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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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Dear Ellen: Hot 20 Dirty 30 Under 40

Dear Ellen,

Hi! What a freaking exciting week it’s been!!  Late last week I found out that I was nominated for the 7×7 Magazine Hot 20 Under 40 list.  It’s an annual list that 7×7 does featuring 20 of the city’s “hottest” movers and shakers – interesting people do creative/cool things. They publish the list of top 20 people in the October issue of the magazine! Exciting! 7×7 is a really HOTT magazine.  I’m serious.  It’s the hot, trendy, social, fun magazine in San Francisco – aimed at young professionals who have a discerning taste in art, music, culture, food, etc….

Anyhow, this whole “Hot 20″ thing was a complete surprise -  they got word about Project DOG – and thought it worthy enough to include me as a candidate for my dog photography!  SO COOL!!!  …You wanna know how I found out?  @puppysnob on Twitter first sent me a “congrats” tweet, LOL, then later I saw it on the 7×7 Facebook page!!  So I went bananas last week trying to spread the word and get votes – tweeting, txting, emailing, making banners… stuff like that and sure enough, I MADE THE TOP 20, YAY!!!!

So now that I know I’ve made the Top 20, I’m still in the running for the Top 10, Top 5 and finally the Reader’s Choice, depending on how far along I get.  I guess time will only tell!  If you want to VOTE FOR ME, CLICK HERE (#16)!!  This is turning out to be the BEST BDAY EVER!

Yep, it’s true.  Guess who’s turning 3-0 tomorrow?!! …Guess who I share my bday with?  Good ol Barack Obama, heheehee.

My mom keeps asking me what I want for my bday.  Hmmm, tough one.  Some of the first things that come to mind… what do you think?

  • Airline sponsor to take me to my Project DOG cities
  • hotel sponsor to give me rooms in my target Project DOG cities
  • rental car sponsor to help get me to my Project DOG photoshoots
  • literary agent to help me pitch Project DOG
  • book publisher to publish Project DOG
  • media sponsor to help spread the word and share my Project DOG progress
  • $$$$$$ to help pay for Project DOG
  • Canon to sponsor me and give me (2) 5D MkII’s to shoot my Project DOG photos with – one for stills and one for my assistant to take videos!
  • unlimited vacation days so i can travel to take Project DOG photos

Oh, and I came up with a really great idea this morning on the BART train too. If I had money, I would put together an amazing 80s music festival. Yes, all 80′s, and I would invite Pat Benatar, Heart, Chicago, REO Speedwagon, Prince, George Michael, Roxette, Joan Jett, David Bowie, Billie Idol, Erasure, Depeche Mode, Cyndi Lauper, Bon Jovi, Journey, etc… how amazing would that be?!!

Ugh well here’s a photo of myself that I took this morning with my phone – the very last photo taken of myself in my glorious 20′s.

Things in Project DOG land are really taking off!  I have close to 700 submissions now and just this morning I got a submission from a Pharaoh Hound from Denver!! So exciting, I am so thrilled at how many people are getting word about the project and submiting their dogs… dog breeds that I thought I’d never find are getting submitted – yesterday I got an Affenpinscher and an Old English Sheepdog!!

Today I announced the first round of the Project DOG photo contest.  I’m going to hold it once or twice a month (haven’t decided yet) and come up with different themes for each contest.  We’ll see how that goes…. hehehe.

Sorry no dog pics this week.  I had a photoshoot this past weekend with Chelsea the Boston Terrier, but I forgot the Ellen at home. Oops.  I’ll be meeting up with her in the next week or two to get a shot.  I’m excited because now that I have some photos of her, my 2nd official sample spread will be complete.  YAY!  …Only 10 more sample spreads to go before I can start pitching publishers!!

Well, hope you’re having a great week!

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7×7: Hot 20 Under 40 – Vote For Me!

AMAZING NEWS!!  I just found out this AM that I have been nominated for 7×7 Magazine’s Hot 20 Under 40!!  This is an annual “readers choice” contest that highlights the “top 20″ people under 40 years of age doing something good in San Francisco.

There are 38 contestants, which will be voted down to 20 by August 2nd.

Please vote before August 2nd!

I NEED VOTES!! CLICK HERE to vote for me now! #26 (no registration required, just click the radio button and hit “submit”)


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2nd Place for Best Pet Photographer in SF Gate's 2010 BayList

Well, the results are in, and by popular vote, I was voted 2nd for Best Pet Photographer in the SF Bay Area!

A BIG THANK YOU to everyone who took the time to vote for me, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.  I never ran for Best Pet Photographer before, so I’m really proud that I even placed let alone got 2nd.  Not bad for my first time… lol!

3 years ago when I started this business I always dreamed of being a Pet Photographer, and finally my dream is coming true.  When I first move to SF in 2004 (before I even started my business) I remember seeing right around the corner from my apartment a huge print ad for Petchitecture.  I thought to myself, “What the hell is that… I wish I could be the photographer there…”  I guess the rest is history!!

Here’s a pic to celebrate!

Here’s a screenshot:

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