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Your Camera Histogram: Explained in Video

Your Camera’s Histogram – Explained by an Expert

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Camera Histogram Video Transcript

camera histogram explained in the photography starter kit course>> John Greengo: Now, with digital cameras it’s so nice, cuz we can look at the back of the camera and we can judge if our pictures are too bright or too dark. And we have a great way of judging this called the histogram. And this is a graph. And I’m sure that you’ve probably seen this on your camera and you’ve kinda wondered what is this graph thing on my camera?

Well, it’s telling you what’s bright and what’s dark. It’s a graph of the tonal distribution. And the way a histogram works is it breaks up the entire screen into individual pixels. And it forgets about color. It’s just on tonality. And so if you can imagine a black pixel and a white pixel and a whole bunch more grey or middle tone grey pixels of slightly different tonality.

Now, let’s say we want to organize these. We’re gonna put the black pixel on the left, the white one on the right, and all the pixels of equal tonality lined up into a column. And with this we have a histogram, and it’s showing you a quick graph. And it’s a quick way to look and go oh, we’ve got a whole bunch of gray pixels, and a few pretty dark ones, and a few pretty light ones.

Now, on your camera, rather than just ten levels, it’s measuring it in 256 levels, from pure black to pure white. As we measure this from bottom to top, we’re talking about the number of pixels, and as we go from left to right, we go from darks to light.

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So we have the blackest areas, and then we have the shadowed areas, and then the main part of the exposure is just your mid-tones. And then over on the far right hand side are gonna be your highlights. And so you can see that in this particular photograph, we have a lot of pixels in the mid-tones, some in the shadows, and very little in the highlights and the darks.

And that’s a quick way to look at your image so you can have a quick judge of is this too bright? Or is this too dark? Now, I particularly like this histogram here, and the reason is, if you’ll notice in the left-hand column, the pure black column, it’s empty.

There are no black pixels. If I recorded a black pixel, there’s not much I can do with a black pixel, cuz if you lighten up a black pixel it doesn’t know what color to become. It’s pure black, we’ve lost it, and if something is pure white if you darken white, you just get grey.

You don’t get any color information out of it. And so you typically don’t want things that are perfectly black or perfectly white. You want to try to avoid that if you can. What this is telling me is that I have recorded everything from the darkest to the very lightest thing in the photograph, and I’ve captured that tonal information.

Now, if later on I want to go into some photo program and make the picture a little darker or a little lighter, I have a lot of good information to work with. So this histogram was for a wild tiger in India, and if I had overexposed the scene, this is what the histogram might have looked like, and you’ll notice it’s shoved way off to the right-hand side, which means that I have a lot of very bright pixels.

If I or my camera had made a mistake and we had underexposed it, it would be way off to the left-hand side. And the reason that the histogram is so valuable is that, well, if you’ve ever ridden an elephant in India, you’ll know that it’s very hard to judge if that’s the right exposure as you’re riding on the back of the elephant.

But if you look at the graph, you can quickly kind of tell. Is this good or is this not good? And generally what you want is a mountain in the middle, and you don’t want it stacked up on the left or the right side. I would have to say that you probably want to be most careful of things that are stacked up on the right side, because if you have blown-out pixels, they’re generally very, very bad.

There are exceptions to every case, though and every photograph will look slightly different. With different images, the histogram will be different. And so I encourage you once you take a picture to look at the image on the back of the camera, and then in order to get this to pop up, what you will do is a lot of cameras on the back of the camera, they’ll have a button called an info button or a display button.

With Nikon cameras, they have this little four-way touch tab. You have to go up and down to get to this information. And frankly, for you Nikon users you’ll have to dive into your menu system and, let me see, it depends on where it is on what camera, but in the playback menu, there’s something called playback display options, and you have to turn on the histogram settings so you can see the histogram.

But every camera that I know of for the last eight years has this option on it. And it’s something that I use when I’m out in the field and I’m trying to judge if I got the correct exposure or if it’s too bright or too dark. And if it is too bright or too dark, I would go back to my shutter speeds, my apertures, or my ISOs, and I would make an adjustment.

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