If you’re in the hunt for your first DSLR camera, or you’ve just purchased a DSLR and you’re new to digital photography, chances are you’ve been on the internet and watched one or two videos about things you should know or might want to know in order to get the most out of your camera – these are the “basics” or “fundamentals” type videos, of which there are a ton on YouTube. In some of these videos, they may have talked about something called a Histogram – usually telling you to look on your camera’s LCD screen, after you’ve taken a photo and “see what the Histogram is telling you”, as a way to know whether your photo has come out properly, or is otherwise either too bright or too dark, in which case you will need to make certain adjustments to your camera settings and try taking the photo again.
All well and good, but let’s say you’ve watched one or two of these videos and are still a bit flummoxed as to how to interpret these Histogram things. Well, this is the situation I found myself in for a few months – for a time, no matter how they phrased it, these different photography experts failed to get their know-how through my dense cranium. I hope to share with you how I eventually came to understand what these Histograms meant and how they’re actually very simple to work with, once you understand their meanings.
Right, here goes…
A Histogram is nothing more than a graph that tells you whether your photo has parts that are too bright (overexposed) or too dark (underexposed), to the extent that certain portions of your image data won’t be useable if/when you get your photo back into editing software, such as Adobe Lightroom, to finish processing your photos – trust me, when shooting in the recommended image format referred to as “RAW”, it’s amazing how much detail even the most sophisticated modern camera lenses fail to reproduce, and it’s only when you get your images into a program, such as Lightroom, that you can adjust various settings to bring out the richness and depth of the colors, lights and shadows, which, thankfully, the camera’s digital sensor DOES manage to capture. It just needs software to tease it out – in the pre-digital era, photographers used to do this in the “darkroom”; today, in the digital era, you don’t need to be in near total darkness in order to process your photos, you can do it in a nicely lit room, on your nicely lit computer… which is most probably the reason Adobe didn’t call their software Adobe Darkroom.
So, getting back on track, at very right edge of the Histogram graph, you have data for white; at the other end, over on the very left, you have the data for black. Everything else in between represents all the rest of the colors, or shades/tones of colors that can be present in any given image or scene. Each photograph you take will have its own Histogram assigned to it – this is a graphical record of all the highlights, shadows and colors (of varying shades and tones) in that one image.