Using The In-Camera Histogram

Updated: 26 May 2022


One important function found on modern cameras is the in-camera histogram and yet many photographers still do not use it.


Many photographers are not aware of the benefits of using the in-camera histogram. Either they do not understand histograms or they may appear to be rather complex. And yet this is not the case.


What is a histogram? – Every image has a unique histogram, a graph that is displayed on your camera. Modern cameras will have a live histogram before you even take the shot. You will need to use the live view screen on your camera to use the histogram.


The histogram is basically a graph showing the distribution of light through an image and the representation of tones in an image; the highlights, the shadows and mid-tones in between. It offers a more objective method of evaluating the exposure and tones in the image.



So why is a histogram important? – In photography, a major goal of the photographer is to capture a detailed exposure through the scene (shadows, highlights and mid-tones). Reading a histogram will enable you to quickly and accurately check the exposure of your image while out in the field.


The histogram will show the amount of tones of particular brightness found in your photograph ranging from the left – black (0% brightness) to the right – white (100% brightness).


It is important to realise the importance of “clipping” – the term used when the graph is touching the left or right side of the histogram. This indicates your image is “blown out” and will cause a complete loss of detail.



Before using histogram



When this image was composed on the cameras live view screen and before making any histogram camera adjustments, the image appeared to be under exposed.



After using histogram



By using the in-camera histogram, I was able to correct the exposure and tones and then produce a more accurate image of the photographed scene.



Practical Steps



Step 1: The cameras histogram


The cameras histogram


Most photographers believe in the importance of producing the best possible image in-camera rather than more editing in post production. Use manual mode for reading the in-camera histogram. The histogram function will correctly allow you to dictate all exposure and tones required in-camera.



Step 2:  Reading the histogram


Reading the histogram


Compose your image in the live view screen. Introduce the histogram function graph to the screen. Read the graph. Is the exposure in my image correct? Remember dark exposure and tones are to the left, bright exposure and tones are right and the mid-tones are in between.



Step 3: Under-exposed histogram


Under-exposed histogram


Whilst viewing the histogram graph in-camera, we can see the curve is predominantly over towards the left side of the screen. This indicates that the exposure in the image is too dark and underexposed. Remember to avoid any clipping (touching the left side of the graph).


Step 4:  Over-exposed histogram


Over-exposed histogram


Whilst viewing the histogram graph in-camera, we can see the curve is predominantly over towards the right side of the screen. This indicates that the exposure in the image is too light and overexposed. Remember to avoid any clipping (touching the right side of the graph).


Step 5:  Correctly exposed histogram


Correctly exposed histogram


A “good” histogram would render most tones in the middle portion of the graph and no or few tones would be found at the extreme edges. This indicates a beautifully detailed, well-exposed image because the shot is full of mid-tones. Remember to avoid any “clipping” on the edges.



Step 6:  Making histogram adjustments


Making histogram adjustments


Make adjustments by using the exposure compensation (“+/-”) button on your camera whilst on the live screen. Alternatively, you may prefer to shoot with manual settings and just change the ISO, aperture or shutter speed accordingly. Histograms will allow you to improve your exposures and significantly enhance your photos.


If you have any questions about Histograms, please message me on my contact page.


As always, many thanks for your time.



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