The Basics of Histograms

Have you ever wondered how to definitively tell whether your picture is overexposed? If so, you can watch this quick video by Karl Taylor to understand:

The gist is simple: a histogram is a chart that depicts how properly your image is exposed. The light tones are charted on the far right, while the darks are on the far left.

On your SLR, it will look like the chart next to the photo itself, like this:

histogram explanation

You can also see it in a post-processing program such as Photoshop. As you can see in the image below—which deals with a white cup against a white background—the histogram reveals just how drastically overexposed the image is.

how to tell if photo is overexposed

Conversely, the opposite is true on this black-on-black image:

how to tell if an image is too black

The right balance should keep the histogram looking more or less level. As Taylor says:

“Inside your camera, you have a built-in light meter, and inside that light meter you can read whether you’ve roughly got the right exposure or the image overexposed or underexposed. But you never really know whether or not that is accurate. The best way to know whether your exposure’s been captured perfectly is to look at the information on the histogram.”

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