How Can Using My Camera's Histogram Help My Photography?

I've been photographing for some time now and during that time, I've learned a few things. What I would do through the years is go out shooting and then come back to my computer to review my shots. If anything was wrong with them, I'd dig into the specs of what the camera was set to as I was taking the shot. Then, I'd do exhaustive reading and watching on the internet to figure out exactly why I got the results I got. I learned a lot during these times and I'd like to fill you in on one area that, when it became clear, blew me away. It's a strange technique that I didn't expect to help me out as much as it did.

On my Canon DSLR camera, I'm able to push a button on the back that allows me to view more information than I would normally see. I think this is the Info button. To see the additional information, I'd have to be in Live View mode (the scene showing on the rear LCD screen), not looking through the viewfinder. Anyway, the information I'd see was very helpful and one of the most helpful things was the histogram. Now I'll tell you, for the longest time, whenever I'd look at the histogram, I'd try to center the curve as much as possible. I did this while shooting because that's what I always did in post-processing in Camera Raw, Lightroom and Photoshop. Apparently, centering the curve in the camera's histogram isn't the best thing to do. Post-processing isn't photography and vice-versa.

When I centered the histogram curve on my camera, I found that the darker areas of the scene were of low quality and rather noisy. Because of the lower than optimal exposure, those shadow areas weren't getting the light necessary to keep their quality up to snuff. The brighter areas were fine, but the darker areas looked lousy. It wasn't until I opened the aperture, slowed down the shutter speed, increased the exposure compensation - whatever (brightened the shot), that my photos began to exhibit the quality I was looking for. Initially, when I brightened the scene, I thought I was overexposing my shots too much and that the whites and highlights would be blown out. After working on the photos during post-processing though, I discovered that I was able to recover many of those so-called "blown out" areas rather easily. All I needed to do was push the White, Highlights and Exposure sliders to the left a bit. The quality was there, I just needed to manipulate it. The best part is that the darker areas looked so much better than they had previously.

I'm not saying that you should push the curve of the histogram too far to the right. But do push it far enough that it appears to be to the right rather than the center. Then, go out and take a bunch of photographs. Experiment and look at the results on your computer to see how they turned out. Be sure to focus on the highlights and shadows and the quality of both. I think it'll be worth your time.

PS - The easiest method for increasing your exposure is to use the Exposure Compensation feature on your DSLR camera.