How to Determine Exposure with the Histogram

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How many times have you been duped by your camera’s LCD, only to find out that you’ve got it all wrong upon viewing your photos on your computer monitor? When I first started out, I couldn’t make heads or tails with most of the dials and switches on my DSLR. I bought it and forced myself to learn it, but the importance of the histogram kind of flew past my head because not all photography manuals go in-depth on how to use it. Had I seen this video by Tony Northrup then, I would have grasped the concept more quickly:

He mentions reviewing the histogram anytime there is an ‘exposure challenge’ wherein there is a bright or dark environment.

“You can’t trust your camera’s LCD. You always need to look at the histogram.”

snow-portraits-2You can see that this histogram is almost entirely to the left half of the frame, which means that the photo is underexposed.

snow-portraits-4Conversely, if the histogram shows a cut-off upward slope to the right of the frame, that means it’s overexposed.

snow-portraits-1Dial down around 1 or 2 f-stops until you achieve the correct exposure.

In a nutshell, Northrup encourages you to do the following instead of relying on your camera’s metering modes:

1. Take a shot.
2. Look at the histogram. If it doesn’t reach all the way to the right side of the frame, you need to add 1 or 2 stops of exposure compensation.
3. Shoot again and check if your image is properly exposed.

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One Comment

  1. Great article, and thanks for sharing the video! If you like it, there’s a lot more where that came from–the video is part of my book “How to Create Stunning Digital Photography,” which has 3.5 hours of videos like that… you can get it in paperback or ebook formats from Amazon.

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