Histograms 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Your Camera’s Most Important Feature

The histogram on your camera can tell you a lot about the quality of your photo, but for beginner photographers, interpreting what the chart is trying to tell you can be overwhelming and confusing. Lucky for us, John Greengo offered up an easy explanation of the histogram in the course, The Photography Starter Kit.

histogram chart

Here’s a run-down of some Histogram basics:

–The histogram represents the tonal distribution of the colors in your image. The histogram in your camera represents 256 levels of tonality ranging from the darkest black to the lightest white. It basically breaks down the image into 254 shades of grey, plus pure white and pure black.

–The x-axis (running across the bottom of the chart) represents spread from dark to light pixels, the y-axis (running from top to bottom) correlates to the the total number of pixels. The histogram plots the chart of how many and how light or dark are the pixels in your photo.

–The x-axis gives you a picture of the tonal distribution. From the left to right the histogram shows you tones starting with the dark tones, the shadows, the mid-tones, and your highlights.

–You want a mountain. The histogram of a perfectly exposed picture will show up like a mountain in the middle of the graph without stretching all the way out to pure black or pure white. That mountain means you have lots of color and room to edit in post.

John’s handy graphics make histograms even easier to understand. Check out the video, and he’ll even tell you where you are most likely find the histogram on your camera model:

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Rachel is the content marketing lead for the CreativeLive Craft Channel. Her side hustle is floral design and her day job is awesome. @ms_gregarious.