Honestly, I ignored my histogram completely for the first 3 years that I was into photography. I’d just kinda look at it, think yikes that looks complicated. Avoided it, and honestly, I just stupidly (and arrogantly) thought I can see my images on the back of my screen, I don’t need a graph to tell me about exposure etc.
How wrong I was. I was sitting down on a lazy Sunday afternoon scrolling through Youtube and came across a video explaining histograms. I thought I may as well take a look, not got anything to lose. After watching that video I started putting what I learnt into practice. This made my pictures so much better. I remember going through some of my old pictures and literally clenching my fists… shouting out in anger “@£$* !!! Why did I do that?!”.
Don’t make that same mistake! Let’s jump right into it. That thing below, yeah that’s a histogram. You can access it on your camera, while you're shooting (just google make and how to do it if you don't know), and in editing software (personally I use Lightroom where it is in the top right of your screen).
Looks pretty intimidating if you’ve never seen one before right? You can view this in your camera and when you open the image in Lightroom or Photoshop. So let’s divide this up so that you can understand it better.
Basically left is dark and right is bright! Yeah that does rhyme so maybe easier to remember.
The best thing to do when you are shooting is to get your histogram in the middle. So the graph rises most in the middle (I will show an image of this later on). Better to have it leaning over to the right than the left though. Do not over expose your picture in doing this.
Something like above is little bright (histogram going to the right), better this than the other way round though. If you go the other way you'll have lots of noise in your shadows when you start editing.
You want to keep noise out of your shadows and when you shoot like this you can pull your shadows out completely avoiding any noise. Let me show you what I mean…
Can you see in this image (above) how grainy it is especially in the dark areas? This is because the histogram was pushed way over to the left (see below).
Then in the below image you can see that there is no grain (noise) in the shadows.
So basically try to keep it to the middle but don’t completely overexposure your picture. Photography is all about balance right? A good way to remember what noise is for me is you know when you turn on a tv and its just fuzzed up- not tuned into anything. You get this grainy kind of noise thing going on.
The perfect histogram?
Most people will say that the above is the perfect histogram and what you should be aiming for. I say it depends on what you’re photographing. Say for example you are taking a photo of a black cat on a black background. Your histogram is going to be way over to the left because of what your photographing- lots of black. This doesn’t necessarily mean that its underexposed and a bad histogram.
So take what the histogram is saying with the content of your photo in mind. Same would go for if you were photographing a snow covered landscape- the histogram is naturally going to be way over to the right (white).
With everything said in mind use your histogram to your advantage and try to get the best exposures possible especially with editing in mind. Keep the detail in your shadows by generally keeping the histogram more over to the left and you will advance massively.