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How to read histograms ?

Divya 6 6 United States
29 Aug 2012 9:07PM
I am a beginner in photography. I was reading last night about exposure and I came across histograms. It got me completely confused Sad. Can someone tell me how to read histograms and how to get correct exposure using histograms ? Smile

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Paintman Plus
11 1.2k 177 United Kingdom
29 Aug 2012 9:17PM
This will help

Basically the histogram shows the tonal information in the photo. This, in most cameras, is a representation of a jpg output and not the RAW information. There is more information held in the lighter parts of the histogram than in the darker parts and that's why it's best to shoot to the right whilst not blowing out the highlights.
mikehit 8 8.0k 13 United Kingdom
29 Aug 2012 9:28PM
In an nutshell, the aim is to take a picture without the curve of the graph hitting the right hand side of the histogram. If too much information is at the limits to the right it means that you have 'overexposed' and you cannot recover any detail from the brighter areas. Similarly if it hits the left hand edge of the histogram it means you have underexposed parts of it and you will lose data in the shadows.

Usually the single-curve histogram is sufficient - you can on higher-level cameras get the RGB histogram that looks at the red, green and blue channels separately and this can be useful because the red channel is often the first to 'blow' (think photos of red roses or Ferraris).

The histogram is based on the information in the JPEG not the RAW data (and more precisely, it is based on the jpeg produced by the picture style you have set in-camera). What this means is that if you are shooting RAW, although a picture may look as though the highlight is blown there is a good chance that you can recover an 'extra stop' of detail in post processing.
Eviscera 11 1.1k 149 United Kingdom
29 Aug 2012 11:28PM
Never be a slave to the histogram.

Its a useful tool for a measured exposure , but as a creative photographer , ya might want spot and push those shadows/highlights as far as you want.

Heres a kak image of a seagull on a wall (bottom right) . Overcast light , multi segment and some clipped highlights.

The abstract (no p.s , no saturation) used spot off the brightest part in the scene and just gave a sense of structure.


Im puzzled why the camera histogram rarely emulates the levels pattern in cs though.

That would be good to know.
Divya 6 6 United States
30 Aug 2012 2:55AM
Thanks Everyone. It helped me a lot Grin
tepot 13 4.4k United Kingdom
30 Aug 2012 4:26AM
in my experience you need to expose so the main peak of the "hill" in the histogram is just right of center, gets a bit tricky though with very contrasty scenes, thats when you need to check the image visually on the LCD screen, when you see bits of white flashing in the LCD screen though indicating over exposure ignore it in favour of the histogram as often as not when you look at it in photoshop, it'll be fine and you have a certain amount of leway if you shoot .RAW anyways.

MikeRC Plus
13 3.6k United Kingdom
30 Aug 2012 7:00AM
cats_123 Plus
14 4.8k 28 Northern Ireland
30 Aug 2012 8:35AM
I like to see practical demos of this sort of thing and I find Lightroom works well for me because it allows you to drag the component parts (Blacks, Shadows, Exposure, Highlights, Whites) of the histogram until you get the effect you're looking for. It translates this into sliding scales (e.g. ++or - exposure stops ) which you can then use to improve on your future efforts. Smile

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