Mar 10, 2016

How to Use the Histogram in Photoshop

How to Use the Histogram in Photoshop

The histogram is a graph that displays exposure and color information on your images. It can be used to correct exposure, color, and evaluate missing information. This episode explains how to read the histogram and how to fix common issues using ‘Levels’ adjustment layers.

How to Use the Histogram in Your Camera

The histogram in photoshop mirrors the histogram on a modern DSLR. Because a histogram displays color and light information, it is very useful for correcting exposure. A common problem photographers face is over-exposure or under-exposure. An image that is either over-exposed or under-exposed will result in a lack of information in the highlights or shadows. Images that are over-exposed are commonly referred to as ‘blown out’.

Looking at the image of an LCD, it can be difficult to properly see the exposure of an image. The histogram displays exposure information, and when properly used can aid in creating a proper exposure without ‘blown out’ highlights or completely black shadows.

Levels and Histogram

The histogram is a great tool for understanding exposure and color in an image, but it won’t change exposure values in an image – that is where ‘Levels’ come in. Levels are used to change the white point, black point and mid-tones of an image.

For instance, if and image doesn’t contain true blacks and the histogram is shifted to the right, increasing the black levels in the image will compensate for the lack of blacks and correct the exposure. When adjusting exposure it is always best to use a RAW 16-bit image, rather than an 8-bit JPEG.


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  • user image

    Aaron, fantastic episode, as are all of your videos. I always (p)learn from you and appreciate everything you do. Enjoy your well deserved work-cation and take care of yourself. You are the best.

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    Ken Hurst-Earl

    I’ve never used the histogram in all the years I’ve been shooting, but I will now!

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    Christopher Boles

    A great tutorial on what the histogram is and what it does to an image.

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    Ron DeMartino

    Thanks for a great video on levels, I have been a photographer for over 50 years Plus I changed to digital about 15 years ago.I learned Photoshop and have been using levels, thanks to you I finally see the correct way. Thanks again it was very informative.

  • user image

    Hi Aaron, I have been following your tutorials for ages now and I love your way of teaching you give precise and clear instruction and easy to follow video. I can’t thank you enough. Please keep up the good work. I would love to learn how to use my tablet better do you ever do anything on that? Cheers Ruth

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    Geoff Dawes

    Hello Aaron,
    firstly thanks a lot for this tutorial, one of the most understandable and informative on the Histogramm that I have seen. I learnt a lot. Secondly I would like to wish you all the best with your endeavour to Travel and run your Company at the same time. You have to make it work, life without Phlearn would just not be the same.
    And now I have a question, not about Histogramms, that was covered more than adequately in the Tutorial, but the Wacom Tablett. I have an Intuos Pro which I am trying to get used to, but when trying to adjust sliders in Photoshop the Tablett seems to hesitate before the sliders move which makes fine adjustments very difficult. Are there settings that I need to set so that the reaction time is real time or am I doing something wrong. I would really appreciate some help with this problem as I have returned to my Mouse, which I find much easier to use.
    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you
    Geoff Dawes

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    Jesse Betsill

    IF a person was working in LR, one of the first things that most instructors teach is how to adjust the Blacks and Whites.
    Would I be correct in thinking that what you did in PS would be very similar to adjusting the Blacks and Whites in LR?
    Thanks so much.

  • user image

    Hey Aaron, the warning icon on the histogram isn’t a clipping warning, it’s the “Cache Data Warning icon”. That is, Photoshop is giving an “approximate” or relative representative sampling of pixels in the histogram (faster). Clicking on the icon will “refresh the histogram so that it displays all of the pixels of the original image in its current state”.

  • user image

    Awesome tutorial! I often have photos that are partially over/under exposed and have struggled to properly adjust them. Using the process shown in the tutorial I am now able to tweak photos to end up with some great results. Thanks for the continued great videos!

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    Patrick Kavanagh

    WOW! WOW! WOW! – the 13:40 mark of this video blew my mind how you made a selection then did the levels adjustment then painted on the mask over the areas of the image that needed a bump in the contrast….amazing. I opened up an image and tried it out…amazing, one of those missing pieces that I was looking for.

    In my case I used LAB Color Space, made the selection, opened curves on the Lightness channel and hit auto. Continued on to mask areas and repeated through the image that I felt need some adjustments. Love this and can see using it on almost every image I do.

    Thanks Aaron and the Phlearn staff! I love “Phlearning”

    Here is the link to the old tractor image that I applied this technique to on Flickr:

    …..and attached file.
    Thanks Again! – Pat.

  • user image

    Wow! You made that so much easier to follow than any other histogram video I’ve ever seen. Great job, thank you Aaron!

  • Santiago

    Good job Aaron.
    I`m a fanatic of your videos from Argentina.

    Can you make a video abaout louminosity masks?
    thanks you


  • user image

    Love the tip to use histogram in camera while setting up the shot! That’s a particularly amazing help in night photography and any situation with low light. Many thanks for all your videos!

  • user image

    You are so awesome – I love your videos. I also love the format where you do a quick review of the steps at the end. Love your humor and your easygoing teaching style – always a delight to watch you.

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    Andy Kay

    Awesome, easy to understand, and i also like the way you cap up at the end. First time watching your tutorials. been impressed so much.

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    Daniella Baracco

    Hi Aaron, finally I understand histograms!! Thank you for all the amazing tutorials, I have learned a lot

    Greetings from Lima!


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    Eric May

    Just an idea for an episode. There is a program/app that will allow you to use an IOS or android tablet to do editing directly on your image it’s called astropad. I know Wacom has a visual tablet which will allow one to do this, but if you don’t have the grand to buy it, astropad may be the $30 solution for you. I am not suggesting that you ditch the Wacom solution, but you may be able to demonstrate how others may be able to use a drawing solution with hardware that they already have. Just a thought. Thanks for all of the nifty tutorials.