I have a collection of Polaroid photos taken when we lived in Germany and when Mikey was small. I keep them around the house, some taped to a mirror in the dining room and some on the wall behind the sink in the kitchen. One of them, of Mikey and I, was taken in Germany and mailed to where my husband was deployed in Iraq. It was then in turn brought back by him to Germany went he returned and then travelled with us when we moved to Chicago. I treasure those memories and love to look at the photos.
It’s been a long week, dealing with the water damage from last weekend and everything else that has come up since. I’ve been craving just a little quiet time, sweet naps with my little boy.
I love what we all have together as a family, despite the difficulties we sometimes face. There are things around our home to remind me of that when I’m feeling overwhelmed. Little treasures made for me by Mikey in his art class, that sit on my kitchen window ledge next to a pot of sweet smelling early Spring flowers.
The simple things: Making the time to sit, with coffee and a good book. Getting so utterly lost between the pages for just a little while and enjoying the peaceful quiet. Or heading outside with my camera to take some photographs of whatever I may see. A different way to get lost entirely, within the complexities of light and shadow as they play out before me.
How to Read the Histogram
When I’m out wandering with my camera, I will see something and perhaps take a test shot first, before taking the shot that I will eventually keep. I do that so that I can check my exposure, among other things. Instead of peeking at the image itself on the LCD screen, I use the histogram to check whether my exposure is exactly what I want for that particular scene. The image on the LCD is not necessarily an accurate representation of the image I will see when I pull up the photos on my computer, but the histogram tells me all the information that I need to know about my exposure.
What is the Histogram?
The histogram is basically a type of bar chart. On a camera, it is the graphic representation of the pixels in your image.
The left side of the histogram represents the dark and shadows, the right side represents the highlights and bright areas. The middle of the histogram represents the mid-tones. It is more like a gradient from dark on the left, through mid-tones, to highlights on the right.
The height of each bar in the graph represents the number of pixels in that tone. The image on the left has all kinds of tones, but because of the shadows from the back-lighting there are more pixels in the darker tones than in the light. This histogram tells us that the image appears to have quite a lot of contrast, there are higher peaks on the left for the shadows, it dips in the middle for the mid-tones and then rises again on the right for the highlights.
What does a Good Histogram Look Like?
There is no universal “correct” exposure, so in turn there is not a universally correct histogram. In most cases with an evenly lit scene you want each end of the graph to tail off instead of “pushing the walls”. A histogram that looks like a “mountain” towards the middle and tails off at each side is generally considered to be an average exposure.
For the image below, the histogram tells us that the image is bright and that some of the highlights have blown. The peaks on the right indicate that some of the highlights have been clipped and information in that area has been lost. In a drastically over or under exposed image, the histogram will spike drastically on the left (for under exposed) or the right (over exposed) and information in your image will be lost.
When viewing a histogram like the one below I have a choice to make. I can either adjust my exposure to bring down the brightness and recover clipped areas, or I can leave it as it is. In this case, the blown areas are in the background but the subject of the photo (the hyacinth and the clay sculptures on the window ledge) are exposed as I would like, so I don’t re-take the photo.
How to Use the Histogram
The histogram for an image should represent how you would like the final image to look. The histogram for the image below is heavily stacked to the left because the image itself is dark and shadowy because of the lighting and the dark coloured background. If I wanted the image to be brighter, I would check the histogram and then adjust my exposure and retake the photo, aiming to bring the peaks of the histogram more towards the center.
Again, I have a choice to make with this image. Considering that the subject appears to be properly exposed, I intended to convert this to black and white and that a darker image was my intention (see final image at the start of this post), I know that in this case I do not need to adjust my exposure.
You are the only person who knows how your image is intended to look, while there are generally accepted ideas about how an image should be exposed or how a histogram should look, once you understand how to read the histogram on your own images you will ultimately have more control over how those images end up.
I’m teaming up with Kristi of Live and Love Out Loud, on another inspiring adventure as we photograph our way through winter with the Nurture Photography Challenge – a seasonal photo challenge series chock full of tips and tutorials, inspiring weekly prompts, personal feedback and encouragement.
Just a few details:
All are welcome regardless of skill level, camera equipment or geographic location.
Share your favorite images inspired by our weekly prompts each Friday and grab our lovely button while you’re at it!
The linky will remain open from 9am Friday – 9am Thursday CST. Don’t forget to visit and comment on the previous entry in the linky list.
We’re sharing the photography love and showcasing our talented photographers by pinning some of your lovely photos to our Nurture Photography Inspiration Board.
The Nurture Photography Challenge has taken to Facebook! Stop by, “like” our new Facebook fan page, ask questions and share your work on our wall as well.
We love Instagram just as much as you do! We’ll be on the lookout for your beautiful winter photos, so be sure to use the #nurturephoto hashtag. We’ll share a few favorites on Instagram each week, sending a little bit of love your way.
Next week’s prompt will be Blue/Breathe. For a complete list of prompts, head on over to the Nurture Photography Challenge Page.