Mar 01, 2012

How to Read a Histogram

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Reading the Graph

Chimping is when you don’t use a Light meter but determine exposure based on what the image looks like on the LCD. This isn’t the best way to shoot because its so difficult to tell exactly. Checking your Histogram will help you get  the best results without using a Light meter. This chart shows how much detail you are getting in the light and dark areas, see how to read it accurately to make sure you’re getting the right Exposure.


  • 0:30 -Light meters
  • 1:50 – Viewing the histogram on the back of your camera
  • 2:30 – Seeing each different Color
  • 3:30 – Dark and light areas of graph
  • 4:55- Shooting a darker object vs a lighter one
  • 6:55- Spikes in the histogram
  • 7:20- Clipping
  • 9:00- What a good Exposure looks like
  • 9:35- Avoiding flare
  • 10:50- Shooting for a good Histogram and checking results
  • 13:50- High Contrast photos
  • 14:50- Shooting with flare

Dynamic Range

Sometimes when you are shooting a photo that has a stark Contrast between the light and Shadow you will have a little bit of clipping due to the camera. In that case its up to you to decide which area you want more detail in or if adding some type of fill will solve the problem.


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  • user image
    Daniel Tuck

    Another reason why I want to move from my Nikon D7000 to the EOS 5D Mk 2 – there’s STILL no histogram display available during shooting – you can only view it after you’ve taken the photo!

    • user image
      Bryan Dockett

      Daniel I have to say that’s farrr from a deal breaker lol you can only view it in live view but anyways. If you shoot tethered theses a great program called control my nikon which give you live histogram info was shooting and lots more. I think its 10 or 20 bucks but def worth it. 

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      Bryan Leighty

       Does Canon allow you to zoom in on an image and the histogram will change to whatever is viewed on the LCD?  I use this ALL THE TIME on my Nikon bodies.  I shoot white seamless and zoom in on the skin of the model and check the histogram without the influence of the seamless white (or any other purposely under/overexposed elements in the full image. For me this is an absolute deal breaker.

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    Gregory Go

    Thanks for the episode, Aaron! I was actually going to ask you about exposure/histograms. I realize this  comes with practice/experience, but what criteria determines a “properly” exposed picture (besides obvious blowouts)? For example, subtle changes in exposure still looks “fine” but I’m wondering what makes a photo great. Thanks for the Phlearn episodes!

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      Christopher Odd

      I can try to help you here.

      In terms of defining what a histogram SHOULD look like, comes down to your style.  A couple of suggestions I can make to you.

      1) Shoot in raw.  Just do it. Nike.

      2) Try to never blow your highlights.  You cannot get them back,  The recovery slider can help a bit, but not much. 

      3) Try not to crush your blacks.  It’s great if you can keep detail in them, and if you want BLACK BLACK, crush them in post production. 

      4) Basically as Aaron explained, you want to have most of your histogram information in the middle of the spectrum.


      I hope this helps.  Feel free to add me on twitter if you have any questions 🙂


      • user image
        Gregory Go

        Thanks for the thoughtful reply! I do aim to prevent clipping on both the highlights/blacks – but sometimes I feel like my image doesn’t “pop” like others. I’m wondering if it has to do with post-processing or actual exposure technique; I will try to find an example since a picture is worth a thousand words (wah wah). Thanks again for the help, Chris!

  • user image

    is it just me or was there supposed to be something about lens flare?

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    Tim Piggott

    Great explanation Aaron.But Surely with a white background there would be a spike on the right that could happily be blown?! Your face/skin would be a little darker than that and would be exposed well?! My Canon 60D has a clipping warning (it flashes black then white) on highlights that have been clipped. It’s a menu option.

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    Guilherme Coelho

    Hey Phriends! 
    I know is out of toppic, but I would like to ask some advice in this kind of editing I’ve made.
    Putting an image in a shirt. I saw some episodes about it, but I don’t know wich tool I use to make it look real.
    I used blending mode to “direct sunlight”, changed the opacity, layer mask… What else could I do?
    The idea was to put a reflection of me taking the pic of my girlfriend. The text says: “My soul, my reflection.”

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    mugget man

    Great info – I had read articles about using the histogram, and to be honest I still didn’t really understand it. That made complete sense to me though. And the squeaky marker totally helped!

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    Matt Campbell

    Thanks for sharing these videos. They are appreciated and of value. Cheers!

  • user image

    Could you tell me your opinion on “exposing to the right”, due to the dynamic range, especially taken in raw