Your digital camera’s histogram, or exposure chart, offers the most reliable indication of exposure, as it illustrates the range of tones in a landscape shot, from dark shadows on the far left through to bright highlights on the far right.
But there’s no ‘perfect’ histogram. Each landscape scene you shoot is made up of a different blend of tones, and the shape of the histogram will reflect this.
A midtone landscape scene, such as a church surrounded by rolling green hills, is likely to show a histogram that’s humped around the middle of the scale, whereas trees silhouetted against a bright dawn sky would show a histogram that’s flat through the middle, but which peaks on the left and right (as the scene consists of just dark and light tones).
If the histogram goes beyond the edges of the scale, the picture information is ‘clipped’, and you’ll start to lose detail.
Below we’ve provided several typical landscape scenes that we might shoot here in the UK and how to interpret the reading on your histogram.
Example histograms… and what they mean
The built-in exposure meter has attempted to bring this naturally bright scene closer to the value of midtone grey, so the histogram is bang in the middle
By dialling-in positive Exposure Compensation, the brightness of the scene is restored, and the histogram shifts to the right (bright) end of the scale
Here, the exposure meter has again tried to bring this naturally dark scene closer to the value of midtone grey, so what should be dark is too bright and washed out
By dialling-in negative Exposure Compensation, the scene is restored to its natural darkness, and the histogram shifts closer to the left (dark) end of the scale