Correcting Exposure Using the Histogram: Rowboat

Using the Histogram on your Camera to get Better Photos

Now that I’ve improved my photography and editing skills I’m going through photographs from past years vacation and reworking them in Photoshop. This time I’m using the  histogram to set optimum exposure and getting much better prints. So here is a good example of editing a photo in Photoshop using the histogram, if you remember I took a trip to Block Island, Rhode Island and have hundreds of photos I absolutely love. Too bad I wasn’t shooting RAW then.

Using the histogram in Photoshop

Rowboat on Block Island, RI edited in Photoshop

First I straightened the image about 2 degrees clockwise. I was a little off kilter taking the picture.  The swimmers in the water were bothering me, so I cloned them out.

I’ve learned I cannot rely on my computer screen when it comes to the light balance in a photo. My computer screen is pretty bright and as a result I always misjudge the exposure in my edited photos. The best best is to use the histogram. The same is true when you take photos on your digital camera. Don’t rely on your camera LCD screen, especially during the summer. Use your histogram tool.

As you can see in the initial histogram below, the histogram is pushed to the darkside (left). In the levels adjustment tool I used the far right prompt and brought it to the edge of the curve to brighten up the whole photo. Much better.

Using the histogram in Photoshop

Example of initial histogram in the Photoshop Histogram

Even with my Canon Rebel camera and exposing to the right, I still throw my exposure off, but I am getting better. Although I try not to chimp (constantly look at the camera screen after each shot) I will occasionally check the histogram in camera to make sure I’m not clipping my blacks or whites. As you can see int he photo above the left side of the graph is barely touching, so I didn’t lose very much information in the dark regions.

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If you shoot in RAW then you can recover a lot of digital information in the lights and darks. But I prefer to get a photo properly exposed in the camera as best that I can to eliminate major digital darkroom edits.

Any of the below programs have a histogram function in the editing mode. If you are a beginner then Photoshop Elements is where I would start. That will give you the biggest flexibility as far as text, layers, cloning and photo manipulation. If you just want to edit your photos and not get really creative with layers then Lightroom is the way to go, I LOVE Lightroom. Many people choose to subscribe to the Adobe Cloud for the $10/month you have full usage of both Photoshop and Lightroom and never have to worry about outdated software.

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 How to Use the Histogram to Get Better Photographs

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9 thoughts on “Correcting Exposure Using the Histogram: Rowboat

  1. I love how all the colours have come out on your procdessed image – the sky, the water, the seaweed and especially the hull of the boat. That is the sort of thing that I like to do with my photos to really lift the contrast, personally I think it looks a lot better.
    I need to learn how to clone things out of images.

    1. Thnaks, now that I look at it again, I think it’s too contrasty and I don’t necessarily like my whites. I think I could probably bring down the yellow in select color. May have another whack at it. I can never leave well enough alone.

  2. I really like how all the colours have been lifted on your processed image – the sky, the water, the seaweed and especially the hull of the boat. This is the kind of thing that I like to do to my photos so I agree that your bottom image looks better.
    I need to learn how to clone things out of images too.

  3. I love being able to straighten things a degree or two. Block Island is one of my favorite places in the world.

    1. I know, it often makes all the difference in the world. I do believe I have a photo of that same stone tower. BTW, do you know what they are officially called?

  4. Using a calibrated monitor can help make it easier to edit your photographs no matter what you use to process them. I use a i1DisplayPro. It also helps prevent those situations where your prints don’t match your monitor.

    When I’m out taking shots, I set my camera so that when I review shots, a RGB histogram is displayed along with the image. I keep exposing to the right until just before the highlights blow out on the histogram in any of the color channels. The photography concept is called ETTR. On my camera I also I set the camera picture style to Neutral or Faithful. because what you see on the LCD is a representation of a JPG file regardless of if you are shooting RAW.

    You should though, if at all possible when you are in the field, catch and retake the image with the best exposure possible but as we all experience, sometimes you just can’t get the ideal settings.

    And sometimes you have to make adjustments afterwards to capture the mood through light anyways.

    I like your photographic eye. You make some nice photographs.


    1. Thanks for the comment. It’s funny, I took that shot on a cheap Fuji camera (not a dslr) so I didn’t have the option of RAW at the time and hadn’t learned about histograms. Now, several years later I shoot manual and RAW on my Rebel (still not the best camera) and push myself to expose to the right. It’s a challenge as I want it “right in the middle” and forget to check the back view histogram to see where I actually am.

      Thanks for the comments. I have sooooo many photos that haven’t made it to my blog. Lack of time, not enough hours in the day and too many projects. I really need to dedicate some time updating my blog on a regular basis.

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