If you open up your DSLR cameras display screen and flick through the different settings, you’ll no dought eventually come to a screen displaying what looks like a black mountain range.

This is your cameras histogram, and it shows us a very good example of the tonal range that that specific image has within its data.

For those who just usually skip over this part of our cameras information, you are missing one of the great tools included with our DSLR that help us take great photos.

An images tonal range is an important part of every single photo we take as it designates whether that photo will be darker or lighter, and whether detail will be lost in shadow or light areas.

As a rule, most images are at their best when the histogram shows us a nice even mountain range, with a hump in the middle and tapering off to each side, finally coming to the bottom at the very edges of the histograms display panel.  This shape lets us know that there are a healthy range of midtones and a few shadows and highlights.  This is the shape that you should strive for in most photos you take.

However, there are situations where you will need more highlights in your image.  Such as photos taken in the snow.  A photo taken with a histogram as described above will result in the white snow looking grey.  In order to fix this, you need to shoot the photograph with the histogram skewed to the right (the highlight side of the graph).  Most people use a positive exposure compensation value on their camera to achieve this effect, but it is also possible to get the same results by increasing your exposure time using aperture or  shutter speed.

Other times you will want a histogram graph to be skewed to the darker side of the graph, the right.  Sunrise scenes are often shot this way to retain the darker shadows and avoid washing out the darker areas.  This can be obtained through negative exposure compensation or a slower shutter speed.  Please keep in mind though that a slower shutter speed may mean you will need a tripod to avoid camera shake.

I would encourage everyone who is interested in photography to explore their cameras histogram reading. Try taking the same shot several times with different exposure compensation levels, apertures or shutter speeds and see what effects each has on your histogram and the overall shot.  Before long, you will be able to get the perfect exposure for every shot just by referring to the histogram.

Happy shooting!

Pics By Nick - Snow

Above: This image of snow covered trees is an example of when a histogram should be skewed to the right.

Pics By Nick - Candles

Above: This image of burning religious candles is an example of when a histogram should be skewed to the left.

Pics By Nick - Sydney

Above: This image of sunny Sydney is an example of when you should try to get a fairly even histogram, with the hump in the middle.