June 8, 2011

#23 – Learn to read your histogram.

We all trust the most pathological of liars.

Oh sure, that very liar seems to have the best of intentions. It shows us what we think we want to see. It even almost gives us what we want. But when it comes to editing your photos, your camera’s LCD and your computer’s monitor rarely tell you the truth. What looks dark on the back of your camera looks bright on your laptop.

Every monitor (and camera LCD and cell phone screen) is a little bit different. Professional photographers spend hours with gadgets and software to calibrate monitors so things look just right. The thing is, there’s a super easy way to know the truth when it comes to editing your photo.

Say hello to the histogram.

The histogram is that little line graph you may have come across on your camera screen or in your photo editing program. At first glance it looks weird and confusing. But spend just a couple of minutes with it and you’ll be able to understand whether your image is

Your histogram measures light.
A histogram tells you if your photo – or parts of your photo – are too dark or too bright. For an average snapshot you want that graph to look nice and even, stretching all the way from the left side to the right side with nice flowing curves. There are lots of times you won’t want this exact look, but for your average, properly exposed photo, this is what you’re looking for.

The left side is the dark side.

You read the histogram from left to right. The left side shows you things that are dark – like a night sky for example. If everything is squished up on that left side, you know that your photo is too dark, no matter what your monitor or camera LCD says. Adjust ISO, aperture or shutter speed to compensate.

The right side is the bright side.

Everything pushed up against the right side of the histogram in that grad photo you’re taking?  Your image might be overexposed.  Again, you can dial down ISO, aperture and shutter speed.

Turn it on and try it for yourself.

Time to snag your computer’s manual. Turn on the histogram so that it shows up during every shot you take – it’s the ultimate helper in knowing if you got the shot.

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