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Using A Histogram In Photoshop - Book Excerpt - Creative Lighting Tips And Techniques
The following excerpt is from a wonderful new digital photography book, Creative Lighting: Digital Photography Tips and Techniques by award-winning professional photographer Harold Davis. The book covers both natural light and studio lighting. However, it is not a cookbook covering studio lighting setups; nor is it a book that emphasizes the pixels over the overall visual impact that a photograph can make.
Each of the photos in Creative Lighting can be used to generate ideas for your own work — how you can use existing light, alter light, or create lighting to make spectacular photos of your own. The author includes the story behind each photo in the book, as well as full technical data about the captures.
Using a Histogram
Knowing the difference between over and under exposure is important to photographers. For a fable concerning Goldilocks and the three photographing bears that partly explains why this matters, see pages 74–77.
If you are concerned that it will be difficult to tell underexposure from overexposure, never fear—a visual aid is here! A histogram is simply a bar graph of values. An exposure histogram is a graph of tonal values in a photo, usually from dark to light.
The tonal values from black to white are shown along the bottom of the histogram. Any time a tonal value appears in a photo, a line is shown going up. The higher the line, the more of the tonal value.
In aggregate, the lines representing tonal values form a kind of curve. As you get to know histograms, you can tell a great deal about your exposure by looking at the curve shown by the histogram. A curve that is primarily to the left (this kind of exposure histogram is sometimes called “left-biased”) usually represents underexposure, while a curve that is primarily leaning to the right means overexposure (this kind of curve is called “right-biased”).
In this real world, life is never as simple as one would like, and the issue of reading a histogram is complicated by the fact that it graphs real world values of light and dark. For example, the photo you are creating may contain a great deal of dark subject matter. If you want to keep these dark things looking dark, then the appropriate histogram would be biased to the left.
Conversely, if you want to keep bright subject matter light, then you want to have a right-biased histogram. In other words, the validity and utility of an exposure histogram depend upon your subject matter, lighting, and the goals of your image. There is never an absolutely correct histogram independent of these factors.
You can take advantage of the information inherent from an exposure histogram in all parts of the digital photography workflow: before you make an exposure, after the exposure in the camera, while processing a RAW photo in the digital darkroom, and when you make adjustments using postprocessing software such as Photoshop.
50mm macro, 4/5 of a second at f/11 and ISO 100, tripod mounted
With its white background and overexposure to create a transparent look, this image of poppies shows a substantial presence along the right side of the histogram (below), and relatively few tonal values elsewhere. Despite the unusual graph of values, the image is exposed the way I wanted.
Poppy histogram in Photoshop following RAW conversion
Lensbaby Composer with fisheye attachment, lens at maximum aperture (about f/2), six exposures at shutter speeds from 1/5 of a second to 1/50 of a second (exposures combined in Photoshop), each exposure at ISO 100, tripod mounted
With its black background and predominantly saturated colors, the histogram for this finished image (below) shows a substantial presence along the left side, with minimal tonal values elsewhere. This distribution of values is what I would normally expect—and desire—when I’m shooting a subject on a black background.
Passiflora histogram in Photoshop
This leads to an extremely important point. It’s a mistake to try to read a histogram in a vacuum. The values you see in an exposure histogram depend upon the values in the photo. Your ability to size a scene up for lighting, combined with the way it looks in your LCD following exposure (or using Live View), combined with the exposure histogram create a far better “picture” of an exposure than any of these three tools by itself.
For best results, check out the situation by eye. Review it visually on your camera’s LCD. Note that the LCD can be wildly inaccurate—particularly in situations where the exposure choices aren’t very good and have stretched the capabilities of the digital fi le, but the camera has compensated for the LCD display. So it is important to compare the visual input you get from the LCD with the data in the exposure histogram. Extreme spiking on the left or right of the histogram may reveal problems that don’t show up when reviewing images on the LCD; if you are in the fi eld, and fi nd this kind of problem, hopefully you can fi x it by changing your exposure settings while there is still time.
This histogram shows an exposure that is bunched to the left, meaning that it is likely to be underexposed. However, since a histogram graphs the light–to–dark values in a capture, if what you are photographing is predominantly black (for example, a vase containing flowers on a black velvet background), then this graph may, in fact, represent the exposure you want.
This histogram shows a roughly normal distribution of exposures, provided that the subject being captured includes a full range of lights and darks. Of course, the actual histogram will depend upon the lights and darks in the subject, as well as your exposure settings. You can see in this fairly middle-of-the-road histogram that there are some black values and some white values, with the bulk of the exposure values in the midtone (the center of the graph).
This histogram shows an exposure that is likely to be overexposed—you can tell because the exposure values are bunched to the right. However, if your subject includes a great deal of very bright or white tonality (for example, a transparent flower on a white light box), this may be the histogram you get—and it may be perfect for the capture you want to make.
Here are the links to the other free excerpts:
• Understanding Exposure
• Overexposure And Underexposure
• All About Aperture
• Working With Shutter Speeds
• Working With The ISO
• Using Exposure Controls with Lighting
• White Balance And Color
• Pre-Visualizing the Impact of Lighting
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Adobe Deals & Special Coupon Offers
Visit the Adobe Coupons & Special Offers Page to see the latest deals from Adobe. Find upgrade options at the Adobe Store. Get up to 80% off at the Adobe Education Store. Find out about monthly or annual subscriptions. You can also download a free 30 day trial of any Adobe CS5 product.
onOne Photoshop Plugins Sale - Plus Exclusive 10% Discount
onOne has launched a big sale that has reduced the prices of every one of their plugins. Visit onOne for full product descriptions. And if you decide to purchase one of their plugins, use our exclusive discount code - PSSPPT06 - for an additional 10% discount. Here's a list of the sale prices (before our 10% discount is applied):
Perfect Photo Suite $299.95 / $149.95 (upgrade)
Perfect Photo Suite 5.5 includes all of the onOne Software products and works with Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture. Five of the products in the Suite even work as stand-alone applications now.
Perfect Resize 7 $199.95 / $69.95 (upgrade)
The next generation of Genuine Fractals is still the industry standard for image enlargement. Works with Photoshop CS5, Lightroom, and Aperture or as a stand-alone application.
Perfect Layers $69.95
Perfect Layers is the fast and easy way to bring a layered workflow to Lightroom and Aperture. Perfect Layers works with Lightroom and Aperture or as a standalone application.
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Add realistic depth of field to your images. Works with Photoshop CS5, Lightroom, and Aperture or as a stand-alone application.
PhotoTune $99.95 / $69.95 (upgrade)
Getting great color in your images is not as hard as you think. Works with Photoshop CS5, Lightroom, and Aperture or as a stand-alone application.
Mask Pro 4 $99.95 / $69.95 (upgrade)
For removing unwanted backgrounds, Mask Pro is the Photoshop plugin recommended by Advanced Photoshop magazine. Works as a plug-in for Photoshop.
PhotoTools $99.95 / $69.95 (upgrade)
Instantly give your photos the professional look. Works as a Photoshop plug-in.
PhotoFrame $99.95 / $69.95 (upgrade)
Add the perfect finishing touch to your photos or create an album layout design. Works with Photoshop CS5, Lightroom, and Aperture or as a stand-alone application.
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Nik Software The Complete Collection (Plugins Bundle)
The Complete Collection includes all of Nik Software's latest award-winning plug-in software titles for Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture including: Dfine, Viveza, HDR Efex Pro, Color Efex Pro, Silver Efex Pro, and Sharpener Pro.
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Color Efex Pro 3.0
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onOne is offering some nice free products for photographers and designers. This software is not the same as the demo products they also offer. These free downloads are fully functional and do not expire. Customers who download these products will also receive special promotional pricing from onOne. The free products include the following:
PhotoTools 2.5 Free Edition - Add a professional look to your photos with the PhotoTools 2.5 Free Edition plug-in for Photoshop. Includes 26 professional-grade actions and photographic effects to make your images stand out from the crowd.
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Perfect Presets for LightRoom - Designed to provide a streamlined workflow and make you more creative, these presets for Adobe Photoshop Lightroom were designed to help you get the most out of Lightroom.
Perfect Presets for Aperture - Designed to provide a streamlined workflow and make you more creative, these presets for Aperture 3 were designed to help you get the most out of Aperture.
Perfect Presets for Camera Raw - Designed to provide a streamlined workflow and make you more creative, these presets for Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) were designed to help you get the most out of your Raw images in Adobe Photoshop.
Free Photoshop Templates - Album templates, layouts, backgrounds and edges to save you time in Photoshop.
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