Histograms: How to Use Them to Improve Your Photography
A histogram is an essential tool for any photographer who wants to create well-exposed and balanced images. But what are they, and how do they work?
Let's explore the basics of histograms in photography and get some tips for using them to improve your images.
A histogram is a graphical representation of the brightness levels in an image. Because it allows you to adjust those levels, it is also a tool you can use to improve image quality.
Histograms show how many pixels in an image fall into each brightness level, ranging from pure black on the left to pure white on the right. The height of each bar in the histogram represents the number of pixels at that particular brightness level.
Histograms are available in most digital cameras, as well as in image-editing software such as Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.
Histograms can be challenging to understand at first, but with a little practice, you can use them to quickly evaluate the exposure and overall tonal range of your images.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when working with histograms:
1. Histogram shape
The shape of the histogram can tell you a lot about the overall tonal range of your image. A well-exposed image should have a histogram that is spread out across the full range of brightness levels. If the histogram is skewed to one side or another, it can indicate underexposure or overexposure.
The brightness levels in your histogram can help you evaluate whether your image is over or underexposed. If the histogram is bunched up towards the left side, it indicates an underexposed image, while a histogram that is bunched up towards the right side indicates an overexposed image.
The width of the histogram can help you evaluate the contrast of your image. A narrow histogram indicates low contrast – a short distance between the brightest and darkest tones in your image. Conversely, a wide histogram indicates high contrast – a great distance between the brightest and darkest tones.
Tips for using histograms in your photography
Here are some tips for using histograms to improve your images:
1. Use histograms to check exposure while you're shooting
Referring to the histogram in your camera can help you evaluate the overall exposure of your image mid-shoot, enabling you to adjust your settings in real time and potentially save yourself some Photoshop work later.
2. Aim for a balanced histogram
A well-exposed image should have a histogram that is spread out across the full range of brightness levels. If the histogram is bunched up towards one end, you may need to adjust your exposure settings.
3. Evaluate contrast
The width of the histogram can help you evaluate the contrast present in your image. If you want to increase or decrease the contrast, you can either adjust your lighting or camera settings mid-shoot, or make adjustment later in post-production.
4. Use histograms in post-production
When you're working on an image in Photoshop or Lightroom, a histogram will help you to make and assess any adjustments to exposure, contrast, and brightness levels.
Understanding Histograms and How to Use Them
Histograms may look daunting at first, and novice photographers may be tempted to ignore them in favour of trusting their eye instead. Though there's nothing wrong with this approach, it's unlikely to deliver the quality and precision you need to make your photos really stand out.
Getting to grips with histograms doesn't take long, and once you understand them, they will serve you as a useful tool throughout your career as a photographer.
Referring to and adjusting a histogram is a great way to get the brightness, exposure and contrast of your image right.
Want more? Check out Understanding Histograms and How to Use Them.
To learn more about brightness and exposure, download our free 90-page eBook, An Introduction to Photography.