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Friday Photo Tip: Histograms 101

Friday Photo Tip: Understanding Histograms | Nuena Photography by Kira StackhouseIt’s been quite some time now since I’ve posted a Friday Photo Tip… well I’m starting up again! The histogram function is probably the single most important feature of your digital camera. If you don’t know how to read it or have never taken the time to look at it, take out your camera now.

Wikipedia’s defines a histogram as: “…a graphical representation showing a visual impression of the distribution of data.” In layman’s terms for us photographers, it’s a graphical representation showing the visual distribution of color, light, contrast, saturation, tones, of your image.

Understanding the histogram is the gateway to the rest of your camera’s functions. It is the key to taking fabulous images. I admit that I avoided looking at the histogram for many years (intimidation, ack!), but once I learned how to read it, I never looked back. When you are shooting in various lighting conditions, it may be hard to accurately view your image on the camera’s rear LCD display.  …but you should never judge the exposure or quality of an image solely from the preview. This is where the histogram comes in handy!

Since photography is subjective, there is no “perfect” exposure, nor is there a perfect histogram. The histogram will tell you, in graphic form, the quality of your image – tonal density and contrast, exposure, saturation, etc. Whether or not you like the image will determine the shape of your histogram.  There is no right or wrong shape.

The image above was shot in M mode, ISO 400, 4.0 at 1/200.

After I take a shot, I look to see if the ends of the histogram are touching the sides. I generally like to make my images as balanced as possible, unless I’m trying to achieve a special effect like silhouetting. It’s easier to make minor tweaks in Photoshop afterwards.

EXPOSURE As you can see, the edges of the histogram do not touch the far left or right sides, therefore no detail was lost in light or darkness. In numerical terms, the blacks are higher than 0 and the whites are lower than 255. Basically, if you’re looking for a nicely balanced photo, don’t let the ends of your histogram touch the sides. If they are bunched up on either side, adjust your shutter speed and/or aperture accordingly.  This will take time and practice, but soon you’ll understand the relationship between the histogram and exposure!

CONTRAST When you look at the histogram, if it is bunched up and narrow, the image will have low contrast. If it is wide and broad, the image will have greater contrast. In this image, the histogram is nice and broad, stretching from dark into light. There is not a large area of darkness in the photo, but the places that are dark (dog’s beard, underside of table, table leg shadows) are dark and have significant contrast.

SATURATION If the histogram is low and flat, there is very little color information captured. If it is tall and broad, there is more color information. This image of Rigby is right in the middle. It is not low and flat nor is it tall and broad…

These are just 3 easy things I look for in the histogram. You can set your camera’s info function to include your settings and the image histogram after each shot. It is very helpful, and always better to expose your shot properly from the start than have to fudge around in Photoshop!

REMEMBER…

If it is bunched up to the left, your image is underexposed (too dark).

If it is bunched up to the right, your image is overexposed (too light)… see below.

If the ends are very close but not touching the left or the right sides, your image has not clipped out detail (but this does not mean that the image is exposed properly).

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Friday Photo Tip #19: BE YOURSELF

Here’s another tip for photographers out there. It’s something that could be read by professionals as “bad” but also “good”… I think overall it’s just something that not many people want to talk about. But I will. I read somewhere that if you’re a photographer, most of the hits you get on your website and blog are from other photographers. Although there’s no way to truly quantify this, it makes sense, so I assume it’s true, and I’m assuming many of my readers are fellow photographers.

So who are you and who are you really marketing yourself to? That is the question. This week’s tip is for aspiring photographers, or maybe just photographers out there who want to take a chance and try something new.

#19 BE YOURSELF

So you’re a photographer.  But what kind of photographer?  That’s usually the first question asked after telling someone you take photos.  Thanks to the way that marketing is constantly evolving and trends are always changing, I’m a firm believer that if you’re good at what you do, it doesn’t really matter how you classify yourself.

I started my photography business three years ago with the hopes of being a pet photographer.  My dream was to only shoot dogs and cats and hopefully other little critters.  That dream faded fast when I realized that the market for a full time pet photographer wasn’t as realistic at the time as I thought, and I needed another way to make money – or at least establish myself as a photographer first.  So I started shooting babies and kids.  I like them, and then weddings followed, and then events, and then headshots, and then everything else…

Now that I’m a little further down the road and that I have a small “following” if you will, I’ve decided to now start honing in on my true passion – pets!! This doesn’t mean that I’m going to turn down work in other areas – it just means that pets are my specialty, not my be all and end all.  I come from my own school of thought, where opportunity knocks in different ways – and it’s up to you to figure out how to make things work to your advantage…because no one else will!  Don’t limit yourself until you’re ready!  …Even then, don’t lock the door.

My point is – don’t be afraid to explore different subjects in photography.  Sure, there are many different “categories” out there of photographers, but the principles behind them are all the same.  The way I think about it – Approach everything the same way – puppies, kids, events, food, babies, nature… if you have a strong sense of composition and you put the same amount of effort into each shot, you can make anything look good, doesn’t matter what you’re shooting.  Try it, it’s true.  :-)

Here are some random photos that have helped me get to where I am today:

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Friday Photo Tip #18 Use What You Got

This is a tip I wish someone would have told me when I started doing photography….

#18 Use What You Got!

The main point of my tip today is to use what you got.  Basically, don’t run out and buy the most expensive equipment because you think that it will make your pictures amazing – take a step back and use the equipment you have until you can justify an upgrade.  Sure, it’s real nice to have top of the line equipment out there, but being a great photographer isn’t about having the best equipment – it’s about understanding yourself and your camera and using the tools you have to further develop your craft.  Plus you don’t want to blow all of your money at once if you don’t have any other steady flow of income.

The first two years that I started my business I shot with an “amateur” level camera.  It was nothing special, just a Canon Rebel XT with the kit lens and a 70-200 f/4.5 lens which, at the time I thought was super expensive…. LOL.  I couldn’t afford anything better than that, plain and simple.  But it’s ok, because you can still take great pictures!

Here are some shots I took with that camera.

Havilah

flower

Justin

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Friday Photo Tip #17 – 4 Point & Shoot Cameras Under $200

My friend Laura asked me to do a post about different options for cheap affordable point and shoot cameras.  We’re going to review some cameras that are $200 or less.  :-)  I am just reviewing basic features and will not be delving too deeply.  These cameras are in no particular order.  Why 4?  …Girl’s gotta work, had to draw the line somewhere!

I will say that I have owned 1 camera from each of these companies.  I do have a favorite, you’ll have to ask me which one I liked best!!

#17 Top 4 Point & Shoot Cameras < $200

Canon PowerShot SD1200

click here to go to offical Canon page

Fri Photo Tip A

MSRP: $179.99

Features: 10MP camera with optical  image stablizer and face detection.  Over 10 different shooting modes and great image quality.

Specs

Megapixels Optical Zoom Image Stabilizer Face Detection iso LCD Manual Video
10 0x yes yes 3200 2.5″ no no

Rated in Top 10 in PC World | “Very Good” Rating from CNET


Casio Exilim EX-FS10

Casio EX-FS10

MSRP: $199.99

Features: “Combining an Ultra-Slim body with amazing High Speed features, the EX-FS10 is the perfect camera for capturing your friends and family at play.”  Up to 30 FPS (frames per second) high-speed burst, DVD quality video

Specs

Megapixels Optical Zoom Image Stabilizer Face Detection iso LCD Manual Video
9.1 3x anti-shake yes 1600 2.5″ yes yes

Nikon Coolpix S-570

Nikon Coolpix S570

MSRP: $179.95

Features: This camera is less than 1″ thick!  It also offers the “Smart Portrait System” which features skin softening, Smile Timer, Blink Proof and Blink Warning, In-camera red eye fix, and more.

Specs

Megapixels Optical Zoom Image Stabilizer Face Detection iso LCD Manual Video
12 5x yes yes 3200 2.7″ yes yes

Sony Cybershot W-350

Sony Cybershot W-350

MSRP: $199.95

Features: 14.1 megapixels, Carl Zeiss® 4x optical zoom, 2.7″ LCD, iAuto, Smile Shutter™, Face Detection, Optical SteadyShot™, Sweep Panorama, 720p HD movies

Specs

Megapixels Optical Zoom Image Stabilizer Face Detection iso LCD Manual Video
14.1 4x yes yes 3200 2.7″ yes yes
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