Reading Exposure Via The Histogram

Photography - 101 Basic Photography Concepts
11 minutes
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As we progress through the photography one on one series, we're going to be teaching you all sorts of ways that you can use the cameras in camera metering system to basically measure the amount of light around you. But for right now, we don't want to get into all the technical stuff, I want you all to get out shooting with us and be able to understand what we're doing in camera. So what I want to do is teach you how to gauge your exposure using Live View and using the live view histogram. The histogram is an incredibly powerful tool to help us to visually gauge the overall exposure in our images. And we're going to use this scene to kind of demonstrate now what we have here is we have the sun directly in front of me right now and it is behind some clouds so it is softened up a little bit.

But it's basically right behind the scene that I'm shooting into. Now this means that the scene is going to be backlit. So in the rocks, we have very deep and dark shadows in the water we have very bright highlights where the light from the Sun is touching. This is going to be kind of difficult when we get to exposing the scene correctly and the histogram is going to be a powerful tool. Now we don't have that necessarily when we're shooting with the sun. You can see kind of behind me as we're shooting with the sun Everything kind of falls to a very flat mid tone range because it's all being directly lit.

I'm going to show you exactly how this would look like in a histogram. But first let's pull up our live view and show you exactly how we would do it. I have my Canon Rebel t five i right here on my tripod, we have the 55 to 250 lens on it, this is just a standard kit lens. And what we're gonna do is we're going to shoot with a nice little composition, giving us some foreground rocks and shooting these tide pool rocks and getting a little bit of water splashing on them. The water's coming in from the right side. So hopefully we'll get a nice shot as the water kind of comes up and gives us some nice action shots.

We have this mounted to army photo globetrotter tripod, it's a great tripod, inexpensive and for what you get is pretty awesome. And we're going to mount it just so that everything stays stable as we're demonstrating all these different things and we can see exactly from frame to frame how it looks. Let's go ahead and hit the Live View button right on our T five eye here and it's going to pull up our live view on the back of the screen. Now right now I pretty much don't see anything okay because it's too dark. It's underexposed completely. So we need to do is adjust the exposure so at least we see something on the back of the screen now typically, your live users Probably going to display something more like along the lines of this.

Now to get it to display the histogram, we simply hit info until the histogram actually is displayed. Now let's go ahead and just adjust our shutter speed or aperture, I'm going to go with first of all an aperture of maybe a little bit lower. So I'm gonna hold down the aperture button, we're going to go down to like maybe around f8. Because I do want a broad depth of field, I want to get around that optimal sharpness on the aperture as well. And then now I'm going to slow down the shutter just so we have something to see on the screen. Now this point, I'm going to hit info so we can bring up that live view histogram.

And there it is. Now the histogram looks a little bit confusing, and it looks something like awful that we used to hate in mathematics with those curves and all that but it's really not that hard to understand. And it's very simple when you know exactly what it's showing you. All the histogram is doing is showing you the overall brightness or the luminosity and you're seeing now what this means is that the left of the histogram, this little side over here on the left is going to be our shadows. In the middle we have our mid tones, and in the right side we have our highlights, anything that's pushed into those areas basically is going to be demonstrated with these pieces. Now, wherever it peaks, it's telling you that a lot of the tonal range in the image is in that area in your shot.

And I'm going to show you exactly what that means because I'm sure that was very confusing to hear. So, right now we're a little bit underexposed. Now, let me go ahead and keep underexposing. And what you're going to see is that when I get up to one 4,000th of a second at f8, ISO 100, everything is pushed to the left of the histogram. So the histogram is showing that it's underexposed. Everything pushed to the left means that we're clipping our shadow detail.

If we are losing shadow detail, that means it's gone. It doesn't matter if we're shooting RAW or JPEG it is gone when we get into post production, it's going to print as pure black. Likewise, if I were to bring this all the way to the other side, so now I'm slowing down the shutter speed going down to one 100th of a second. Now we push everything to the right side of the histogram so everything is pushed against the right side, our shadows come off the left edge. So now we have very little shadows in the scene. And we have a lot of highlights that are being blown out.

Blown out is the same thing as clipping our shadows. We're losing our detail in our highlights and that means those highlights are going to print as pure white. The goal with a histogram is to get everything Within the middle range, basically what we're going to do is I'm going to adjust my shutter speed and watch visually as the histogram pulls into the center. Now the goal is to get our shadows up against the left edge and the highlights up against the right edge without blowing out any highlights and without clipping any of our shadows. And we get that right around, say, one two of a second right now. Now we can get that right now because well, we're not getting too harsh of sunlight, we're covered in cloud cover, but if it were much brighter, if there were no clouds, then we'd have to go with a much higher shutter speed.

So that is a balanced histogram. Now once I have that, I'm just going to wait for my waves, I'm going to take my shot. Now I'm noticing that I'm at one to be the second that means that we are going to be showing a little bit the action in the wave that motion we're not gonna be fully freezing it. So what I might want to do is just adjust my aperture down a little bit. So I'm going to bring my aperture down to let's say seven point actually we'll go down to 6.3 will bring the shutter speed up to one 500 of a second so we can freeze that water just a little bit better. Now all it's going to come down to is waiting for that perfect wave and capturing our shot.

By the way I have locked in my focus, I just picked a point of focus that's kind of in the middle of our depth in that scene, and I locked that focus right there. So that way it doesn't change throughout this entire scene I did that is by switching this to manual mode. So I have a couple of good waves here coming through, I'm going to take a couple of these shots. We have our shot here. Now what I want to do is kind of demonstrate on the Nikon it's gonna be a little bit different because some cameras gonna be different, different brands different makes different models may or may not have live you histogram, but they will offer a histogram, I'm going to show you also what a different histogram might look like. So let me take a quick shot.

I'm just gonna take a shot over here of these rocks in the background. Because I want you to see what a histogram would look like, where all the tones fall into that mid range kind of area. Because the sun is basically front lighting everything over here. That's where all of our tones fall in. So let's go ahead I'm going to swap these cameras out. Now we've got the Nikon setup, I've got the same or similar composition on the Nikon setup as in the canon.

Let's go ahead and take a quick shot right now this is set to one 500 of a second at f eight and ISO 100. I just want to see where we're at with the exposure. And we'll adjust because we don't have the live view histogram on the Nikon. So we're going to take that quick shot. And this is the playback histogram. Okay, so what we're going to do is after we get the shot, we hit play, it's going to go to the playback menu.

Now, most likely, what you're going to see is something more like this. So you'll see basically the image by itself just like that. Now what we have to do is we have to hit up on the D pad to be able to see more options. Actually, I think this is the default option right there. When you hit up again, it's gonna take you this second screen and it shows us the histogram and in the histogram, we can see that our shadows are indeed a little bit pulled to the left too much and we can see that the highlights well we have a little bit more range on the highlights so we can pull those limits to the right. Okay, so let's go ahead and make that adjustment again.

So what I'm going to do is, let's see, want to go up a little bit brighter. So let's go And then just adjust the aperture a little bit. So I'm going to bring the aperture down to maybe around f5. Or let's go f 6.3. And let's take one more shot. Also, the sun is starting to peak right now.

So we'll see if that kind of messes us up. But what I can do is I'm just going to give this a double check, we're going to look at our highlight alert to just make sure yeah, we're solid. Okay, so I'm going to show you guys the highlight alert in the next video, so don't worry about that. That's going to be our second tool and getting the right exposure visually. So right now, if I go ahead and go back to my preview, we can see that we've maximized our histogram here. So there's our final shot, we're at one 500, a second f 6.3.

ISO 100. We have our shadows pulled all the way to the left, but they're not clipped, our highlights are pulled to the right, we've captured as much tonal detail in this shot as possible. Okay, I want to stop high for just a minute here. Now throughout this video, Pius mentioned that the goal is to get everything in the histogram in the middle range. In other words, capture as much detail as possible and max out the dynamic range that can be captured by the camera. Now he's right in capturing as much detail in that it's a really great general goal most of the time, but not all the time.

So let me show you a couple of examples. Now quite took this photograph for an equestrian fashion concept shoot not too long ago. And if you look at the image and it's histogram, you'll notice that a lot of the images in the shadow range, there's dark for the skin of the horse, the models outfit, the background of the bar. Now, everything is in the shadows except for the model's face. But guess what? That's totally okay.

And it's, it's quite correct. It's simply that the scene really is a naturally dark scene. Now let's take a look at another example. And actually, it's from the same shoot, and this time with a model tying her laces on her boot. If you look at the histogram, it looks like a lot of the information is pushed to the right side of the frame, and it's being blown out. Now, if I were to just look at that histogram, and not the image I might guess that the image is actually overexposed.

But in reality, it isn't. It looks like it's just where it should be. So the point of this quick tip and exercise is to demonstrate that the histogram and the live view together are great tools and they're appearing, so you should use them together. Always trying to maximize details in your histogram is a really good goal. But make sure that the seats still looks correct as well. Because if your scene is naturally dark, well, you got to expect that your histogram will be pushed to the left a bit.

And if the scene is naturally bright, then expected to be pushed to the right a bit. So this is where your artistic judgment is going to help you. It'll help you arrive at the artistically correct exposure. Maybe not the technically correct one, but maybe the right one for that scene. All right, so back to the video. Now there is one benefit an additional a major benefit of the Nikon over the canon, we saw that the Canon have Live View histogram, which was awesome, then icon didn't, which makes a little more cumbersome, you don't have that option to be able to adjust in live view, you have to go and take a shot before you can see the histogram.

But what the Nikon does have is a sensor that can capture more dynamic range. We're going to talk more about this and getting more demonstrations on dynamic range later and particularly shooting in raw. But what that essentially means is that this camera can capture more shadows and more highlights within the same image when compared to something like this. This is around 14 stops, this is around 12 stops. And don't worry, this will make more sense later on. Just know that this captures more detail, which is good.

Alright, so we have that setup. Now I want to compare just that scene that you had going in this direction we shot with the sunlight versus against the sunlight. Okay, so I just want to show you what the difference in the histogram looks like. So here's the histogram in this scene where we're shooting against the sunlight. Whenever you're shooting in a high contrast scene going against the light, you're going to have a lot of highlights and a lot of shadows. That means it's going to be a U shaped histogram because you're going to have highlights or shadows in the left side and you're gonna have highlights On the right side, I think you guys would probably flip flop so shadows on the side and highlights on this side.

But you get that U shaped histogram when we're shooting with the sun, I'm going to show you what that looks like. So let's go back over here. And there's our shot with the sun. So when we're shooting with the sun, we get kind of a different curve, we get more of this kind of middle shaped curve where most of the tones are falling into this mid range. That's because we're shooting with the light and it's all flat light, we don't have a lot of highlights, everything is just kind of mid tones. And so when you're shooting with the light, it's actually very easy to capture the entire dynamic range, the entire tonal range in the scene within one shot.

But when you're shooting against the light, that's when it becomes tricky. That's when the histogram is going to be really one of your best friends and making sure that you get the perfect exposure. All right, that's it for this video and I'll see you all in the next one.

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