July 2013
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5 tips to improve your photography skills and your photos (contd..)

In the previous post (5 tips to improve your photography skills and your photos), I am writing a set of general guidelines on how to improve your photos, focusing on histograms in this post. Taking better photos does not only deal with knowing your equipment and its settings better, in fact, the best of photographers always claim better technique and temperament as one of the prime techniques of taking better photos. I would love it if you could provide comments on whether you agree or disagree with such tips, and if you feel that you have tips you want to share, please do let me know via the comments. Here goes:

Tip 1151 (Histograms everywhere): You would have seen a histogram in a lot of places (here are a lot of histogram images from Google Images). If you have a Digital SLR or do some experimentation in a photo editing software such as Adobe Photoshop CS6 or Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5, then you would have seen a histogram. What is a histogram ? A histogram is a graph meant for displaying how tones or light are distributed in the photo. The left and right sides of the graph both have meaning, with the left side representing the shadows while the right side represents the highlights. The middle part of the graph represents the midtones in the photo.

Tip 1152 (How does reading a histogram help you): By being able to properly read the histogram, you can learn a lot about the light levels of your photo. Reading the histogram tells you if the image has been been exposed properly, it tells you what adjustments to the lighting will work on your photo, and it will tell you about the nature of the lighting – whether the lighting is flat or harsh, or proper. So, if the image is more dark, then the mountain in the graph will lean towards the left side, while if the image is brighter / has more highlights, the mountain in the graph will lean towards the right of the image. When the image is well balanced in terms of light, it will have a better representation in the graph in the histogram.

Histogram - Shadow areas and graph tending to left side

In this graph, the graph in the histogram is towards the left, and the image is fairly dark with a lot of shadows. In the next one, you will see an image with too much light, and the graph is bunched up towards the right side.

Histogram - Too much light, highlights

Now compare the histograms in these 2 photos, with the one in the left being too dark and the graph pushes to the left, with the one having too much light pushing towards the right.

Tip 1153 (Determining under or over exposed photos): With an over-exposed photo, there is too much light in the photo. There is less amount of shadow, there is less amount of blacks (of course this is determined by the amount of over-exposure that is there in the photo). If the level of exposure is so high that the portions of the image tend sharply to the right in the histogram, then you will not be able to recover details in those portions of the image. In such a situation, the highlights are called as being clipped, having been pushed to the extreme right of the histogram. Similarly when the image is very dark and there are too many shadows, the graph gets pushed to the extreme left of the histogram and it is difficult to get any details from the image.

Tip 1154 (Auto modes of the camera): By default, the camera in auto mode will always try to take photos with the histogram balanced, with more of midtones, and less of over or under exposure. However, there are cases when the camera will not be able to adjust. For example, if you are standing in a way that there is a harsh light or the sun shining into the camera, then you will face problems. Similarly, if there are a variety of different light levels in the composition, you will find different parts of the image over-exposed or under-exposed.

Tip 1155 (Using the histogram as a measure of contrast): The graph of the histogram can also be used to show the contrast in an image; for those requiring more detail, contrast depicts the difference in brightness between the dark and light portions of the image. The higher the contrast, the wider is the histogram. So, if you shoot a photo in bright light, there will be patches of darkness and light, and the photo will have a higher contrast. If you shoot in a scene such as where you are shooting in indoor light or when there is mist, the contrast between the different parts of the image will be less. In most cases, you will look for images with more contrast, since you get greater emphasis in the photo and they tend to look less flatter.

Some books to improve your photography:

The Digital Photography Book BetterPhoto Basics Scott Kelby’s Digital Photography Boxed Set

Some videos about photography from Youtube:

Photography Histograms Explained

How to Use a Camera’s Histogram Part 1

Digital Photography 1 on 1: Episode 33: Histograms

Histograms | Histogram | Digital Photography | Camera

How to read your Histogram. A graph of your picture brightness

Read more about using Histograms in the next post (How to take better photos – learning about histograms)

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