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Histogram Primer, Part 2
Old 06-10-2006, 11:55 PM   #1 (permalink)

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The recent Thread by Carpo Imago on Histograms was very good but I have to ask the question, what do I do with a Histogram and how do I use to adjust the settings on my camera to get better photos?

I used a Nikon D100 for a while before converting over to Canon (EOS 10D w/ Canon Lenses to be specific) and I had a heck of a time in getting the D100 to where I could get good, consistent photos out of it on a reliable and I am having the same problem with my EOS 10D. A lot of the photos I take with my 10D are either over or underexposed and I can't seem to be able to find the sweet spot and it is driving me crazy.

I have my EOS set up in a similar way to how I had my D100 set up: ISO 200, White Balance set to Cloudy, Exposure Compensation set to 1/2 stop negative (a digital camera acts like a film camera loaded with slide film and I find that a little underexposure yields better photos).

My question is once I look at a Histogram in the camera what do I do and how do I alter the settings (and more importantly, what settings do I alter) in my camera to give me better photos?

I am sure a lot of us have struggled with this at one time or another so the assistance of the group is greatly appreciated. Thanks!
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Re: Histogram Primer, Part 2
Old 06-11-2006, 12:47 AM   #2 (permalink)
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As for white balance, I would shoot a greycard and let the Canon's default balance setting do it's thing. But, I think that is sheer opinion from me.

As for the histogram, it all depends on what is in your image. It's usually said "you want most of the pixels in the middle." Which is true is you are shooting into a scene that is evenly balanced. (yeah right!) But, if one is shooting on a high key set then most of the pixels are going to be white making the histogram be heavy on the right side. When I first starting doing photography I would underexpose my images a whole lot b/c on a white background I would make my histograms high point be in the center. (duh!)

As for which settings to change to move the histogram...the same settings you would use to change any exposed, aprature, shutter speed and ISO. Generally the aprature changes the histogram in bigger steps than the shutter speed and the ISO even less than the shutter speed. It doesn't take long to understand the histogram once you practice changing the camera's setting on different scenes.

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Re: Histogram Primer, Part 2
Old 06-11-2006, 07:29 PM   #3 (permalink)
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There is some evidence to suggest that you should "shoot to the right", which means adjust your exposure so that the histogram is just short of blowing out the highlights. The reason for this is that the CCDs capture more information at that end of their range. Shoot in RAW, and adjust to final exposure in the RAW converter. You will end up with a larger amount of information to work with than if you shot for an even distribution in the histogram. The shot on the camera may look over-exposed, but the information is there. Try it on a test subject and see if you can see the difference. If not, don't worry about it, but some people report superior results from this technique.
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Re: Histogram Primer, Part 2
Old 06-13-2006, 08:52 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Keep in mind that digital shooting is a linear capture. That means that if you divide the histogram into 5 areas, the highlight area (the 1/5th on the right) contains 1/2 of all the data captured. Then next 1/5th moving left, contains 1/2 of what left and so forth. So if you underexpose, you are moving the histogram left, or throwing away part of the possible data that can be captured. This also means that the shadow areas will be compromised or clipped. So with digital, it is better to always expose to move the histogram as far right as you can without clipping a critical color channel. Keep in mind that most camera histograms still show only the black/white info so you'll only know if you're clipping whites. But in general if you shoot a black/gray/white card at full frame, then you'll be able to adjust the histogram to get three spikes and you'll try to move the spikes as far right as possible without clipping. If you have speculars in the scene, then it is often okay to clip them. As a general rule one should avoid setting the compensation on the camera to a minus value unless the scene really justifies it. Instead use the black/gray/white calibration target to calibrate the scene. You can quickly see exactly what compensation is needed. This is especially true when using the built in meter. With digital, even a 1/3 stop under/over exposure can start to cause problems. And if its under by more than 1/3rd, you can almost guarantee that many shots will have areas that are not recoverable due to the linear nature of digital photography.


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