Histogram or Image Preview for Exposure?

Ron Niebrugge Alaska, Ask Ron, How to, Photos, Travel 18 Comments

Dark conditions like this scene from Seward earlier this winter is one time I can be "fooled" by the back of the camera preview.

Dark conditions like this scene from Seward earlier this winter is one time I can be "fooled" by the back of the camera preview.

Samantha Orchard provided me this Ask Ron question:

Do you check the in-camera histogram and/or the overexposure warning
option (blinking pixels) after you take a photograph? Or do you just look
at the image on the screen to determine if you need to use exposure
compensation, take exposure-bracketed shots, or otherwise re-adjust your
camera settings when you try the shot again?

Great question.  I set my camera to blink when there are flashing highlights – a camera setting available on many cameras.  Looking for “blinkies” is one of the first things I will do when evaluating an exposure as this represents lost data.  If I need to, I can usually recover detail in an underexposed area, but never in an overexposed “blinker”.

But, I try to always look at the histogram making sure the “mountain” of data isn’t getting cut off by being too far to the right (overexposed), or too far to the left (underexposed).

If I don’t look at the historgram and just judge exposure by how the image on the LCD looks, I find that I will often underexpose the photo when I’m working in dark conditions, presumably because the screen appears so bright compared to my dark surroundings.  Likewise, if it is really bright out I have trouble seeing the image on the back of the camera unless it is overexposed – so I find I tend to overexpose.  With the histogram I get a more objective measure of exposure – one that isn’t influenced by the viewing conditions.

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Comments 18

  1. I agree. First thing I look at is the histogram and then the actual shot to see if I like the composition. As for yours, beautiful!

  2. I like the blinkies–they give me an idea of what to focus on in the field. However, it should also be noted that the in-camera display is a sharpened, contrasted jpeg that has been created from the RAW file (in other words, they aren’t the same). Setting the brightness level of my 30D to -2 and exposing to the right has really helped me in getting the most out of my exposures.

  3. One thing I learned in a workshop was to use the RGB histogram rather than just the brightness histogram. A sunset photo can be full of oranges and reds and while the overall image histogram might not be blown out, the red Channel might which would eliminate some detail. In short- expose to the right until one of the RGB channels gets close to the right side.

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    Thanks a lot guys!

    Exposing to the right, and looking at the RGB channels were two things I considered mentioning as they are great tips.

    Exposing to the right – keeping the “mountain” of data as far to the right without over-exposing is a great way to minimize noise. The initial image doesn’t always look as good when exposed to the right, but better after adjusted. Thanks Greg

    Great point Steve – I find your advice especially true for the red channel far more then any other for some reason.

  5. Thank you for answering my question Ron. I’m going to be much more diligent about checking the blinkies and histogram from now on–I recently took some photos with unrecoverable data in an essential part of the photo so I’ve learned the hard way. And now I know how to avoid it in the future!

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  7. I’m probably over-analyzing this, but did you use a grad filter on this? The FG seems dark, but there’s a nice glow above the mountains and on the peaks.

  8. Post

    Hi Scott,

    It is a good question – we actually blended two images to achieve the same effect of a grad filter. I typically would have used a grad filter in this situation, but didn’t want to mess with them over a fast moving cold stream.

  9. Really do not have much to say, expect admire all the beauty in it… With or without a hard post production or on location, this is now another thing when art comes along! Congratulations!

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  11. Wonderful image Ron!

    Another valuable tool that I have used on a past group photo tour (and yet haven’t purchased myself) is a hoodman LCD screen viewing loope. At first I thought this thing was a bit pretentious hanging around ones neck while out photographing, it took just a few minutes of usinng a borrowed hoodman on a bright day to sell me on the value. Seeing the LCD thru the hoodman really allowed me to leverage the preview to see details like never before. Maybe I need to put it on my birthday wish list for my wife to get me next month… 😉

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    Thanks Greg,

    I will have to check one of those out. On a bright sunny day with snow on the ground, I can hardly even see my LCD screen. I have resorted to pulling my jacket over my head and camera like a large format shooter! Thanks again.


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