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Understanding Histograms

Histogram
“I was flicking through my camera’s menu today and came across a little graph labeled ‘histogram’. What is it and should I take any notice of it? Is there such a thing as the ideal histogram? What should we be aiming for?” – Brent

What is a Histogram

Histograms are a topic that we could (and probably should) spend a lot of time talking about but let me give you a very brief answer to get you through in the short term.

Histograms are a very useful tool that many cameras offer their users to help them get a quick summary of the tonal range present in any given image.

It graphs the tones in your image from black (on the left) to white (on the right).

The higher the graph at any given point the more pixels of that tone that are present in an image.

So a histogram with lots of dark pixels will be skewed to the left and one with lots of lighter tones will be skewed to the right.

The beauty of a histogram is that the small LCD display on your camera is not really big enough to give you an great review of a picture and you can often get home to find that you’ve over or under exposed an image. Checking the histogram can tell you this while you’re in a position to be able to adjust your settings and take another shot.

Some Examples of Histograms

Let’s look at a couple of examples of histograms on shots I’ve taken over the first year of my son’s life (it’s his birthday this week so we’re going through some shots).

Compare these two shots and their corresponding histograms:

4-1Histogram-4-1
The above shot has a lot of light tones – in fact there are parts of the shot that are quite blown out. As a result on the right hand side of the histogram you can see a sudden rise. While there are quite a few mid tones – everything is skewed right and with the extreme values on the right hand side indicate an over exposed shot.
5-1Histogram-5
This second shot has a lot of dark tones. This is partly because of the black and navy clothes in the shot – but also because it’s slightly underexposed shot. The resulting histogram is quite different to the first one – the values are skewed to the left hand side.

Is there such a thing as a ‘good’ histogram?

As with most aspects of photography, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and there’s always a lot of room for personal taste and different ways of expressing yourself as a photographer.

There is no such thing as the ‘perfect’ histogram – different subjects and photographic styles will produce different results. For example taking a silhouette shot might produce a histogram with peaks at both ends of the spectrum and nothing much in the middle of the graph. Taking a shot of someone at the snow will obviously have a histogram with significant peaks on the right hand side…. etc

Having said this (and to generalize) – in most cases you’ll probably want a fairly balanced shot with a nice spread of tones. Most well exposed shots tend to peak somewhere in the middle and taper off towards the edges.

Using Histograms While Shooting

So now you know what a histogram is – grab your digital camera’s manual and work out how to switch it on in playback mode. This will enable you to see both the picture and the histogram when reviewing shots after taking them.

Keep an eye out for histograms with dramatic spikes to the extreme ends of either side of the spectrum. This indicates that you have a lot of pixels that are either pure black or pure white. While this might be what you’re after remember that those sections of the image probably have very little detail – this is a hint that your image could be either over or under exposed.

The histogram is really just a tool to give you more information about an image and to help you get the effect that you want. Having your camera set to show you histograms during the view process will tell you how your image is exposed. Learning to read them will help you to work out whether you’re exposing a shot as you had hoped.

Another Example of a Histogram

Lets finish this tutorial by looking at one last example of a histogram:

1-1Histogram-1-1

You can see in this shot a much more even spread of tones. It’s still not perfect and I’d do a little post production work but it’s a much more evenly exposed shot and the histogram reflects this.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • Jeff Dull

    Informative and helpful well well written and easy to understand.

  • Kim Fouts

    Thanks, that was a gret explanation. I can’t wait to try it.

  • http://www.500px.com/anshumanchandel Anshuman

    Well this pretty much explains everything, Thank you:)

  • http://jtpstudios.co.uk/ John Turner

    Great Article. Well Written with some great Examples!

  • ShihTzuMama

    This was extremely helpful. I’m an amateur and have been looking online for a good explanation of histograms and this has been the best so far. Thank you!

  • Blackjuju18

    WOW! Thank you very much for the info & the way you explained it.

  • django

    nice and simple

  • James Shaw

    Thank you for expanding so beautifully my knowledge of histograms that apply to photography. – Jim

  • Elder Man

    The lessons are great. It was a good refresher on histograms as I have taken statistics classes and developed histograms. Your entire site is excellent. I am waiting for my new D3200, replacing a DSC-H2 but keeping my Nikon S570: good pocket camera.

  • http://hollyreblogs.tumblr.com/ Holly Doss

    This was TOTALLY helpful! Great article and was Very easy to understand. Muchly Appreciated!

  • Richard James

    I found this tutorial extremely helpful – Perfect!
    Many thanks :)

  • chikki

    1)(mean) the average intensity of the image has to be high or low for a better image?

    2)(standard deviation)the spread of intensities across the image has to be high or low for a better image?

    3) (skew) the asymmetry in the image’s intensity distribution has to be high or low for a better image?

    4)(entropy) a measure of an image’s smoothness in terms of gray-level values has to be high or low for a better image?

    5) (energy) the gray-level values are distributed within the image has to be high or low for a better image?

    please guide me or mail me at chitreshb@rediffmail.com … share some links which describe it has to be high or low ?

  • Michael Rosenberg

    Skewed left means that the tail is on the left and skewed to the right means that the tail is on the right. You have this backwards. Check the definition of skewness.

  • Artie

    Very helpful, thanks!

  • Mehul B Khatri

    Thanks. . Very nicely explained to make it simple and easily understood. Thanks again.

  • Anirjit Guha

    Thanks a lot

  • Lloyd Dinma

    There was this guy above you in the search results. Spent forever trying to understand his take. Then I clicks on yours and got it in like a minute. Thanks and great job! I

  • dantefrizzoli

    Wow! Thank you

  • Prathmesh Deshpande

    I want to know more about wildlife photography and post processing tips could you please help me out?

  • http://www.eschrijft.com/ Etienne Stekelenburg

    Nice explanation, thanks a bundle

  • aks

    Thanks for the post.. I still have a question.. how can a histogram tell me more details than the image itself? Won’t it be obvious if the image is over or under exposed?

  • gkmenon11@gmail.com

    Your blogs and explanations are very usefull for beginners.
    Thank u so much and continue this great job…..

  • http://www.spzphoto.gr Spiros Zaharakis

    The screen doesn’t always say the truth. The histogram does.
    Under bright light your image will look underexposed, in a dark environment your image may look good or even overexposed only to find out that it was underexposed when you open it up on your computer. The histogram is the best way to tell what you image will look like when you go back home.
    It takes a while to understand how it works but after that it’s really easy.

  • http://www.spzphoto.gr Spiros Zaharakis

    The histogram is the visual representation of the tonal values found in your image.
    There is no such a thing as right or wrong for a better image that works for all the pictures.
    If you photograph a black wall your histogram should only have a peak on the left side and nothing else.
    If that black wall has some highlights that show as grayish tones, then the peak should extend a little towards the mid area. If in that same wall you place a white post it paper, in your histogram you should also get a peak in the right area.
    If you shoot a gray wall the histogram will have a peak in the middle, if you shoot a white wall the peak should be in the far right and so on.
    A scene with multiple tones that has both deep shadows and bright highlights as well as mid tones should have a histogram that covers the whole area.
    Wrong exposure is when you have deep blacks in the scene but the histogram doesn’t start from the far left edge or when you have bright highlights but your histogram doesn’t show any data in the far right edge.

  • amiya

    thanks for this simple and short description of histograms. i really found it very useful. it helped me to understand things more easily

Some older comments

  • John Turner

    August 13, 2013 06:57 am

    Great Article. Well Written with some great Examples!

  • Anshuman

    July 5, 2013 06:48 pm

    Well this pretty much explains everything, Thank you:)

  • Kim Fouts

    June 20, 2013 12:52 pm

    Thanks, that was a gret explanation. I can't wait to try it.

  • Jeff Dull

    April 2, 2013 10:54 pm

    Informative and helpful well well written and easy to understand.

  • chandrasekaran

    December 4, 2012 02:58 am

    We can create a full grey card, Black card, Half black and half white card, 1/4 black and 3/4th white Etc in Photo shop and compare the histograms in the levels menu - Such a sample will be very use full

  • Gloria

    October 15, 2012 11:06 am

    Thank for this post. I am taking a night school DSL photography class and its limited in time, so We are being introduced to these topics, but don't really have the time in class to experience them in practice/results--I need a lot of experiential learning, and things explained in various ways to fully understand it. This is a topic of which,he stressed that if you could learn to use in practice, It would benefit your confidence and outcomes. I like the way you used your words and your images to explain this concept. It suited me just fine! And I feel like I just "got" another layer of photography. Thank You.

  • Anne

    October 9, 2012 02:08 pm

    Thank you for your great site "for beginners". You write it in such a way that's easy to understand and there's more likelihood that I will finally venture out of auto! Cheers!

  • Mammaberry

    April 13, 2012 08:33 am

    I was able to Aaron's article about histograms, titled Histograms: Huh?. I just googled it and there it was. Very interesting and goes along quite well with this article. Nice job guys. Thanks

  • MoP

    March 3, 2012 12:40 am

    Great explanation. However, my cammera has 3 histograms: red, green, and blue. How do they work? is there an article on it, or someone who can explain me? thanks

  • Esther

    February 22, 2012 12:44 pm

    The information on Histograms is very much to the point, thank you.

  • tammi brown

    February 22, 2012 09:00 am

    I would like to know how to "remove" the histogram from the view of the picture I have taken. I have a Nikon D40 and am not sure which button I have pushed to get the histogram on there. Yes....I am new with this camera it has so many bells and whistles! Thanks

  • Kumar

    January 19, 2012 11:30 am

    Really nice article about histograms. I tried reading some histogram articles and I was in confusion till I read this article. Its plain and simple to understand. Loved it.
    Thanks.

  • Jenny Sterne

    December 12, 2011 11:53 pm

    I'm just a beginner learning to use her new camera.
    I would like to know, theoretically, cropping a photo would change it's histogram?

  • GariRae

    October 7, 2011 04:17 am

    I'm a bit confused whether to display the histogram or the highlight blinkies in the LCD. Some experts recommend one, some the other. One cannot do both unless you scroll through all the display options for a shot. That said, I tend to focus on the blinkie display and find my shots often 1 to 1.5 stops under exposed. Anyone else have this conundrum?

  • Thomas

    October 6, 2011 02:34 pm

    Thank you for this article. I have one year of digital photography under my belt. I read a similar tutorial on histograms but yours was much better,simple and clear. So now i know what that histogram is for!

  • Fonk

    October 6, 2011 02:22 pm

    Awesome, thanks. I've never really understood what to use the histograms for, so this is really helpful.

  • Greg

    October 6, 2011 02:17 pm

    It was interesting. I have a histogram that can be changed from Brightness to RGB and they look different. I take alot of landscape photos and love certain shades of blue for my backgrounds. I'll have to see how those look on both of those histograms.

  • Reginaldo Aldrighi

    September 27, 2011 11:01 am

    Nice, simple and precise! Congratulaions and thanks for this article. Reginaldo

  • Barry

    September 20, 2011 03:33 am

    As you said, one could spend much more time on this subject. My DSLR has 4 histograms for every photo - white, red, green, and blue. Why ? For example, in the red histogram, what is the difference between the extreme left and the extreme right ? Similarly, for the other 3.

    ........ Barry

  • Rakesh Panwra

    April 29, 2011 10:48 am

    Very nice and to-the-point explanation. Thanks a lot Darren.

  • Parth Pandit

    April 28, 2011 06:51 am

    Excellent explanation! I became a fan of your and this site. I know several things now, which were just a blackbox to me few days back... many thanks to you!

  • The Ninja

    April 27, 2011 01:51 am

    Thanks for the intro. I just purchased a Nikon 3100 to dip my toe into photography and right now am relying on the auto features. Thanks for sharing.

  • Daphne

    March 26, 2011 12:15 am

    Wow, I found this article to be super mega helpful. Didn't know what a histogram was before. Love these tutorials!!

  • Bill Barker

    February 24, 2011 01:10 am

    First of all, let me say I have just found your site lately. I am very impressed with the content and variety of the photography processes you put on your site. Very well done! Bravo!
    I have question. I see you mention "photoshop" in your responses and comments. I have started with "Picasa" on Google. I am enjoying this very much. I would like to buy a Photo enhancer, for lack of a better explaination, that I may purchase. What would you think is a good " Photo enhancer" or "Photoshop" would be like the 'Picasa". Keeping in mind I am just starting. So I am looking economical investment to the a really good one. Again thank you for a site I can recommend to my family!
    Bill

  • Uday

    January 22, 2011 11:01 pm

    I recently got interested in DSLR'S and I'm just a beginner. I want to thank you for making digital photography interesting and easy to understand. I've suggested your site to quite a few of my friends and they love it. Just keep on doing what you're doing, you're awesome.

  • Eliz

    December 31, 2010 01:38 am

    Thank you so much for all of the hints and helps you provide for us beginners, I have been taking classes for about a year and a half and have been stifled by the histogram, thank you for putting it in easy to understand terms.

  • Dhanu

    December 12, 2010 10:15 am

    Thanks for explaining everything in simple terms :-)

  • Manu

    November 12, 2010 06:26 pm

    Thanks Darren. Simple and to the point. Keep up the good work.

  • bindu

    August 20, 2010 04:33 pm

    Hope this works now! Sorry!

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/18573025@N07/4894188577/' title='Village belles' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4143/4894188577_3ccc60556b.jpg']

  • bindu

    August 20, 2010 04:29 pm

  • bindu

    August 20, 2010 04:27 pm

    Thanks for this tutorial. I have a question- I am a complete novice and all the pictures I took till now have been without any knowledge of how to use the camera, really use it properly. Now I am looking over some of the photos I took and checking out the histograms. Many photos look fine on the whole (or maybe my untrained eye cannot really tell!) but for eg. when I look at the histogram I see a peak of one or two pixels on the extreme right or left going all the way up to the top of the histogram or sometimes only halfway. Would this be considered to be not a good histogram? Please take a look at my photo Village Belles and its histograms. What should I make of it? Thanks for your help!

  • Tom L

    August 12, 2010 02:40 pm

    I am so glad I read this. Thank you!!

  • Rajev Charudutta

    July 28, 2010 07:34 am

    Thanks Darren for the beautiful article. I usually use a histogram in post processing as I have a P&S. I used to use it without really paying attention to what I was doing. I would just look at the pic and at the setting it looked best I would save. Now I know what I have been doing. Also when I get my DSLR I will know how to use the histogram while taking the pic.

  • Leo Angelo

    June 17, 2010 03:18 pm

    I know this was posted 3 years ago, but still, I want to comment (or to correct) on the 'skewness' topic.

    Skewed to the left (left-skewed) means the left tail is longer and the values are concentrated on the right (thus higher on the right side.

    Skewed to the right, similarly, is the opposite.

    [eimg url='http://www.stat.psu.edu/online/program/stat504/01_overview/graphics/skew_graphs.gif' title='skew_graphs.gif']
    (www.stat.psu.edu)

    Great article, nevertheless.

  • Leo Angelo

    June 17, 2010 03:16 pm

    I know this was posted 3 years ago, but still, I want to comment (or to correct) on the 'skewness' topic.

    Skewed to the left (left-skewed) means the left tail is longer and the values are concentrated on the right (thus higher on the right side.

    Skewed to the right, similarly, is the opposite.

    Great article, nevertheless.

  • Arjun

    May 12, 2010 08:17 pm

    Brilliant tutorial. The last photo is mindblowing.

  • mahadeolalbarai

    May 7, 2010 01:00 am

    I really enjoy,You have explained really mean histogram really i learn from your weekly news letter i will be trying it;;;;;;;;Thanks a lot for your information.mahadeolalbarai purulia india

  • Shelley J

    April 22, 2010 09:53 pm

    I have been reading through your previous articles and like them you have explained what histogram really means so simply and with such a wonderful example. I really enjoy your articles

  • willi

    March 19, 2010 02:48 am

    surely i can step toward more digital. thanks a lot for the explanation

  • Simon Food Favourites

    March 16, 2010 08:34 pm

    great! thanks for sharing. i sometimes forget about the histogram :-)

  • Rina Minca

    January 26, 2010 06:22 am

    Thank you so much for your article, it cleared up a lot of questions I had. I knew what a histogram was and that it was to help you get exposure right, but never understood how. Now I do, can't wait to use it to become a better photographer!

  • vilainkikinou

    January 10, 2010 10:04 am

    Dear Darren, just want to thank you a lot, cause I've been reading your tutorials over and over, understanding bits by bits, sometimes after experiencing and crashing!!! anyway, my view on photography has radically changed!!! The way I use my camera (only a bridge though but I can now make believe refex owner I've got one) I know there is never one way to photography, but knowing your tips help a great deal, and I would say the mots important is composition!!!!
    Please carry on!!!!!

    A fan from France!!!!

  • Calder Davey

    December 30, 2009 07:10 am

    Interesting. I kind of always just overlooked it and didn't think it was very important.

  • mack

    July 14, 2009 06:47 pm

    i find this article impossible to fully undestand but i appreciate the attempt to simplyfy the subject. is there anyone else who had trouble with it and can direct me to another explaination as i want to find out more on the subject. i think i'm missing something very elementry in reading it, i know what the article is saying but cant work out how to acually read the graph

  • mack

    July 14, 2009 06:20 pm

    anyone know where the article , histograms is, by Aron

  • Tiffany

    May 16, 2009 04:26 pm

    Thanks! I wondered how to read the histogram. I usually have it turned off so now I will try with it on

  • Chris

    May 9, 2009 03:22 am

    Thanks for the help. As a someone who works with data histograms on a regular basis, I can tell you that your terminology is a little off. When a histogram peaks on the left and has a tail on the right, it is "right skewed", not left skewed as you mention in your article. The "skew" is the same side as the tail.

  • abpreety

    February 26, 2009 02:17 pm

    thanks .before seeing this lesson i do't know what is histogram...........

  • WBC

    February 25, 2009 11:54 pm

    Well done!

  • EmergingAire

    February 20, 2009 10:40 pm

    Darren, Another great article.There are a lot o photoschool blogs out there
    but, many ignore the histogram as a touchy subject best left to pro photographers with no real attempt to enlighten newbies of the real value
    found within this data.Consider doing an article on the value of histograms
    in post processing clean up and as a learning tool....thanks

  • Josh

    February 1, 2009 11:37 am

    Great post - not sure if any of the comments pointed this out, but you've got your skews backwards. For example, lots of darker tones (big hump on the left, long tail on the right) is skewed right, not skewed left. And vice-versa. Doesn't take away from the post, but just in case readers go elsewhere and see it the other way around.

  • Jack Fussell

    January 20, 2009 07:20 pm

    Great article. I've never used histograms before because I didn't know what I was looking for. I've struggled alot because I take what I think are great shots until I see them on the big screen....then I realize they are often overexposed. This is a great new tool to help with this on the spot.

  • Bill Lovelady

    January 12, 2009 09:06 am

    Great info, thanks for breaking it down into an easy to understand method. Now that I have some sense of what it is and what it is there for I will try to pay more attention to this and see if I can improve upon my work. I also invite everyone to drop by www.bklphotos.com and check my shots out so you can see what stage I am operating at. Not a beginner but always room to learn. Thanks.

    Bill

  • Henry

    January 8, 2009 01:23 pm

    Now I have a better picture after reading your article, a confusing subject made easy by you.Thanks.

  • Gerry V

    January 2, 2009 08:26 am

    A great job on simplifying a complex subject. It's also important to note that computer monitors can display the same picture with varing results. The beauty of histograms are that they don't lie. If your monitor doesn't display the results you expect then a calibration check of your monitor's color balance should be performed before photoshoping your prized photographs.

  • bob b

    January 1, 2009 12:56 am

    When reading about the almighty histogram All I ever see are the bad histogram blown out highlights or no details in the blacks. How about showing us comparisons side by side histogram of the same shot so we can see the changes for ourselves. Same shot Over exposed, Correct exposure, Underexposed, Photo with histogram side by side. I think a lot of people would gain from this . Thanks for what you do offer us.

  • Millard

    December 2, 2008 08:42 pm

    I confess that before this morning I had never looked at my camera's histogram, but it is always the first thing I look for in photoshop. I have always felt a general bell curve is best, and if it is narrow bell curve you move the outer sliders in to the start of the curve to improve the shot. It's the middle slider I never know what to do with. I usually just slide it back and forth to look for the most pleasing to me.

  • Skyhunter

    August 27, 2008 07:41 am

    Question on Histograms: What does it mean when a spike in the histogram goes beyond the top of the displayed graph. Does that simply represent a lot of pixels of that tone but they can't all be represented within the limits of the graph but they are displayed in the image, or is there some sort of clipping happening within the image?

  • photorider

    March 31, 2008 09:53 pm

    Finally a simple explanation of what a histogram is all about. I will certainly understand what it's telling me now....much appreciatedd

  • subcorpus

    March 5, 2008 09:47 am

    so the annoying histogram on the back of the camera has some use ...
    i've never used it ...
    but i guess i'm gonna use it from now on ...
    great info here ... thanks ...

  • scoop

    January 9, 2008 10:46 pm

    any info,ie answer to larz ?my nikon semms to measure 3 channels seperatly or together.back to larz's ? IS THEIR ANY REALIVANCE TO THE HIGHT OF THE BARS.
    No you not wanr any bars at the extreem end!

  • Praveen

    September 26, 2007 07:49 pm

    So I believe a histogram with peaks to both left and right means a lot of over and underexposed or probably dark and light portions of the image. So to take a Still/Portrait photograph I believe it's good to maintain peaks at both the ends, is this true? Ofcourse, I understand it depends on lighting, but then again... I believe these make good pictures.. don't they?

  • Scott Hampton

    August 26, 2007 09:50 pm

    Murali, if the XTi is anything like the XT I had, you can hide the histogram and/or show different views of it and the picture when the image is displayed by pressing the info button. HTH.
    -Scott

  • Murali

    August 26, 2007 06:52 pm

    I just bought a Canon XTi and was wondering why i was seeing the graph on the display. Thanks for enlightening me!
    hope we have a lot more stuff like this for beginers like me.

  • Atherton

    August 25, 2007 06:53 am

    Great article, even cuter kid.

  • AlethiometerGal

    August 4, 2007 05:57 am

    Wow, that was great! =) As a two-year novice photographer who still enjoys running around taking shots, but becoming more and more interested with the more technical ideas behind pictures [not just point and shoot! =) ] this has got to be the first easily accessible quick explanation of histograms. Kudos! =D

  • Larz

    July 8, 2007 02:37 am

    Your histogram explanation was the first one that actually made sense to me, thanks.
    Question - if the histogram appears balanced/centralized yet none of the values reach very high (similar to a slight "frown") - does this mean that the image will typically be rather "washed out"?
    This has happened to me a couple times and I do not recall ever getting a good shot w/ this type h-gram...

  • Ajith

    July 4, 2007 10:58 pm

    Great explanation, simple and sweet. Now I know how it works. I was trying to understand it last couple of days. Thank you.

  • Naj

    July 4, 2007 04:36 pm

    another lesson learned from this site. thank you!

  • Mel

    July 4, 2007 05:59 am

    Keep teaching me this way and I will only get better. But quicker. Thanks Mel

  • Mike

    July 3, 2007 06:56 pm

    Thanks for the article. I've known about histograms for a while, they are one of the most useful tools my camera has.

    I forwarded this on to my father and the "Oh, THATS what it's for" look on his face was priceless!

  • Scott Hampton

    July 3, 2007 09:41 am

    Hey!
    Thanks for the article. I was going through histograms today, as well. I hate them and never want to use them, but you really do have to respect them.

    They come in handy when you can't see the LCD clearly. The LCD is great for checking COMPOSITION. Surely those little LCDs don't have the same capabilities as a Cinema display, so they currently can't tell you if you've got great exposure. And since the brightness of the LCD is adjustable, it confuses things more. Looking at the histogram gives you a sweeping overview of the tonalities, I think better than the LCD can.

    And, true, some manufacturers only base the histo on the green channel. I believe Nikon does, not sure what Canon does. The three or four channel histo is very useful, too, but, alas, further complicates things.

    You've done a great job on explaining the histogram. Thanks!

  • Kelly Anne

    July 3, 2007 01:09 am

    This article is a prime example of why I love this website - it offers simple explanations of things that I already sort of knew about, but never bothered to really learn more about.

    Knowing what things are, in plain English, is the first step to mastering a concept. If I wanted to learn more about histograms, now I at least know why they are important, and can go delve in further elsewhere. Thanks for being champs of the "plain English" approach. I added this website to my feeds as an afterthought, and now I look forward to each article. And recommend you, hands down, to other photographers.

  • Rekha

    July 2, 2007 02:02 am

    Yesterday I said to myself, "Time to learn about histograms". This morning - I see this in my Netvibes feed. Thank you so much for keeping it clear and simple. I agree with an earlier comment that exposure should primarily be dealt with in the photo-taking, but some cameras don't always get it right - like my Canon Digital Rebel XTi. The histogram will help a lot.

  • Cheryl

    July 2, 2007 01:19 am

    thank you . still a very confusing topic for me.. but willing to keep learning :)

  • Audrius

    July 1, 2007 07:33 pm

    Thanks. This was very useful.

  • Jay

    July 1, 2007 07:29 am

    Nice summary. I'm used Photoshop quite a but and even really knew what the histogram was in relation to PS, but I'd never really saw the use of the histogram function on my camera before (usually just thinking that I'd get a look at it once I got home). Thanks!

  • Pau

    July 1, 2007 03:03 am

    Newbies like me never bother to check what this graph is for.
    Thanks for this article, its really helpful. :)

  • Michael

    June 30, 2007 08:59 am

    I usually check the historam on about the first two or three shots and make adjustments to camera settings if necessary. Usually I don't have to check it again unless lighting conditions have changed or I have moved on to another subject and location. I don't delete the shot whose histogram didn't look good because it can often be fixed in Photoshop.

  • Darren

    June 30, 2007 08:20 am

    thanks everyone for the comments and feedback - there are some great suggestions and comments above that really enhance the article. Glad people enjoyed my explanation.

  • shroticg

    June 30, 2007 05:56 am

    what i have noticed that 80 to 90% of the photographers do not understand the histogram. i hope after going thru this explanation their attention will be drawn on histogram and they will be benefitted from its inclusion in the camera screen. a good topic.

  • Bryan

    June 30, 2007 04:08 am

    I tend to "avoid" things I don't understand. The Histogram setting on my camera was one of them. I often (somehow) get it set in the mode to display that instead the full screen shot. I would then get frustrated and try to move back to the full screen display that made "more sense" to me. But now with this explanation I've got a great new tool. Thanks for the great simple explanation of why I should use it more often.

  • Kayla Lamoreaux

    June 30, 2007 02:44 am

    Great article - thanks for the information it is very helpful.

  • Jeannette

    June 30, 2007 02:34 am

    Thanks for putting this one in plain English. I enjoyed it and I am sure that now I will use it.

  • NJTrout

    June 30, 2007 01:58 am

    Still a film photographer, but contemplating digital. My thought would be to bring the analysis of histograms back to old school photography terms. Over and under exposure. With all the advances in metering it should be simple to look at the scene you are ready to photograph, decide if you need to set exposure for the highlights or shadows and take you meter reading accordingly. Seems a much simpler concept then reviewing the histogram after the fact, and correcting on a computer. Practice the fundamentals of exposure, how it is used to control your creativity so you reproduce more accurately what you minds eye sees in the image. When all else fails bracket your exposures.

  • Brandon Burns

    June 30, 2007 01:31 am

    Great. One more little mystery solved for me. Maybe you can do one on ISO. I understand what it is but not why some people use 200/400/ etc.

  • Sybren

    June 29, 2007 11:11 pm

    You might want to be careful when looking at your histogram. There are cameras that base the histogram only on the green channel! This means that under/overexposure in the blue or red channels won't show up on your histogram at all.

    For more information, check out http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/yrgb.htm

  • SJDK

    June 29, 2007 10:04 pm

    A very quick and perhabs to "easy" way to check a histrogram is to check if it is not touching either the left (dark) or the right (light) side. If it does you may loose details which cannot be recovered as they are simply either black or white. The Canon 350D furthermore shows hotspots if you press the info key until you see the picture.

    Cheers. SJDK

  • Collin

    June 29, 2007 09:28 pm

    @PRH: The best lesson to learn about Photoshop is when to leave well enough alone.

    Indeed! Far too often I have pushed things too far when they didn't need them. Sometimes I manage to catch myself and stop, or my wife tells me "take it back".

    Thanks for the info!

  • kishore

    June 29, 2007 09:17 pm

    A great feature expressed in simplest terms. I like it!!

  • Billy Chia

    June 29, 2007 04:58 pm

    Nice. Very concise and understandable. I've been teaching my 6 year old daughter about photography. I wonder if there's a way to break histograms down even further to make it understandable at a child's level?

  • AC

    June 29, 2007 03:44 pm

    Great article - good job in keeping the explanation simple and concise.

  • Elmo

    June 29, 2007 12:13 pm

    As most cameras allow display of both picture and histogram. Look at the pictures you like and look at the corresponding histogram. No better learning experence.

    About moving the end slider in photoshop on the last example. They seeme good but moving the center marker might be in order.

    Elmo

  • PRH

    June 29, 2007 09:33 am

    # Collin Says:
    June 29th, 2007 at 4:15 am

    "So, what would you do to the last photo? It looks pretty good as it is to me. The only thing I could think is using the Levels in Photoshop move the right slider left a little."

    You probably wouldn't do anything to that last shot. If you clip the highlights (on the right), you'll probably end up loosing the beautiful detail in the face and overexposing the blanket at the bottom.

    The best lesson to learn about Photoshop is when to leave well enough alone.

  • Dumitru Tira

    June 29, 2007 09:22 am

    Great article! This will definitely help me improve my photos, my point-and-shoot has a histogram but it looks kinda strange to me :O

  • Darren

    June 29, 2007 07:56 am

    Dean - thanks - have made that change.

  • Andrew Ferguson

    June 29, 2007 07:22 am

    Paying attention to your histogram when you're shooting can really improve shots. It helps give you a better idea of whether you can expect to see lots of dark spots or blown out highlights when you finally get home and download your shots.

    Knowing right away means that you can just adjust your setting a bit and grab a few more frames before moving on.

  • Ryan Smith

    June 29, 2007 06:31 am

    Thanks for the info. I've been trying to use it for a long time, but I never felt like I had a good idea what I was supposed to be trying to accomplish.

    Great examples, too. I'd like to see more about histograms now.

  • Dean

    June 29, 2007 06:01 am

    The caption for the underexposed photo says the values are skewed to the right. I think it should say that they are skewed to the left.

    Otherwise, very nice!

  • Tom Jachmann

    June 29, 2007 05:38 am

    Also a good thing about histograms is that you can see them on bright days as well. What I means is that especially on bright days it is almost impossible to judge a photo on a camera display if it is well exposed. Also judging the exposure of pictures at night (e.g. shots of skylines etc.) give most of the time the wrong impression. But after some training you will easily realize by looking at the histogram if the photo is "most likely" exposed correctly

  • Jamie

    June 29, 2007 05:24 am

    Great article. The subject is often confusing yet you have explained it in nice simple terms. Thanks.

  • Aaron

    June 29, 2007 04:50 am

    For any readers interested in exploring histograms to an even deeper level, I wrote a visually-oriented explanation of how they're generated and how you can interpret them to (hopefully) improve your work. It's called (appropriately, I think), Histograms: Huh?

  • Raquel Paladino

    June 29, 2007 04:41 am

    Great explanation...short and sweet. As inferred in the article, once you have found your style you'll see a pattern to your histograms.
    Thanks!

  • Collin

    June 29, 2007 04:15 am

    So, what would you do to the last photo? It looks pretty good as it is to me. The only thing I could think is using the Levels in Photoshop move the right slider left a little.

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