How-To Geek

How to Use Your Camera’s Histogram

Many people have seen the histogram on their camera (usually by accidentally changing the view mode while reviewing photos) but very few people use it. The histogram is a handy tool once you know how to decode the jagged little graph it throws before you.

Photography blog The Phoblographer shares a beginner’s guide to the histogram, opening with an analogy to frame the usefulness of it:

The histogram is a graph representing all the tones a camera is capable of capturing, from pure black on the left to pure white on the right. If we were discussing piano music, a histogram would be a bar graph with one bar for each key on the keyboard, as tall as the number of times the key is pressed.

And it’s not totally random, by the way, to discus histograms and pianos in the same sentence.

Photography great, Ansel Adams, was also a pianist and often described his photographic work in keyboard terms. He advocated using all 88 keys in a photo, from black to white and everywhere in between. Blacks should be dark and substantial, but with good detail and transitions, like the last few octaves on the keys, not just the wobbly final “A” at the end. Highlights, also, need to be contained within the reach of the instrument, and not tinkered away in the wimpy last notes to the right.

Check out the full guides at the link below to see example photos and a checklist for referencing your camera’s historgram.

The Phoblographer’s Guide to the Histogrm (Part1)

The Phoblographer’s Guide to the Histogrm (Part2) [The Phoblographer]

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 01/25/11

Comments (2)

  1. Hatryst

    This is good, because I haven’t ever used the histogram while taking photos. Of course, used it in post-processing though…
    Guess that’s a good thing to be used while taking photos ! ;)

  2. Drecked

    Hi Guy’s with regard to the phoblographer’s guide # 1 & 2 !

    I Receive >Error establishing a database connection ! Is It Me or You who has a glitch ?

    Salute drecked

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