The Halls of Two Truths. Understanding Histograms in Photoshop

In the Halls of Two Truths, Anibus, a jackal-headed god, weighs the Feather of Truth against the heart, as Ammit, a female demon, observes the balance scale, ready as ever, to consume a victim with an impure heart.

Anibus is a photographer and the Feather of Truth are his skills.  Ammit, a demon from the underworld,  has an uncanny ability to objectively critique our work. Often the heart is whimsical, leaving nearly everything to dead reckoning , which allows Ammit to strike, preventing the passenger, our good photo,  from escaping the gates of darkness…See, Ammit had no compassion for a faint heart, when truth and glory were in a feather.

Why Photographers Should Understand Histograms 

But enough of the Egyptian allegory. Ask yourself how you determine the quality of the exposure in your images. Do you consult the mighty LCD, or is the path to accuracy in a histogram? Which do you prefer, a scene that looks well exposed, or a scene that really is well exposed? If the latter is your choice, then understanding histograms matters.

Histograms Are More Than a Graph

Histograms are more than colorful graphs, as the photographer, with whom I recently spoke, calls them. They are a significant component of understanding digital images. In a camera, a histogram is a small bar chart, usually divided into five columns, illustrating how the pixels within a single image are distributed. It shows us the amount of detail contained in the shadows, mid-tones, and highlights.

Understanding Histograms

Why Should I Use My Histogram?

Get in a habit of shooting with a histogram displayed on a camera’s LCD, which shows a tonal range of every scene. A low key image will have shadow details concentrated on the left side of a histogram while a high key image will have highlights concentrated on the right side of a histogram, as demonstrated in the image above. An average key image, or a normal image, will be in the middle, or evenly spread across a histogram.

The mighty LCD may display a bright and vibrant image, but that might not be the case once you’re at a computer. Consult a histogram, before or after making the shot, which will reveal a tonality of your potential shot. Then, make further exposure adjustments until a broad range of pixels is reached.

Understanding histograms, and utilizing them regularly, will help you make proper exposures, especially during those bright days where it is nearly impossible to see a picture on a camera’s LCD. Some cameras include an exposure warning option, indicated by a blinking light which displays clipped highlights. Find out what your camera has to offer and what you can do with all the options, before you end up in the Halls of Two Truths. 

Quick Tips 

  • Don’t depend on a camera’s LCD for precise exposure. Use a histogram.
  • Shoot with a histogram displayed on  your LCD, if possible.
  • Review the images and a histogram to check if the pixels are too far on the left or way on the right.
  • After reviewing a histogram, make necessary exposure adjustments if needed.
  • Make sure no clipping occurs. If so, refer to the line above.
  • There is no such thing as a wrong histogram, only bad ones.

How Often Do You Rely on Histograms?

Do you often rely on histograms or do you tend to ignore them? Share your thoughts in the comments area below.

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