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3 Common Misconceptions About Your Camera’s Histogram

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If you’re obsessive about checking every exposure on your camera’s histogram, this informative little video is a must-watch. In it, Matt Granger covers three common misconceptions about your camera’s histogram that many photographers—even experienced shooters—might be falling prey to.

Here’s our summary of the three misconceptions, which are covered in more detail above:

1. There is no “ideal” histogram you should be shooting for.

Some people (and tutorials) will tell you that there is an ideal histogram with an ideal distribution of tones. Matt maintains this is absolutely not true.

Some scenes will contain many more darks than midtones or highlights; others will contain almost all highlights, a few midtones, and almost no darks. Each of these scenes, reproduced faithfully, will not show a perfectly even histogram distribution—and that’s totally okay.

2. Your camera’s histogram is based on a JPEG, even if you’re shooting RAW

The most intriguing tidbit, and one we actually hadn’t heard of up until now, is that you camera’s histogram shows JPEG information even if you’re shooting RAW only. Editing software, on the other hand, shows you the RAW histogram.

This means the histogram on your camera will clip the highlights and darks before they’re actually unrecoverable, because your RAW shot has more information and latitude than the JPEG your camera is using to generate the histogram. Keep this in mind when you’re working with the outer edges of your histogram.

3. Changing your lens will change your histogram, even if you leave settings the same.

This one ultimately comes down to the difference between F-stops and T-stops, explained beautifully in this video we shared at the end of 2016. Photography lenses usually use F-stops, which are a theoretical number. So f/2.8 on one lens and f/2.8 on another doesn’t necessarily transmit the same amount of light.

Other factors that change from lens-to-lens, such as the amount of vignetting and flaring, will also affect your histogram.


Image credits: Photographing the barn at GTNP 2013 by Gord McKenna

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