Revive pictures using Lightroom’s histogram

For those of you photography beginners who feel ready to learn Adobe Lightroom’s tools, and master the fundamentals of photography, well I prepared a small video tutorial explaining the ins and outs of the Histogram.

You will note that I used a capital H. That’s because the histogram is a really important part of photography. For the first 6 months using Lightroom I – probably like you – didn’t want to interact with this pointy chart that looked far too mathematical for me.

It turns out that it is really simple to use and will be a light in the dark when you are editing your picture (This terrible pun will make a lot of sense once you go through the next paragraphs, trust me). All you will need to follow the tutorial is to know how to import a photo to Lightroom.

Once you have your picture, jump into the develop module (link at the top-right of the interface). Now open the histogram window if it isn’t yet.

Understand the Histogram

This nifty tool is a visual representation of your picture. It counts all the pixels of every color or shade and stacks them up to show you what is found in the picture. If you look to the left-hand side of the histogram, you’ll find the dark shades found in your picture, to the right-hand side you will find your highlights.

If your picture is not properly exposed, you will see that the information (represented by the white mountains, hills and peaks) isn’t spread on the full width of the histogram. Instead, it will probably rest to one of the sides. If it is underexposed (too dark) the information will be too much to the left-hand side. If it is overexposed (too light), it will be resting in the right-hand side of our histogram.

Ok, and then?

You might wonder why we need someone to tell us what we can already see.
The histogram is there because your eyes lie. Your judgement of how dark or light a picture should be is relying on many uncertainties. The screen could be too bright, the room too dark, your eyes might be too sensitive and your tastes too personal.

The histogram allows us to make sure that at least, our photograph isn’t the problem.

It is a visual representation of your photo. The histogram is there because your eyes lie. Your judgement of how dark or light a picture should be is relying on many uncertainties.

Correct photos with the histogram

Once you’ve gotten a feel of how the histogram works you can start correcting your photo. To do so, tweak sliders such as the Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites and Blacks. These will do different things to your histogram, observe and learn. For instance, cranking up the contrast will split your picture’s information, it will push the left half to the left, and the right half to the right. The middle portion will reduce in height, because that is what contrast does: it makes your greys (medium shades) more white or more black, thus reducing the amount of medium shades found in your picture.

It is important to note that if your file type is a JPG you will have a harder time changing the shades of your picture without loosing precious information, that is because JPG is a compressed format, and will provide less information to play with, than if you used a RAW file. More about that in a future article.

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