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Iron and Steel Sunsets with Histogram Basics

9 02 2012

Today I’m going to tell you a bit about histograms. To understand what a histogram is, it helps to know what a dynamic range is. We talk a lot about what the human eye can pick up on vs. what the camera can pick up on. In the real world, the human eye can perceive about 15 stops of light at once. That is to say, once our eyes adjust to an amount of light, we can see a range of about 15 stops around that. A one being the dimmest light you can still see in and a fifteen being the brightest. Unfortunately, most camera sensors today only pick up 5-11 depending on if you’re using a small point and shoot or a high end DSLR. That’s why you manually adjust your f/stop to compensate for which five to eleven of those fifteen you can see that you want in your image. Put Simply Your eyes can see details in a darker dark and a lighter light than your camera can at once so we have to adjust which part of the “dynamic range” we want the camera to capture.

The above picture was shot at f/2.8. All other factors being the same, (shutter speed, ISO, etc) increasing the f/stop will help you capture a higher (brighter) part of the dynamic range, and lowering it will help capture a lower (darker) part. The histogram is the thing that tells you if you’re getting the brightest and darkest parts of the image or if they are washing out or turning black. Almost all digital cameras, from point and shoots up to the nicest DSLR’s, will show you a histogram. Below is an example of a good histogram…

See the graph thing in the upper left. The one in your camera probably won’t have all the color but it will look a lot like that. The far left side represents the darkest part of the image, the far right side is the lightest part of the image. If your image is properly exposed, the histogram will be all bouncy in the center and will have tapered off by the time it gets to either edge. This is a really simple way to look and see how you did right after you take the picture. A bit of glare can make it nearly impossible to clearly see your picture on the LCD but the histogram can be easily checked in any light.

In the above picture, we have more low tones. You can see where the image falls into complete shadow and we lose all the details. The histogram is accurately representing this. You can see the left side of the graph is still really high because we have lots of pixels that are too dark for details. (A pixel is a little square of color, a photograph is made up of a bunch of these little dots) Sometimes areas of extreme dark or light are done intentionally and artistically. The key here is awareness. If you’re using artistic dark regions, you ought to know about them 🙂

Sometimes you get an image that you just can’t get the squiggly lines inside those five stops. Times like these you have to make a judgement call. Get the settings the way you think it looks best, and go for it! There’s a lot more to learn about histograms and with the right knowledge they can be a powerful tool. Here’s another great article on histograms–> Understanding Histograms by Darren Rowse

I hope you enjoyed today’s post. I love hearing from all of you and look forward to all of your feedback. Don’t forget to follow the blog and check me out on Facebook and Twitter. Social links up at the top in the sidebar. Thanks for stopping by and have a great weekend!

P.S. I updated this post on the thirteenth thanks to some help from a new friend over at The Uncensored Photographer. He noted a few incorrect values up in the dynamic range the camera and the eye can see. His blog is just getting off the ground and is certainly not for the faint of heart. Looks like no holds barred reviews of equipment and well, reviews. Might hurt your feelings if you like Ken Rockwell as much as I do 🙂 but definitely worth a read, I’ll certainly be checking in from time to time.

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65 responses

9 02 2012
modernzenphotos

Great tutorial on the histogram. It’s better to correct it in the camera than having to do it in Photoshop or Lightroom. And I like the illustrations. Thanks for sharing.

10 02 2012
96arley

You’re welcome, and thanks for commenting!

10 02 2012
stawastawa

Thanks for the neat little post, always helpful to hear more thoughts on histograms. I enjoy how you focus your blog posts and shoots on this blog and look forward to seeing some more.

10 02 2012
96arley

Thank you, I like to focus my pictures on one thing at a time too 🙂

10 02 2012
emjayzed

Great post, thanks! I love my digital slr but seriously have no idea how to use it other than “auto” which doesn’t always work. I’m learning a lot from your posts as they are easy to follow, have great examples and are relevant! I love the artistic quality of your work too. So thanks!

10 02 2012
96arley

You’re welcome. ShootAbout was all about doing artistic work, the tutorials and all that just kinda grew from some pointers here and there. I’d really rather try to teach people the basic tools I know rather than make them fumble around with it all the way I had to 🙂 Good luck and keep practicing. Try using the aperture priority one in a while if your camera has that mode. Then you can learn how to set your f/stop, it’s a great first step and the camera is usually smart enough to do everything else for you.

10 02 2012
sojourner

I am learning a lot from you!
Thanks for the very informative and helpful posts!

10 02 2012
96arley

You’re welcome, glad you’re getting something out of it!

10 02 2012
Judy

I really like how you single out a feature to work on and give us “lessons/tutorials”. Thank you so much. I want you to know I really appreciate it. (I just wish I could keep it all in my head!) lol

10 02 2012
96arley

Haha, maybe I’ll write a book one day so you can keep it all on your camera bag 🙂

10 02 2012
victoriaaphotography

Thanks for the great post on historgrams – I had only been reading about them and trying to see them on the LCD screen only last week.
Unfortunately, I am too short-sighted to see very much on the LCD screen (nothing at all on a sunny day).

I use my long distance glasses to take photos. My reading glasses are useless.

Often I am forced to wait until I can download my photos onto my large resolution computer monitor to see any detail in my photos. It’s a real shame I didn’t take up photography 40 years ago when I had better eyesight and contact lenses.

My good photos are a ‘hit or miss’ affair (99% of the time being taken on AutoFocus, although I am improving now that the weather is gradually changing and the days are often overcast. The only way I can use Manual Focus on my lens is to ‘roughly’ focus with the focal points and very, very slowly turn the focus ring until I hear a ‘ping’ indicating the subject is in focus.

Your Blog is such a great help in my Photographic & DSLR learning curve.

You’ve chosen some perfect examples in recent weeks that have been most interesting and helpful.

10 02 2012
96arley

🙂 recent weeks being the three weeks I’ve been up and running? Haha! Some cameras have a way to adjust your viewfinder for your eyesight, some even have hoods that fit over the LCD to save you from the glare. What kind of camera do you have?

10 02 2012
Maggie L R

great info, thanks.

10 02 2012
96arley

You’re welcome Maggie, glad it was useful to you

10 02 2012
mexcelia

Since new to the digital world, really enjoying your posts. Great tutorial, thanks!

10 02 2012
96arley

Glad it’s helping and thanks for stopping by!

10 02 2012
Sonali Dalal

I photograph by instincts and then wonder what happened! I am afraid of high flying jargon which put me off any subject. Thanks for explaining it so simply and taking my “fear” of histograms away! 🙂

10 02 2012
96arley

I did use the term “squiggly lines” once I think, I’m pretty technical 😉

10 02 2012
Russell Chapman

Well written with lots of good info. So many people have no idea what the histogram is used for. I always tell people that photography is as much science as art. When you understand how light works, how the camera sees light and understand exposure, then you can apply this to creating the image as art.

10 02 2012
96arley

I agree. You can do a lot when you’re just snapping away but you can do so much more when you understand the capabilities of your camera

10 02 2012
Inga

Thanks for sharing this info. You make it easy to understand. 🙂

10 02 2012
96arley

You’re welcome Inga, glad you liked it

10 02 2012
thecameradiary

Thanks for the info! 🙂

That first photo is beautiful.

10 02 2012
96arley

Thanks, it wasn’t really part of the Histogram stuff, I just really liked it 🙂

10 02 2012
lensandpensbysally

Great first image–and this post is a nice combination of your images and lending your knowledge of a photographic tool. Digital cameras have made the science of photography less intimidating. Photographic “assistants” such as histograms are truly useful, Sally

10 02 2012
96arley

Definitely, it’s so nice to be able to know the “science” is working with just a quick peak so you can focus on making beautiful pictures without having to worry about blowing out all the detail in a cloud or a sunset

10 02 2012
mjspringett

maybe you should follow this tutorial with bracketing, a natural sequence for the person with eyeglasses who has to take it to the computer monitor to see his/her results , thanks for your tutorial MJ

10 02 2012
96arley

Seemed natural to follow up with bracketing and HDR. Might have to study a bit more for the HDR though 🙂

10 02 2012
misty maples farm

Very helpful, thanks.

Hey, I nominated you for the ABC award…head on over to my blog to check out the details. Everyone should share in your journey…

Jess

10 02 2012
Stuart Hyde

Good explanation.
A lot if people will learn a lot from this….
Thumbs up.

10 02 2012
96arley

Thanks Stuart! I certainly hope so 🙂

10 02 2012
Spyder Creations Photography

Great info! Thanks.

10 02 2012
96arley

You’re welcome, glad you liked it

10 02 2012
truels

Thanks for this useful lesson 🙂

10 02 2012
96arley

You’re welcome! Glad you enjoyed it

10 02 2012
Andra Watkins

I really love the top photo. I’d frame it!!

10 02 2012
96arley

Thanks Andra, I might have to do that 🙂

10 02 2012
Rich Green

I’m always looking at that histogram! It’s very important because the LCD just doesn’t tell the real story.

10 02 2012
96arley

I completely agree! It’s a really useful tool

10 02 2012
Cara Olsen

Goodness . . . it was like trying to read Swahili 🙂 This camera jargon is miles above my head, but I needn’t understand it to see the passion in which you have for this creative medium. My husband is a graphic designer and wears a camera around his neck as if it were a necklace, and I am a writer that cannot seem to do anything but. I know . . . Oh, how I know.

You are a very talented man. I look forward to more of your beautiful pictures!

Cara

10 02 2012
96arley

Thank you Cara, I appreciate the kind words.

10 02 2012
HikingPhotog

Reblogged this on The World Through My Lens.

10 02 2012
96arley

Thanks for the RB! 🙂

10 02 2012
HikingPhotog

No problem. Thanks for the great article.

10 02 2012
Robyn G

Very informative.. thankyou so much!

10 02 2012
96arley

You’re welcome, glad you enjoyed it!

10 02 2012
Setiaji Pamungkas

nice awesome post 🙂

Very informative 🙂

very Usefull 🙂

10 02 2012
96arley

Glad you enjoyed it, thanks for visiting

11 02 2012
lomocub

Great photos, and someday when I have a digital that’s advanced enough to show histograms, (my digital point-and-shoot is old almost to the point of embarrassment!) I’ll remember the information you put forward in this post. Even though I don’t take many digital pictures, it’s great to read about how these things work. Thanks for an excellent post!

11 02 2012
96arley

Glad you enjoyed it even if you can’t put it to use just yet

11 02 2012
Iron and Steel Sunsets with Histogram Basics | Creative Splurges | Scoop.it

[…] background-position: 50% 0px; background-color:#222222; background-repeat : no-repeat; } shootabout.com – Today, 1:07 […]

11 02 2012
96arley

Thanks for sharing, I appreciate it!

11 02 2012
Frosty Macro « Creative Splurges

[…] actually reading the histograms. Earlier this week one of the photography blogs I follow posted a quick and handy guide to them, meaning for the first time ever I actually understand what the heck they actually mean, so […]

12 02 2012
Archana RJ

Really helpful post about histogram. I’ve read about it so many times but it never registered. Now that I read your post, its sounds easy.

12 02 2012
96arley

Glad the break down helped, it’s a fancy tool that pros like to have to themselves but it’s easy enough for anyone to learn 🙂

12 02 2012
H2O by Joanna

Thank you so much for sharing Arley, most of us can learn a lot from you 🙂

Great shots by the way!

12 02 2012
96arley

You’re welcome Joanna, keep up the beautiful work on your blog!

12 02 2012
Alex Autin

Great piece Arley….and I love the shots, especially that last one.

12 02 2012
96arley

Thanks, glad you enjoyed it 🙂

12 02 2012
mtnairloversview

So much to do and so much to save for. Thanks for liking my blog, because I now have a link to yours. One of these days, I’ll have a digital SLR of my own, but other things take priority in my life. So, when the time comes, I will be coming back here to learn how to handle the camera. For now, I think I’ve got my lil ole point’n shoot figured out 😉

Love this post though…it’ll come in handy in the future.

13 02 2012
The Uncensored Photographer

Thanks for visiting my blog! I appreciate your comment and encouragement.

Nice little tutorial here, but you have a small couple of typos. The human eye has a static dynamic range of 6-7 stops; vision isn’t static so you get some 12-15 stops of actual DR assembled by the brain for your mind to “see”. As for digital cameras, they offer 10-12 stops of DR, not 5. Even most P&S’s today reach 10 stops.

13 02 2012
96arley

I appreciate your help, I suppose that’s what I get for not cross checking all my references 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to help me out!

23 05 2012
fiztrainer

Your tutorials are really great. Very understandable. I so appreciate these kind of posts … keep ’em coming. 😀

23 05 2012
96arley

Thanks for the feedback, I’m working on a Photoshop tutorial for the near future, stay tuned!

24 05 2012
fiztrainer

I most definitely will. I teaching myself Photoshop right now. It’s confusing a little, but I’m starting to get it. Can use all the help I can get so I really look forward to your tutorial. 😀

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