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Histogram

Written by Gail Bjork

Learn why many photographers use the histogram on a digital camera to avoid under and over exposure of a scene.

This three part article was contributed by Yin Wong

HistogramMany digital cameras have a histogram that is viewed on the LCD or electronic viewfinder. The histogram provides an indication of whether or not an image is properly exposed so that you don’t lose detail in the shadows and highlight area. If the histogram indicates that an image is not exposed properly, change exposure settings and retake the picture.

Most editing programs have histograms, accessed when making levels adjustments. The histogram lets you adjust the tonal range in an image. This article explains how to use an in-camera histogram.

Goldilocks and the Three Histograms

More and more consumer digital cameras are now including a histogram display either during the Record mode or in the Playback mode. This tutorial explains just what the histogram is and how you can use it to ensure a correctly exposed picture.

The Histogram Graph

The histogram is simply a graph that allows you to judge the brightness of an image. You can think of the area under the graph as comprising all the pixels in your captured digital image. The left side of the histogram depicts how many “dark” pixels you have captured; the right side, how many “bright” pixels you have captured.

Let’s look at the histograms of three pictures I took to illustrate how to read and use a histogram:

Too dark

Too dark

Just right

Just right

Too bright

Too bright

The left histogram indicates you have most of your pixels toward the dark. The pixels also touch the left edge, indicating underexposure. If Goldilocks had stumbled onto this histogram while taking a picture, you can hear her saying something to the effect: “This picture is too dark.”

The right histogram indicates you have most of your pixels toward the highlight. The pixels also touch the right edge, indicating overexposure. Looking at this histogram, Goldilocks would wail something to the effect: “This picture is too bright.”

The middle histogram depicts a correctly exposed picture with the pixels mostly in the middle, i.e. neither too dark nor too bright. (Goldilocks: “This picture is just right.”) Notice a few pixels touch the dark edge, so we should also expect a few very dark spots in the picture.

Perhaps the best way to understand the histogram is to look at the sample shots that go with the above three histograms.

Histogram: Part 2Part 3

About the author

Gail Bjork

Gail Bjork, who is passionate about digital photography, is the owner and editor of Digicamhelp.Gail is the author of three illustrated ebooks about digital photography. A number of her photos and digital photography related articles appear at other websites.In 2006, a series of her photos, People in the Louvre, were exhibited at the Underground Photo Gallery
in Iisalmi Finland. Eight of her photos taken in the Florida scrub are on permanent exhibition at Parrish Medical Center in Titusville, Florida.Gail served twelve years as an elected member of The School Board of Palm Beach County, Florida, one of the largest school districts in the U.S. She has also been the editor of a small town newspaper and a free-lance writer. Gail and her husband owned and ran several small businesses.