Don’t Trust Your LCD

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I recently had a client who was slightly unhappy with her images after a three day safari when going through them on her laptop at home.  Just like many photographers around the world, she put too much faith into what the LCD displayed and suffered as a result.

How many times have you said to yourself, when viewing your newly captured images on a computer screen or tablet, “they looked so good on the back of my camera, but now some seem too bright and others just way too dark!”.  In the early stages of my wildlife photography I found myself in this exact position, spending an unnecessary amount of time in Photoshop or Lightroom trying to recover the blow out highlights or overly dark shadows, before giving up on the image entirely. That age old saying, “get it right in camera first”, really rings true for those looking to take their photography to the next level.

So what’s the solution then, you ask.

A simple but fantastic piece of technology called a ‘histogram‘. Every modern digital camera has one and the best part is it will never lie to you.

Every camera LCD displays images differently (even models from the same brand) and can therefore not be trusted as much as one would like. Being able to view your histogram alongside your image on the fly is an invaluable tool when out in the field, as it allows you to correct your exposure accordingly.

Examples:

Too dark

Notice how the histogram is bunched up to the left of the block with a large empty area on the right, this means that the image is much too dark with very little detail in upper mid-tones and highlights. Once the graph touches the left side of the block it shows that there is an area or multiple areas of your image that are pure black, this is called ‘clipping’ (almost impossible to correct in post without generating noise and horrible halo’s).

Too bright

Here the histogram is leaning too far to the right of the block with a large gap missing on the left, this indicates that there the image is too bright and lacks sufficient shadows. The ‘clipping’ on the right side of the block shows that there is an area or multiple areas of your image that are pure white (a little bit easier to correct in post than clipped shadows, but still not ideal).

Just right

This histogram shows a well balanced image with a good amount of shadows, mid-tones and highlights, and only a small amount of clipping in the shadows (left hand side).

Now these examples don’t apply to every situation, especially when dealing with subjects that are back-lit, sunset and sunrise shots, night photography, silhouettes, etc, but is a great place to start!

So the next time you’re out and about ask yourself, are my images too dark, too bright or just right.

How to find your camera’s histogram for Nikon and Canon cameras.

Happy shooting!

Chad Wright

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