Review Histograms After Exposure

One big advantage of shooting digitally is the ability to view a histogram in the LCD screen on the back of your camera body. A histogram is a graph of the relative distribution of the data in your image from shadows on the left to highlights on the right. You can use a histogram to evaluate not only the tonal distribution but also the quality of your exposures. By viewing the histogram immediately after exposure, you can determine if you need to make additional exposures at alternate settings to get better exposures. Simply program your camera to display a histogram immediately after exposure. You'll find this immediate feedback will result in much higher success rates.

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Digital Exposure

The histogram on the back of your camera is generated by a processed JPEG version of your Raw files. Your Raw files are unprocessed / uncooked, high resolution, uncompressed, wide-gamut, 12-14 bit, and so have more information in them, particularly in the highlights. This means the histogram can be misleading. What looks good is usually underexposed. Weight your histograms high. How high? At what point do highlights clip? It’s uncertain. Practically, it depends on the scene; higher if the scene doesn’t contain delicate highlight detail; less high if it does. To be safe, bracket, one slightly high and one very high. You can even program your DSLR to do this automatically for you. Here are four histograms.

1   Underexposed
2   A good exposure
3   A better exposure
4   Overexposed
Learn this and other techniques in my workshops.