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Digital Photography

For Beginners - Using the Histogram to Help Ensure Proper Exposure

SUMMARY: Help ensure your digital photos don't turn out underexposed or overexposed.

Most higher-end digital cameras support a histogram feature that can be displayed before or after you take a photo. Though it looks like a complex chart, a histogram is merely a representation of an image's brightness, and whether or not it has rich shadow and highlight areas. Without going into science or a lot of details, here's how you can use your histogram while taking pictures.

* If the histogram is weighted towards the left side with vary little if any curvature near the right, your photo will most likely be underexposed (too dark). Use your exposure compensation tool to brighten the image. Consider a slower shutter speed to allow more light to enter the camera lens.

Note that there are exceptions. Are you taking photos of fireworks in a night sky? Since most of the picture will be dark your histogram should naturally be weighted towards the left.

* If the histogram is weighted towards the right side with vary little if any curvature near the left, your photo will most likely be overexposed (too light). Use your exposure compensation tool to darken the image. Consider a faster shutter speed to force less light to enter the camera lens.

Again, exceptions can occur. Are you taking photos of a bright sunrise? Then your photo will come out bright and your histogram will shift towards the right. And that will be OK.

* If the histogram is balanced towards the middle, your exposure settings should be correct. Your photo should have a normal exposure.

Again, exceptions can occur, so even if the histogram 'looks' right you should visually verify how the image will look with your viewfinder or LCD.

* If the histogram is weighted towards the sides, chances are your image contains a complex combination of brightness and darkness. Waterfall photos or other areas of dark foliage next to a bright sky may exhibit this trait. In this case, you should experiment and bracket your photos, then pick out which one looks the best to you.

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The MalekTips website was created in 1998 by Andrew Malek of Envision Programming. The page's goal is to freely disperse computer-related tips, hints, and informative articles. Tips are organized to be easy to find, and are presented clearly, in easy-to-understand language. MalekTips also provides information and links to public-domain, open source, freeware, shareware, and commercial software available for download.