When I first learned about photography I read some where that a “good” histogram was a bell shape. I started to strive for that but noticed that sometimes I would take a “good” picture but the histogram was not in a bell shape. Hmmm…interesting. I have since found out that there really isn’t such a thing as a “good” histogram. However, there are a few things you want to look for when reading a histogram.
When viewing your histogram, you are looking to see if you see any sharp spikes going up the sides of your histogram. If you see a spike going up the right side it means that you have spots in your photo that are blown out. Blowing out the sky or background is sometimes unavoidable if you want to properly expose the skin. It does not distract me if the sky is blown out since so many of my pictures are like that. The left side of the histograms shows the darker pixels and the right side shows the brighter pixels.
As you can see in the below picture, the background is blown out where the windows are. I did this so my daughters were properly exposed. See the histogram spiking on the right side?
This photo is an example of skin being blown out and you don’t want that. Notice the part of her arm that is very white. If I were to print this photo it would be very distracting to see the blown out parts on her arm.
Here are a few examples of the histogram spiking on the left hand side which tells you your photo is underexposed and you are losing image data in the shadows. Notice also that the majority of the histogram is on the left hand side meaning there are more darker pixels then brighter pixels.
You can see in this picture that my hair looks like a big brown blob. I promise it doesn’t normally look like this :O) The reason for that is because it is underexposed and you can see on the left a big spike letting you know that the data has been lost.
Now you may be wondering if I check my histogram after every picture. The answer would be a big old no!! I actually don’t look at my histogram very often. Then why did I tell you how to read yours? Because you need to know how! Just because I don’t look at it all the time doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate knowing what it means if I’m in a bind. I normally keep my LCD screen so that the “blinkies” are showing. The technical term is “highlight alert.” The reason I like this the best is because after I take a photo, I can look at my screen and it will “blink” on the areas that are overexposed. I’m looking to make sure it isn’t blinking on anyone’s skin. If it is just the sky I don’t care.