5 histogram examples of common photographic subjects

5 histogram examples of classic photographic subjects

Get to know your camera’s histogram. No, really, do. This scientific approach to exposure offers essential insights into the make-up of an image. In our latest infographic we’ve illustrated 5 classic histogram examples from common scenes you’re likely to shoot.

It might look like a rather daunting technical graph at first glance, but the histogram is the most useful tool you have to help you capture the exposure you want, every time. And it’s actually not nearly as daunting as it appears.

A histogram is essentially a graph that illustrates the range of tones in your image, from black on the far left to white on the far right with a mid-tone (18%) grey in the middle.

While your camera’s LCD display can give you an idea of how your image’s exposure might look it’s not particularly accurate and is better used to help with composition.

The histogram, on the other hand, is the perfect tool for exposure assessment. You’ll be able to see in an instant if you’ve got detail in your highlights or whether you’ve overexposed and they’re ‘clipped’.

Every DSLR and even compact cameras will have a display mode that shows the histogram, and we recommend keeping it on all the time.

In our cheat sheet below we’ve provide several histogram examples of common scenes most photographers will shoot to show you how your exposure graph will look in each situation

5 classic histogram examples

5 histogram examples of classic photographic subjects

Click on the infographic to see the larger version, or drag and drop to your desktop.


01 Shadows
The darkest parts of the scene correspond to the left edge of the histogram

02 Midtones
The medium tones in the picture form the centre of the histogram

03 Highlights
The brightest parts are over at the right-hand end of the histogram

Navigating the histogram

You’ll find most of the tones crowded at the left (shadow) or right (highlight) sections of the histogram.

The tones are mostly in the centre of the histogram, with very little in the shadow or highlight areas of the graph.

The dark background means a big peak in the shadows, and a smaller peak for the skintones in the middle.

The white background and high-key exposure means nearly all the tones are clustered at the right.


Histogram: photography cheat sheets for achieving perfect exposure
How to read a histogram: free photography cheat sheet
Using histograms: 6 ways to respond to exposure problems
10 common exposure problems every photographer faces (and how to fix them)