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Using histograms

From: Pro Video Tips

Video: Using histograms

Now let's talk about the histogram. So let's take a look at a couple of other normal

Using histograms

Now let's talk about the histogram. A histogram is a tool to help you judge the brightness of your image. It's a camera feature that you're largely going to find in the world of DSLR photography, that's now coming to the world of video. Histograms can be used to properly adjust your exposure and to tell if you have too many blown out highlights, or too many areas that are underexposed or too dark or whether your tones are represented as you seen them with your naked eyes. Now what a histogram does, is it plots the brightness of all all the pixels in the image.

So, the left side of a histogram represents the very darkest areas of your image and the right side represents the very brightest areas of your image. So, a histogram reads from left to right, dark to bright. And it can roughly be divided in to five tonal shades. So right here, we have a pure blacks, over here next to that, we have our shadows, in the middle we have our midtones, our highlights are right here. Things reflecting off the skin. And then over here, we have pure white, or the area where things can start to blow out.

So what this is showing you is an overall tonal range for your image. Now some dedicated video cameras have a live histogram that you can look at while you record, which means that you can actually view the histogram in real time as you adjust exposure. However on most DSLRs right now, they have histograms, but they don't have a feature that lets you use the histogram and adjust it while it's live, unless you happen to have installed the Magic Lantern third party firmware, that's a whole other movie. So on those DSLRs, what you're going to have to do is take a still photo once you have the image where you want, go into the playback mode, and then you can pull up the histogram feature and analyze what you've got, and then go back into camera mode, and adjust your image accordingly if you need to.

So that's what we've done here, we took some images earlier, and we have those on the screen. So now, let's talk about how we actually read this thing and what we're going to be looking for. There are no 100%, hard and fast rules for what designates a proper histogram, or a proper exposure, any more than there are rules for what designates a proper brush stroke in a painting. We're each creating unique art and only you know what you want your image to look like at the end of the day for the particular visual story you're trying to tell. So, there are going to be exceptions to the rule, and there's no perfect histogram I can show you.

But, I am going to show you a couple of examples on here. So you can get some idea of what they should look like in some common situations. So let's start off with this one right here, which is at a normal exposure and you can see, I like to call it mount histogram. So mount histogram here when you have a normal exposure your mount histogram should be somewhere towards the center of the frame for the most part. So an ideal histogram, if there was such a thing, would be a nice histogram that kind of gives you a nice, gentle, sloping mountain somewhere in the middle and you can see we've got some of that because that represents your mid tones.

But, you'll notice that on this histogram, we have a little bit more of a spike here on the far left side, in our black areas. Why is that? Because our subjects are wearing black shirts. He's wearing a dark gray jacket right there, so those are naturally going to be in that area and that's exactly where we wanted. So this is a perfectly healthy histogram for this particular image. But now let's take a look at a blown out histogram image, so I'm going to skip over a few shots until we see our blown out shot right there. Now this over exposed shot, you'll notice that when we go up to plus two above what the exposure was recommending, a couple of things happened here.

Everything shifts out of the black area, where it was. I'm going to show you what we had before. So here we are at our regular exposure, right? All of our blacks, we got a lot of healthy blacks in there, this looks like a nice, good exposure. But, when we get over here to the plus two, things start becoming from black and they start moving into the mid tones of gray. So your blacks are essentially being rendered as gray and it's the exact type of thing that might be a little difficult to see on your LCD screen if you're outside, but a histogram would tell you right away that hey, these guys are wearing black tops but your histogram on your camera is seeing it as gray which means that you're going to be slightly overexposed.

So let's take a look at what it might look like if it's underexposed. So I'm going to go ahead and click to my underexposed shot that we took right here. So here we are a stop under. So you can see that the faces are a little bit darker than we'd like, and we're definitely losing details in the gray right here. And we know that we're underexposed here because we see the entire scale shifted all the way over to the left, even though we should have some more mid tones than what we have right here in this image. So again, there's no perfect histogram, but let's take a look at some other examples to help you get a better idea of what might happen.

Let's look at the extreme of under exposure and let's look at what it might look like with the lens cap on. So if we pop the lens cap on, notice hat happens here, we just have a single line. What that line is telling me is that the only tonal information in this image is pure black. So this is what it looks like with the lens cap on. I think you'll be doing not too much shooting with the lens cap on, so we're going to go ahead and click over and take a look at some other images. So let's take a look at this. Here we have a candle, so this might be a little bothersome when you first look at a histogram like this.

But you have to look at it in conjunction with what's on the actual screen. And, in this case, we have a candle, so we got our white highlights represented over here on the far right. But this image is mostly made up of black. So all of that black is being represented by this single bar that we have there and our mid tones from the red candle are all seen right in the center. Those are represented right here. This is a perfectly fine histogram for this particular subject matter. So let's take a look at a couple of other normal shots that we might have in here, such as a landscape. If there were a perfect histogram, it would look pretty close to this.

Again, as you can see, as we shift to different subject matters, people wearing different outfits, different skin tones, different lighting conditions like candlelight, histograms are going to change. But if you're talking about landscape and outdoor stuff this is kind of the ideal that you're looking for. You can see that we have nice blue sky up there. We preserved all of that information as well as a lot of our details in the shadows that we got right here. Perfectly healthy image, and we'll take a look at another one. Same thing right here. We got a little palm tree going on, we got a nice smooth, even curve.

But, we got a little in spike in white right here, what is that? Is that a problem? It's not a problem at all, there are some areas in the image that are a little bit blown out, just the reflection of the Sun off of the wall right here as well as just there on the ground. But that's perfectly normal. So you have to analyze your histogram in conjunction with whatever it is that you have on your screen at any given time. So your eye balls are great and these tools are great. But when you put them both together, I think that's what going to give you the best exposure judgement, or the best judgement of your exposure.

So use your naked eyes, and use these tools together, and figure out which one is best for you.

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This video is part of

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Pro Video Tips

67 video lessons · 10051 viewers

Anthony Q. Artis

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  1. 9m 49s
    1. Tips for lighting an interview subject
      9m 49s
  2. 2m 8s
    1. Intro to Pro Video Tips
      2m 8s
  3. 17m 27s
    1. Controlling reflections in glass
      4m 7s
    2. Managing color with polarizers
      2m 32s
    3. Using a polarizer to adjust skin tones
      2m 0s
    4. Using polarizers when shooting landscapes
      4m 42s
    5. Ten polarizer tips
      4m 6s
  4. 14m 34s
    1. Supplies to get to hide lav mics
      2m 13s
    2. Hiding lavs in collars
      5m 16s
    3. Hiding mics in hair
      2m 17s
    4. Hiding mics in sheer tops
      2m 40s
    5. Hiding transmitter packs on talent
      2m 8s
  5. 34m 25s
    1. Canon C100 overview
      11m 33s
    2. Looking at the Atomos Ninja
      12m 20s
    3. Checking out the C100 menu options
      10m 32s
  6. 10m 28s
    1. Ten tips for set safety
      10m 28s
  7. 9m 18s
    1. Packing a truck
      9m 18s
  8. 19m 24s
    1. Putting together your lens kit
      1m 0s
    2. Normal lenses
      1m 54s
    3. Wide lenses
      3m 5s
    4. Ultra-wide and fish-eye lenses
      2m 53s
    5. Telephoto lenses
      4m 53s
    6. Super zooms
      2m 54s
    7. Macro lenses
      2m 45s
  9. 17m 22s
    1. The importance of exposure
      1m 31s
    2. Using waveforms
      5m 3s
    3. Using histograms
      6m 53s
    4. Using zebra stripes
      3m 55s
  10. 10m 20s
    1. Shutter speed overview
      3m 18s
    2. Different ways to use shutter speed
      7m 2s
  11. 10m 29s
    1. Tips for keeping your budget down
      10m 29s
  12. 10m 11s
    1. Working with batteries
      10m 11s
  13. 24m 39s
    1. External audio settings
      4m 2s
    2. Audio input menus
      9m 31s
    3. Audio output menus
      4m 6s
    4. Setting and monitoring your levels
      7m 0s
  14. 16m 33s
    1. Introduction to backlight
      1m 18s
    2. Types of backlight
      3m 51s
    3. Exposing for backlit shots
      5m 31s
    4. Backlighting translucent object
      1m 39s
    5. Avoiding lens flare and wash out
      4m 14s
  15. 13m 28s
    1. Booming techniques
      13m 28s
  16. 5m 42s
    1. Feeding your crew
      5m 42s
  17. 8m 36s
    1. Choosing between prime, servo, and manual zoom lenses
      5m 19s
    2. Running and gunning with prime lenses
      3m 17s
  18. 10m 55s
    1. Green screen lights and materials
      3m 47s
    2. Mounting the green screen
      1m 39s
    3. Lighting the green screen
      3m 8s
    4. Lighting your subject
      2m 21s
  19. 9m 28s
    1. What to look for when buying a tripod
      6m 13s
    2. Working with monopods
      3m 15s
  20. 23m 19s
    1. Choosing a camera
      3m 2s
    2. Preparation and supplies for a surf shoot
      2m 13s
    3. Dealing with lens fog
      1m 44s
    4. Mounting your POV camera
      3m 20s
    5. Tracking and shooting your surfer from the shore
      6m 56s
    6. Interview with Tony Cruz
      6m 4s
  21. 8m 37s
    1. Introduction to lens mounts
      1m 24s
    2. Canon mounts
      2m 0s
    3. PL mounts
      1m 59s
    4. Nikon mounts
      1m 24s
    5. Micro 4/3 mounts
      1m 50s
  22. 7m 30s
    1. Introduction to lighting ratios
      1m 19s
    2. Comparing ratios
      2m 52s
    3. Measuring light ratios
      3m 19s
  23. 10m 25s
    1. Ten Looks in Ten Minutes
      10m 25s
  24. 5m 36s
    1. Using camera height and POV to better tell your story
      5m 36s

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