How to read Histogram for Better Photography Exposure

How to read Histogram for Better Photography Exposure

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The histogram is an incredibly powerful tool that allows us to discover important aspects of the light during shooting, it is a great tool to better understand the correct photographic exposure. Learning how to read the histogram can take photography a step ahead and improve your photography exposure

Histogram Basics

The Histogram is a phisical representation of an image through levels. The Highlights and whites points are represented on the right side of the graph while the shadows and the blacks are represented on the left. In the middle part of the level there are the midtones while in the vertical axes is represented the number of pixels in a specific tone

Many cameras on the market are equipped with an histogram function that allows to view the relative graph for each image taken, in the form of levels. What the camera does is to create the histogram by converting the image to greyscale and divides it into 256 levels of brightness: starting from 0 up to 256, where 0 represents the pure blacks while 256 the pure whites. After analyzing the pixels of the image, the camera transform it into a chart

Understanding clipping Highlights and Shadows

Every time the graph moves too much on the right or on the left we talk about clipping highlights or clipping shadows, more pixel clipping on the sides of the charts and more information are being lost. Let’s see in details what does it mean

Clipping Highlights

Overexposed image

When we talk about clipping highlights we talk about loss of information on overexposed images, in this case the pixel portions where information are lost will be represented in the graph on the clipping part on the right

Clipping right graph

On camera raw there’s the possibility to put a tick to display the clipping warnings, in this case the highlights warning warn us for those areas where the pure white is, represented by the red color

Pure white warnings

To show the pure white areas in Camera Raw just click the top white arrow, in the image the area where I circled in red. Note than the areas in the sky, although they are extremely white and overexposed they cannot be considered pure white, is a subtle difference but only in the red part could be considered pure white points

Clipping Shadows

Underexposed image

Talking about the shadows the image below is underexposed so it’s more dark that how should it be, in this case the pixel portions where informations are losts are represented in the graph on the clipping part on the left

Clipping left graph

On camera raw also here there is the possibility to check for displaying the clipping warnings, in this case the shadows warnings are represented as the blue parts that corresponds as the pure black points

Pure blacks warnings

Same as the highlights also for the shadows to show the pure black areas in the image, just check the top of the chart, note that the areas on the rocks are extremely black and underexposed but we can consider the pure black parts only the blue areas selected in camera raw that are 100% blacks

So what’s the perfect Histogram?

The goal is to achieve the perfect histogram, to do that it depends of what are you photographing but in general, the perfect histogram is that has pixel spread throughout midtones and you don’t have lost of informations on clippings shadows or highlights

Below there’s a representation of just two different types of ideal histogram this to remembrance that’s not just 1 kind of ideal histogram but many types of it, depends on the scene and also other many factors that change from picture and picture. Essentially the loss of informations from shadows or highlights is something to avoid but also loosing too much midtones can “compromize” your perfect histogram

Why reading Histogram is Important?

After shooting a photo simply relying the review on the camera screen can be a mistake, because it does not give us a precise representation of how balanced the image is. It can happen that the camera LCD tries to represent the photo in a brighter and less precise way and once you open the shot into Photoshop you can find errors of loss of informations

As mentioned at the beginning of this article many cameras are equipped with the histogram tool, which after taking the photo allow you to view the representation in charts, in this way so it’s more easy and accurate to adjust the exposure

When shooting, using this tool is a great help to create more balanced photos. Personally I check the histogram on all the images I shot in order to keep under control the possible loss of information and not to lose dynamic range

My Method

As you know I make many of my shots using bracketing mode in order to capture every image with different exposures. Every time I take a photo I set the camera values to have a shot as precise and balanced as possible, I check the histogram to get the exposure more balanced as possible, then I activate the bracketing mode to achieve all the shots I need to capture the greatest number of dynamic range

I use the overexposed and underexposed shots only to realize my digital blending techniques and to selectively chose the necessary areas of interests for blending

Some exceptions:

Despite everything there are some styles of images that do not always require a perfect histogram which in this article I consider necessary to mentions, it is the case of all those images where a unperfect histogram is part of the intrinsic style of the photo

Without necessarily delving into each of these techniques I will just list them, maybe in the future if you are interested I will be able to create a guide on this topic. Exceptions are:

  • Low Key mages
  • High Key mages
  • High Contrast images
  • ETTR Technique

On this last technique I want to spend few words for a more detailed description: ETTR a photographic technique that consists in realizing the shots aiming towards a histogram to the right of the necessary one

The reasons behind this technique is that through this system it is possible to maintain a wider dynamic range and less information loss, in fact by successively lowering the exposure in the camera raw and reporting the exposure values in a balanced way the image final returns to being correctly exposed but with a greater possibility to manage the details within the shadows


So those was how to read the histogram for better photography exposure, as we see the histogram is an important tool for evaluating an image and a method for creating alternative photographic techniques. If you do not usually use it, I invite you to do it already from the next shots, I await your feedback on the results

All you need to know to Photograph Waterfalls

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During my photographic trips it often happens to be in the places that have waterfalls nearby and every time I don’t miss the opportunity to go and visit some of them.
The reason for this is that in addition to their natural beauty and charm of the fullness of nature they have an incredible variety

Waterfalls also represent an incredible photographic spot for every landscape photographer for the context in which they are often inserted and for the possibility of photographing them from multiple angles, radically changing the perspective and the sensations that are transmitted to the viewer

So in this article we will see all you need to know to photograph waterfalls starting from necessary equipments up to shooting tips


Tripod: One of the essential requirements for every long exposure shot is a sturdy tripod, when using the tripod in the field always consider the slippery surfaces that are around the falls, explore the position well to find the right pov

Lenses: in most cases it happen to photograph the falls with the help of a wide angle lenses, these lenses are the best to include as much as possible of the scenery around the waterfall and allows to create good compositions with foreground, rocks, water etc. It is also interesting trying different angles, for example with 24-70 (it depends on the waterfall) to have a closer look of the scene

ND Filters: this is the part of your gear that in many cases manages to give that extra touch to the movement of your waterfall. It is not required a strong ND because the waterfalls are almost always found in wooded areas and with not too strong lighting, a 3 – 6 stop is usually what I use most

At the same time happened to me to photograph waterfalls even without any filter to catch the movement in a different way or simply because I liked the flow of water as it was

Waterfall captured without ND Fiters


Unlike many landscapes, waterfall photography can be done in different conditions, if usually in landscape photography you try to avoid gray and flat skies or rainy days, these are instead the ideal days to take the waterfalls. So cloudy day will helps so much to create a natural soft light to your waterfall

It is also possible to photograph waterfalls in sunny days to take advantage of the sunlight that filters through the leaves of the vegetation to have beautiful light effects, in this cases you have to pay attention to the water reflections and avoid to keep them too overexposed or creating too much contrasted areas

Waterfall captured during Sunset


Iso: Since you’re using a tripod to photograph waterfalls use the lowest ISO possible, this will reduce the noise and capture the most dynamic range

Shutter Speed: The key is to use slows shutter speed, I usually move through f13 or f18 it depends of what filter I am using for the shot, I try to avoid diaphragms totally closed to for this kind of photo unless it should also include sun spikes

Manual Mode and Manual Focus: If you are using ND filters on waterfall, manual mode is a must because the camera didn’t always choose the aperture I needed to get the right depth of field.

Manual Focus it is a very important requirement to have the sharpest images possible, it constitutes that added value to your landscape photography, to better master manual focus read this article

Waterfall composition example

Compose the Waterfall Scene: This is the most important point, composing the frame doesn’t mean simply photography a waterfall but capture it’s movement, the envinroments that composed it. Every waterfall has a lot of vegetation, rocks, trees, leaves around it. The goal is to capture an image that includes the waterfall within the context in which it is located, this will make the image much more interesting for the viewer

Always Watch Highlights: In waterfall photography the water probably will be your primary subject, so the best choice will be to expose to the waterfall in order to control the highlights on the water. Always check the instogram to control the shot and avoid too much underexposed/overexposed areas

Freeze Trees: Capturing one shot of the scene without the use of filters or long exposures is important for having a static image of the waterfall and its surroundings. Waterfalls are often in wooded environments full of leaves and trees that can move and move with the wind making all the leaves fuzzy. Capturing one or more shots in this way will allow you to replace the blurry areas in post processing

In this image I used the exposure to save the trees from movement

Bonus Post Processing Tip: A general tip for post processing waterfall is to take the highlights down, usually I do the same but in camera Raw I balance this using white points. I capture the scene with multiple exposures in order to blend images, for example with trees as I described above or to darken or lighten properly the exposures using digital blending or luminosity masks

If you haven’t already download my free luminosity masks panel to make your workflow easier and start using it on your next waterfall shot

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Hi, my name is Giuseppe Sapori, a professional photographer and author of this website, created by yours truly to show my work and share with you the techniques I use. My expertise is in the field of Landscape Photography... (Read More)

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