Photo Tip 1: Using your Camera’s Histogram and Exposure Compensation

"King of its Domain" This photo exhibits near technical perfection with the histogram slightly to the right.

Almost every digital camera has a histogram and an exposure compensation option. Using these correctly will help you create a technically perfect photograph with a complete tonal range. This means your photo will exhibit detail whether the shot is in black and white or color.
Cameras see in tones of black, gray and white. When your camera is in automatic mode, it exposes for an 18%  medium-gray tone, regardless of whether the object you are photographing is black, gray or white. Because it attempts to make everything this gray tone, snow becomes gray instead of brilliant white, and black labs become grayish instead of slick black. To make sure the camera is seeing the way you want it to and expose tones faithfully, use your exposure compensation tool, which will look like a little metered line on your menu. In order to exposure for lighter toned objects such as yellow and white flowers, move the compensation slider up to +1 or +2, for darker, slide it to -1 or -2. To technically determine just how much to compensate, use your histogram.

"Shattered" In order to get detail in this rock I needed to decide what tone it was. It was darker then medium 18% gray, but brighter than black, so I choose to compensate negatively at -0.3.

Histograms are graphs that show the complete tonal range of grays from black to white, left to right. Graphs too far to the left result in underexposed pictures and loss of detail in shadows. Graphs all the way to the right result in overexposed, clipped highlights. The key is to keep the graph somewhere in the middle, preferably leaning a little to the right, as this will keep all details in the photo. If your histogram is too far to the left, slide your compensation to the right, making it more positive. If the histogram is too far to the right slide it left, making it more negative. This will make a noticeable change in your histogram allowing you to adjust for a better picture.

Here is an example of a well composed histogram.

Even with this option, some scenes are just too dynamic to capture. Without special equipment, you will not be able to get detail in a black rock and the bright sunset in the background. Using the histogram helps you get the desired picture in camera and will save you time from trying to brighten shots or fix overexposed highlights. I rarely look at my pictures directly after taking them anymore, instead I look at the histogram to make sure it is composed well and trust I put myself in the right location to make a strong composition.
Please let me know if this is helpful for you or it flat out sucks. If specific sentences are too confusing let me know and I will clarify. I am a

huge proponent of feedback. I hope this helps! To see more pictures visit

"Digging in" Holes in the rock created by the ocean smashing in. In order to expose for the depths of the holes and not just leave them black, I compensated negatively, or underexposed the image.

8 thoughts on “Photo Tip 1: Using your Camera’s Histogram and Exposure Compensation

  1. I need help on the picture style. I use the Canon T2i.I have been told many times by many pelope to use Superflat when shooting. But, when I used that setting, everything was really washed out. No colours. I know it can be fixed in post, but should it really be that washout out?I’ve seen some use Neutral but, it looks the same as Standard. So, should I use Superflat? For indoors/low light, its good. But, even for outdoors too?*It helps with getting more detail, but image is washed out.

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