The histogram can be confusing to a lot of new digital photographers, but it doesn’t have to be! In this tutorial you’ll discover what the histogram is, how to read it, and why it’s important to you when shooting digital photographs.

What is the histogram?

The histogram is essentially a line graph that maps the disbursement of light and dark pixels across a digital image. It’s a representation of the dynamic range of a photo, with the black point all the way on the left hand side of the graph and the white point all the way to the right hand side.

By learning to read the histogram, you can quickly see if an image is under exposed, over exposed or has too much or too little contrast.

But why would I want to do that when I can just look at the photo?

LCD displays on even the most expensive digital cameras often display brightness, contrast and exposure of images inaccurately. This is simply due to the nature of small, back-lit LCD screens. When you’re out taking photos, the histogram is the most accurate way to check and see if your shots are exposed properly.

How do I read the histogram?

Before we get started reading the histograms themselves, let me throw in a useful tip here. Typical average quality and above digital cameras have a dynamic range of about 5-6 f/stops, so it it might be helpful to you to mentally divide the histogram into 5-6 sections. This will help you determine by how many stops you should compensate when you’re re-shooting a photo with a bad histogram.

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