Get To Know Your Camera (Part 3) - Histograms

6/7/2012 6:35:31 PM


Understand your camera or your editing app's histogram and your images will benefit in no time

If your camera has a histogram function on it, it’s good practice to check the image and histogram after every shot you take. Don’t just shoot hundreds of photos, then check playback and discover they’re all over- or underexposed. Get to grips with histograms and do something early on to save yourself a lot of frustration and wasted time in the long run!

Description: Histograms

Histograms are a visual representation of the tones within your image. In a technically well-exposed image, your histogram should have representation in all areas of the chart and also have a smooth peaked hump in the centre. There might be times when you want to over- or underexpose your image on purpose for creative effect, and your histogram can help you do this as well.

Tones to the left of the histogram show the shadow or dark areas in the image, and tones represented to the right show the highlights. If there are clipped tones, eg where the chart has lots of data at these extreme ends, then you are likely to see missing pixel information where the photo cannot be easily recovered from highlights or shadows. You might be able to improve your photos in an editing program, but it’s better to read the histogram after taking your shots and correct your exposure in-camera rather than have to rely on editing later on.

Disp. button

If your camera has a histogram function, you can call it up via the Disp. Button


Data recorded in the shadows of an image show on the left-hand side of the chart


The centre of the histogram is where the midtones of the image fall


Data recorded in the highlights of an image will show in the far right-hand side of the chart


You are aiming to have a peaked hump in the middle of your histogram

How a histogram should look at different exposures

The same shot taken at three different exposures has resulted in three very different histograms

Description: The same shot taken at three different exposures has resulted in three very different histograms

A Underexposed

This image is too dark with too much data in the dark tones or shadows. The histogram shows bunching on the left of the chart

B Overexposed

This image is too light, with colour lost from the midtones - shown by a flatter histogram focused on the right of the chart

C Well Exposed

Our best result has a histogram that has data in all areas of the chart and a smooth peak in the centre of the midtones

Using histograms in editing

As well as histograms on cameras, you can use them

Rescue work

You can save some of your under-or overexposed photos in editing programs. If you have an underexposed shot, these tend to be easier to save than overexposed shots. Open your photo and head to lmage>Adjustments>Levels.

Description: Rescue work

Pull the sliders

The idea here is to pull the little arrow sliders underneath the chart in line with where the data starts. So drag the highlights slider (on the right) to the start of the data, as shown in our screenshot and then do the same with the shadows.

Description: Pull the sliders

Final touches

It’s still a little on the dark side, so we’re going to adjust the midtones slider to the left, which will lighten the overall tone of the photo. It won’t be as good as our well-exposed in-camera photo, but you can rescue it to an extent.

Reader Question!

How can I sharpen my shots in Elements

I recently purchased a new camera and find that some of my shots appear noticeably blurred with many not in focus at all. Is there any way I can rescue them in Elements or is it too late?

Sharpening up your shots in Elements is a great way to improve their appearance, however not all images can be rescued. Try the following three steps below to bring back detail in your photos, but always strive to get them right in-camera first in order to save you time later


Photoshop Elements Sharpen my shots

1.    Open your image

Open your soft image in Elements. Begin by duplicating the original layer via Layer>Duplicate Layer. Rename your new layer ‘Sharpen’ and click OK. To begin sharpening up your shot, go to Enhance>Unsharp Mask.

2.    Use Unsharp Mask

In the Unsharp Mask dialog box, click the preview button and increase the strength slider to around 100-120%, this will ensure the entire image is affected by the sharpen. Now increase the threshold slider to around two.

3.    Move the slider

Slowly bring the slider up to add in the effect. Avoid setting it higher than around five pixels to reduce the chance of noise in your shot. Then flatten your layers, Layer>Flatten Image and save your newly sharpened shot.

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