Posted by: David Vernon | October 7, 2008

How about Histograms?

Banner Marsh Sunset 2Tuesday’s are for technique. And one of the most misunderstood techniques revolves around “What the heck is a histogram? And what does it do for me?” Yeah – it’s pretty popular.

Remember the old Star Trek episodes where Mr. Spock would look into the “sensor display” at his science station. We never really knew what he was seeing in there, or why he had to look through this tube thingy to see the data. It must have saved on TV special effects. In reality though, I think he was looking at alien histograms – because that was the best way to figure out what the Enterprise was seeing. If you looked on the monitor – well you might have been fooled. There was that one episode where Clint Howard played a tiny alien who pretended to be bigger and meaner to fool the Enterprise crew. It almost worked, but in the end I think Spock figured it out from the histograms… Okay, maybe not – but here’s why the histogram is so important: YOU CANNOT BELIEVE ANYTHING YOU SEE ON YOUR LCD. IT LIES TO YOU. AND IT’S GOOD AT IT. Okay – did I make my point?

It’s not that LCDs don’t have their purpose. Most are pretty usable today to see if you got the shot compositionally. Did you cut someone’s head off? No. Good. Is the image in focus? Yes? Excellent. Is the shot correctly exposed? Ummmm? No clue… Well let’s look at the histogram – that will tell you everything you need to know. With the histograms, you don’t even need to see the LCD (we know you didn’t really cut off Uncle Jim’s head) to know almost all you need to know.

Fortunately for me (and for you), there are a number of good articles on “teh internets” that teach you how to use your histogram well. For that I point you to the following links. Now go learn:

Cambridge in Color on Histograms, Part I

Cambridge in Color on Histograms, Part II

Luminous Landscape Explains Histograms Very Well

There – now you are a histogram genius. Don’t we all feel better about that? I know Mr. Spock does.

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