will try to keep it simple.
Look at what you are shooting before you press the shutter. Consider what tonal ranges are in your photo. If you are shooting on a very bright day and a lot of the subject is white you will see a stacking like a spike on the right side of your histogram. If your subject is a full third black or very dark then the histogram will stack to the left. It's only when everything is kind of equal across the range you see a nice balance across the histogram.
You can see in these three examples exactly what I'm talking about. The top photo the range is fairly balanced with a small spike in the middle and a large spike on the right. The spike on the right is the "blown out" sky. Blown out refers to the loss of digital information. The sensor is so overwhelmed there is no information to read on that far side.
This photo represents the tonal mid-range. There are a few spikes and those would be the sparkle off the dress and the clouds.
Finally A photo with the histogram pressed heavily to the left. With all this black there is no information to read.
As you can see from the examples reading a histogram is not really that difficult. Look at your shot watching for what you expect the histogram to read like, really bright, really black, or neutral and then expose for that using aperture, shutter speed or ISO