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 was writing a set of general guidelines on how to improve your photos, focusing on histograms. 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, and with the use of histograms, there is a technical element to the art of better photography. 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 1156 (Don’t look for something such as a correct histogram): Now that you have read in the previous post about histograms showing whether you have over-exposure or under-exposure and the graph in the histogram moving too far to the left or to the right, you might be thinking that there is a correct graph in the histogram which will help you get the perfect exposure in your photo. However, there is no perfect graph that you can achieve. The curve in the histogram reflects light and contrast, and these in turn depend on the photo. So if you take a photo of somebody in light colored clothes vs. somebody wearing dark colored clothes, the graph in the histogram will veer to the right or to the left. What you need to do is to ensure that the histogram of your photo has enough information to cover the entire range of the graph, from left to right.

Tip 1157 (Don’t go overboard on histograms): Keep in mind that a histogram is a technical representation of the light levels in all the pixels of the image. It is a guide to help you in your photography; don’t become the person who will review each photo after it is taken for the histogram, and make decisions based only on the histogram. You have your own eyes to guide you as well as on whether the photo is coming out well, and use the histogram as an assistant to determine whether you are getting the right amount of exposure across the whole range of the image. It will help you to determine whether there is too much exposure in one part of your photo or too dark in another portion of your photo.

Tip 1158 (Modify exposure if you see clippings): How do you determine from the histogram whether you have something called clipping ? Well, when you look at the curve, depending on whether the image is over-exposed or under-exposed, the graph of the histogram races to the top (either of the left or the right depending on under-exposure or over-exposure) and does not come down to the bottom of the axis. See the following images to understand what I am talking about.

These are snapshots from Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5

Histogram - Clipping on the dark 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

When you are reviewing the photos in your camera and see histograms like this, you need to modify the exposure by adding or decreasing the amount of light so that these clippings are not present.

Tip 1159 (Viewing the histogram in the camera): Did you know that a number of cameras allow you to see the histogram? However, it is not the default, so you will need to make a modification in the settings on the camera. The workflow is that when you have shot the image, there is an option to show the preview in the camera. The button that toggles the settings of the preview will also have an option to show the histogram as a small rectangle, with the preview of the image showing up in a smaller size. If you can’t find this, you will either need to consult your manual, or search for this on the internet, and you will be sure to find this option if your camera does provide this option. Seeing the histogram on the camera allows you to quickly check whether there are too many dark or lighted areas in the composition.

Tip 1160 (What to do when there are dark and light areas in the image): So you were able to see through the histogram that there were dark and light areas in the photo. This can happen easily enough. Consider that you are shooting a brightly lit object in the night, which means that the lit object will go off the right end of the histogram while the dark background will go off the left end of the histogram. This is an extreme case, but there are other cases where something like this can happen. Even on a bright day, if you are in a place with a lot of greenery, the areas under direct sunlight will be almost white like, while the areas in the shade will be dark. What can you do ? If you are a professional, then you will try to keep the exposed areas from being burnt out, while the darker areas will have artificial lights to prevent them from getting very dark. But if you are a normal photographer without access to such equipment, then you can techniques such as HDR / exposure bracketing to combine multiple images that take details from the different exposed parts of the photo, and result in a single image with a better histogram and more mid-tones.

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 histograms in the next and final post about histograms.

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