Camera Terms: What The Heck is a Histogram?

by Paul Cook | June 25, 2012

Digital photography saw many transformations before becoming what it is today. It is one of those few art forms where a keen eye capturing the scene at the right moment is all that separate a pro from an amateur. In the technologically sound society we live in, digital photography has spanned a wide range of options to guarantee better results with minimal effort. Unlike the old days, now DSLRs have features enabling photographers to judge the quality of a photograph before actually printing it.

There are those who are contended with reviewing images on LCD screens at the back of most of the DSLRs offered today. Sadly, in these LCD screens photos may appear better than they actually are since these screens are small, well-illuminated and often fail to show the underexposed or overexposed areas. This is where histograms come into the picture. Are you one of those who have no idea as to what it is? Read on to find out all about this greatest advancement in digital photography and the most useful camera feature ever.

Given the potential way histograms can influence photography, it will only be justified to say that histograms are the most powerful tools for digital photography that are often overlooked. So, what exactly is a Histogram? Basically, it is a bar graph that represents the distribution of light in your photograph. These are graphs that will be displayed at the back of your DSLR on the LCD screen by selecting a certain option. By taking a quick glance at histograms, you can easily determine if your image is of good quality in terms of exposure, brightness, white balance and contrast. In short, histograms are the best mechanism to easily tune, observe and differentiate between these settings.

Since digital photography is all about proper settings of the above mentioned factors, a histogram can serve as the most effective guide. A histogram is a graph showing the number of pixels at each level between black and white. While most photographers dread using it, a histogram is no rocket science. The black pixels are represented on the left while the white ones are displayed on the right. Another way of thinking about it is that the left side represents all the dark tones in the photo all the way up to black. The middle is all the mid tones and grays and the right side is where all the light tones and white lives.

From the statement made above, images with lighter shades will result in a graph skewed to the right whereas those with darker tones will be left-skewed. At the same time, one can tell if an image is overexposed or underexposed with the peaks that can be observed on the histogram. Since the histogram is a representation of color tones in a shot, a good image’s histogram is often spread all over. However, there is no such rule of thumb.

digital photography, camera histogram, photo histogram, what is a histogram

One important thing to always keep in mind is that there is no perfect shape to a histogram. It is obvious that factors such as color tones, background, and lighting all are crucial vastly affecting the formation of a graph. Histograms can help improve photography beyond one’s imagination as they ensure that the details of an image are not lost. A photography glitch is clipping where the image is incorrectly exposed. For any such images, the histogram will show a sharp slope to either edge of the graph.

When clipping occurs, it is an indication that details have been lost in the highlights or shadows. With histograms as your aid, the photographer can easily change the exposure settings then and there. It is important to understand that the different styles of photography will also render different types of histograms. For instance, it is obvious that a silhouette shot will result in a histogram with spiked edges. In any case, an even spread of tones can guarantee a fairly balanced shot.

digital photography, camera histogram, photo histogram, what is a histogram

With this modern-day light meter, photographers can easily produce shots with the perfect white balance, brightness, contrast and exposure. With proper understanding, histograms can make digital photography easier than ever before. With this photo tutorial, we hope you have achieved a fairly good understanding of what histograms are and the best way to use them to your advantage. Improve your photography skills with histograms as it is time you click photographs that take breaths away.

digital photography, camera histogram, photo histogram, what is a histogram


Photography, fine art printing and decorating news and advice

Tips-n-Tricks #436

Drama in the sky (aka clouds or storms) can make a huge impact on a scene more than a white sky. Some photographers will expose one photo for the clouds and the other for the land and put them together in Photoshop.

Save 40 percent on orders of $50 or more!