Proper Exposure

Getting A Proper Exposure By Using The Histogram – Tip #4

In the article on exposure compensation, we discussed over and under exposure and how to get it right by looking for detail in the white or black areas. But wait, there is a tool hidden in many of the newer digital cameras allowing you to display exposure information on a graph projected on your LCD back screen, making it much easier to determine a correctly exposed image.

The Histogram To The Rescue: If you are not sure if your camera has the histogram feature, check your owner’s manual. If it does, learn how to turn it on as it is a valuable photography tool. If it doesn’t, it may have a program mode titled “Snow”. If so, use this mode for brightly lit scenes, such as sand and snow. This mode automatically adds compensation to the exposure.

There are two versions of the histogram. Older digital cameras overlay the histogram on the image after you shoot the image. Newer digital cameras do the same only before you shoot the image. With both types, this means you can get the exposure correct without having to view the detail in the image. We’ll explain how to use the graph next, assuming you have the older style histogram.

Its All In The Graph: The histogram is a graphical representation of exposure. What you want in the graph of a correctly exposed, middle tone image are the left and right slopes tapering off at the left and right sides of the graph respectively, and hitting the bottom left and right corners of the graph at the horizontal line.

Clipping: For example, if your image is over-exposed, the right slope hits the right vertical line, but above the horizontal line of the graph. By the slope ending that high above the bottom right corner of the graph, image detail is lost. This is called clipping.

Using The Histogram: In this case, you would want to remove light using your exposure compensation feature to bring that right slope slightly back to the left. Start with taking out ½ to 2/3 of a stop, shoot another image and review the histogram again. You want the right slope hitting the horizontal line before it bumps the right vertical line.

Making Changes: Let’s take a look at the same scene we used in the exposure compensation article – the scene where your kids are playing on the white sand beach. With the histogram turned on and looking at that same image shot using the settings selected by the camera, you see the right slope hits the horizontal line before it should. Now add +1 exposure compensation, re-shoot the scene and look at the histogram again.

The right slope should have moved to the right, but does not bump the right vertical line. If it bumps the right vertical line, then it moved too much and you have clipping. Take out 1/3 to ½ stop, reshoot and look at the histogram again.

Now the graph should show the right slope hitting the horizontal line near the right corner of the graph. You won’t get it perfect in every image, but this gives you an idea of what to look for without having to try and determine if you have the right amount of detail in an image by viewing it on your back screen.

Before and After: If you have the newer style histogram, you can use the same procedure only you will make your exposure compensation changes before you capture the image instead of after. You can get the exposure correct and then capture the image knowing that image is properly exposed even before you shoot it.

Once you learn how to use the histogram, you will wonder how you ever lived photographically without it. Enjoy!

Professional Photographer

Professional Photographer

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