Photography: A Compilation

Manually controlled DSLRs
Master Your DSLR Camera, Part 1: Program Mode

Editor: When photographer and reader Scott D. Feldstein offered to write a tutorial on how to put your digital SLR camera to good use this holiday season, we couldn't pass it up. Our new Canon's dial never budged from Auto mode—until now. You ponied up for a digital SLR camera because you hated the shutter lag on your little point-and-shoot. The good news: Your photos have improved! The bad news? You know they could be even better—if only you dared to let go of the camera's "auto" mode. It's as if you've been creeping around the neighborhood in a new Mustang using only first gear. No more! It's time to take control, hit the highway, and learn what you can do in program mode. In auto mode your camera makes just about all the decisions for you. Sure, you frame the subject and push the shutter release button, but you never have to think about things like exposure or whether you need to use a flash; the camera handles all of that for you. Most of the time it does a pretty good job, even if the results are a little less than artistic. Switching to program mode, however, allows your camera to make some decisions for you, but also puts three things in your control: the flash, the ISO value, and the white balance. Let's start! Put the camera in program mode by turning the mode dial to "P" as pictured above.

Your new flash options are easy. The flash will never pop up and fire automatically, no matter how dark the scene is. Instead, you'll have to pop it up yourself if you want to use it. So when should you use it? Volumes could be written about that subject, but the main thing I want you to understand is this: Learning how your camera works lets you avoid using the flash in borderline light situations, but also lets you use it to enhance some well-lit scenarios. Here's what I mean. Sometimes the best situations to use a flash are ones in which it will never fire automatically, such as this outdoor portrait of my gorgeous fiance.

The light from the flash eliminated shadows from her face while adding a pleasing catchlight to her eyes. To try this technique yourself, pop up the flash manually by pressing the flash button located on the left side of the flash/viewfinder hump as shown.

Conversely, one of the worst situations to use a flash, aesthetically speaking, is one in which it's virtually guaranteed to fire automatically: taking pictures of people in indoor light. The harsh and unflattering light from the flash may cause your subject to look like someone who has just risen from the dead, while their surroundings may become too dark to make out at all. To avoid the flash in program mode, don't do anything. It will fire only when you invoke it manually by pressing its button, so just don't press it. But how do you take a picture in lowlight situations if you don't use the flash? If you do nothing to compensate for the lack of flash, your photos may be dark and/or blurry. What can you do to avoid this? Plenty.

Shutter speed and aperture size are the two key factors that effect how much light gets inside the camera, but we won't be talking about them today. In program mode the camera is still choosing these settings for you. But no matter who is choosing the settings, sometimes shutter and aperture adjustments alone are not enough to pull off a flash-less shot in indoor light. By raising the ISO value, however, you can actually make your camera more sensitive to light, thus requiring less of it to make the correct exposure. Here's how you do it. (The acronym ISO doesn't mean anything even remotely photographic, by the way. It stands for International Standards Organization. Go figure.) Press and hold the ISO button (1) while simultaneously rotating the command dial (2). You should see the ISO value changing in the LCD status screen (3).

For your indoor flash-less shot, try raising it to at least ISO 800. You can go to 1600 or even higher with some cameras, but there is a drawback: You may find "noise" or oddly colored speckles in the darker areas of your photo. Is it worth it? That depends. Sometimes you don't want the look of the flash, sometimes it's intrusive, still other times it can't be used anyway—such as when your subject is too far away to be reached by it. In these cases you have to ask yourself: Is dealing with some noise better than not getting the shot? Using a flash in this birthday party shot would have killed the moment. Instead I went to ISO 800 and got the shot without a flash.


White Balance
So you've taken control of the flash and dealt with a low-light situation by increasing the ISO setting. Now what? There is one other cool thing that program mode allows you to fiddle with: white balance. You may never have thought much about it, but in addition to the fact that there is usually more light outside than inside, the color of the light also differs. Daylight tends to be bluer, whereas tungsten bulbs tend to be yellower. This is usually no problem, as your camera is pretty adept at compensating for these differences automatically. If, however, you notice your photos taking on a weird color cast, the camera isn't doing a good job and it's time to take matters into your own hands. Press and hold the white balance button (1) while simultaneously rotating the command dial (2) as shown. You will see various icons in the LCD status screen (3) such as a light bulb, the sun, a cloud, and a fluorescent bulb.

I bet you can guess what kind of light each of these settings is for. Try the one that best describes your circumstances. Experiment! Many people especially like using the cloudy setting outdoors—even when it's not cloudy. In addition to automatic and the various pre-set white balances, there is another setting you should know about: manual white balance. This one is a little harder to set, but it can really be worth it. You may want to consult your camera's manual for the exact method, but the general idea is that you choose the manual setting using the white balance selection process described above, then take a picture of something completely white. Many pros carry around white cards for just this purpose, but I find that any piece of white paper folded up and jammed into your camera bag works just fine. Whatever you choose, completely fill the frame with white so that no other color enters the picture at the edges. After setting the white balance with that shot, you can proceed to shoot as many pictures as you like in that environment and be sure that the colors will be accurate.


Congratulations! As Obi-wan famously said, you've taken your first step into a larger world. If it ever seems overwhelming, remember this: Auto mode is always there to fall back on. Besides, switching into program mode doesn't mean you have to do all of the things discussed here. If you simply want to adjust the ISO for changing light conditions, that's fine. You may not need to touch the flash or shift out of automatic white balance. Speaking of white balance, don't forget to set it back to automatic when you're done messing around. There's nothing worse than happening upon a great subject and snapping away for five minutes, only to discover later that all your shots are a lovely shade of deep blue because your white balance was set for a completely different environment. You should also remember to lower the ISO value when you leave a low-light situation. Automatic white balance and a low ISO value are usually good settings to walk around with. After a while this will become second nature. Next time we delve into more camera modes, as well as aperture size and shutter speed. Until then, happy shooting!

Master Your DSLR Camera, Part 2: Manual Mode and More
In part one of this series you kicked your digital SLR camera's auto mode to the curb with the help of program mode. In doing so, you learned to control the flash, the ISO value, and the white balance. Now in part two we're going straight to manual mode to learn about aperture sizes and shutter speeds. So let's do this thing. Put your camera in manual mode by turning the mode dial to the "M" setting as pictured above. Your camera is basically just a box with a hole in it and a light sensor inside. If the right amount of light gets through the hole to strike the sensor, you get a properly exposed picture. If you get too much or too little light, you get garbage. You already know that in program mode you can control the sensitivity of the light sensor itself by changing the ISO value, but in manual mode you can also control the amount of light that gets inside in the first place. You do that with the shutter and the aperture.


The shutter controls how long the hole in your camera stays open. Open it for a long time and a lot of light gets in. Open it for a short time and less light gets in. It's that simple! Well, not really. Having a fast shutter means you can freeze fast action such as athletic performances, splashing water, and so on. The drawback? A lot less light gets inside the camera, and your picture could be too dark. Conversely, you might use a slow shutter speed to compensate for low light conditions—the longer the hole is open, the more light gets in, right? But there's a drawback here, too. With a slow shutter speed it's more likely that you or your subject is going to move while the shutter is open, causing motion blur in your photo. In auto mode and program mode, the camera decides what shutter speed is needed. Sometimes the result is what you want, sometimes it isn't. The camera doesn't know that you want to freeze a fast-moving subject, for example. All it knows is whether the right amount of light is getting inside the camera for a proper exposure. With the camera in manual mode, however, you control the shutter speed to get the shot you really want. To change the shutter speed in manual mode, just turn the command dial (1) and watch for the changing numbers in the LCD status screen (2).

While shutter speed is how long the hole in the camera is open, aperture is best thought of as the size of the hole itself. The bigger the hole, the more light gets in. The smaller the hole, the less light gets in. Aperture sizes are expressed in "f-stops." Confusingly, a large fstop number means a small hole, while a small f-stop number means a big hole. Thus, f/4 would be a large aperture opening and f/11 would be a smaller one.


You might want to use a large aperture, say f/3.5, to compensate for a low light situation, but there is a side-effect to think about: depth of field, or DOF. A large opening (small f-stop number) gives you a very shallow DOF, and a small opening (big f-stop number) gives you a much deeper DOF. What does DOF really mean? Look carefully at this composite photo of a back yard tiki torch. The left side was shot at f/22: The torch is in focus, and you can make out the tree and the house behind it. That's a large DOF. The right side, on the other hand, was shot at f/2.8: The torch is in focus, but the trees and the house are melted beyond recognition. That's a shallow DOF. Great portraiture often uses a shallow DOF to isolate the subject. When shooting a landscape, however, you usually want everything to be in focus.

When in manual mode, change the aperture size by pressing the aperture button (1), rotating the command dial (2), and observing the value in the LCD (3).


Putting it all together
So you have these two parameters, shutter speed and aperture size, both of which do essentially the same thing: control how much light gets in. You get the same amount of light with a large aperture and a fast shutter speed as you do with a small aperture and a slow shutter speed. Get it? If you have a big hole that's open for a short time, it's kind of like having a small hole that's open for a longer time. The result is the same amount of light getting in, or the same exposure. So what's the difference? It's all in those side effects I mentioned. Sometimes you want a fast shutter speed to freeze motion, sometimes you want a large aperture to get a shallow depth of field, and so on. You need a certain amount of light to get into the camera, but in manual mode you choose how to get that amount based on the other things you want for the shot. In auto mode and program mode, the camera usually chooses middle-of-the-road aperture and shutter settings, getting a good exposure but avoiding any extremes—and any creativity as well. Remember, ISO value is a factor, too. If you wanted to take an indoor picture of an athletic performance, such as this martial artist flying through the air, you know you need a fast shutter speed. But you also know that at that speed you risk not getting enough light for a proper exposure. What to do? Crank up the ISO! Light is scarce indoors, and at a high sensitivity like ISO 800, your camera doesn't need as much of it. You should also go to the largest aperture you have: f/3.5 or even f/2.8 if available. If you do these things, you're going to be able to get a proper exposure even with the fast shutter speed you need to freeze the action. Your shot may suffer from some noise, and the shallow DOF may cause things behind the player to become blurred, but so what? It's better than not getting the shot at all. Photography is all about trade-offs.


Here's another example. Suppose you want to shoot a portrait outdoors in the daytime. Having a shallow DOF in this case is good. Blurring everything but your subject draws attention to it, so set a large aperture, at least f/4. With that big of an opening, however, you might get too much light in the camera and your picture could be overexposed, almost a whiteout. What can you do? First, make sure you're shooting at the lowest ISO setting. Second, make your shutter speed very fast—try 1/1000th of a second. Doing these things will allow you to get a proper exposure—even though you have a large aperture opening in bright daylight.

If you get it wrong, don't worry! Take a shot, look at it in the LCD screen on the back of your camera, and adjust accordingly. Experienced photographers guess pretty well at the settings that will work in a given environment, but even they check to make sure.

Shortcuts: Priority Modes
All of this is a lot to remember. Juggling f-stops, shutter speeds, and ISO values in your head while trying to compose a shot can be tough, especially for beginners. Maybe you're even thinking of forgetting this whole thing, sticking with program mode, and never delving any further into the workings of your camera. Don't give up! Here are two shortcuts which will reduce the amount of thinking you have to do, while still getting you the shot you want. You may want to kick me for not telling you about these earlier. The two shortcut modes are aperture priority mode ("A" or "Av"), and shutter priority mode ("S" or "Tv"—literally "time value"). Let's say you're shooting that basketball player again. What do you really care about? Shutter speed. That's what you need to freeze him in mid-air. The only reason you're fiddling with the other two settings is to compensate for your fast shutter needs. Using shutter priority mode, you can make your camera do some of this work for you. Putting the dial on "S" tells your camera "I am deciding the shutter speed, you set the aperture for me." You'll still need to choose a sensible ISO value, but the camera will calculate—based on the light in the room and the shutter speed you have chosen—what aperture setting is required for a proper exposure. Handy!

You change the shutter speed in shutter priority mode the same way as you did in manual mode: Rotate the command dial and look for the changing numbers in the LCD status screen. Aperture priority mode works in much the same way. When you're taking that sunny day portrait, what do you really care about? The aperture. That's the setting you need for the shallow DOF effect you're looking for. The only reason you're changing the shutter speed is to make sure you get a properly exposed shot. But again, you can make the camera do some of the work for you. Turning the mode dial to "A" tells the camera "I have chosen f/4, and you, Mr. Camera, are to figure out what shutter speed I need." Simple as that. You still need to select a sensible ISO, but the correct shutter speed is figured out for you. Since aperture is the main event in aperture priority mode, you may not need to press the aperture button; simply rotate the command dial and look for the changing numbers in the LCD status screen.

Now that you know all this stuff, here's a couple of things to try. Find some sports action: Kids on skateboards, someone catching a Frisbee, whatever. Put your camera in shutter priority mode and crank it up to 1/800th of a second or higher. Select a high ISO value if you're indoors and a lower one if you're in daylight. Take some pictures. Did you freeze the action? If that Frisbee looks motion-blurred, try cranking up the shutter speed some more. If your photos become a little dark, bump up the ISO again. Then take a walk in the park with a friend and shoot some portraits. Put the camera in aperture priority mode and go for the largest aperture you have: probably f/3.5. Frame a tight shot and take the picture. Did you get that soft, blurred background to make your friend stand out? (Bonus experiment: Stand your friend in the shade and pop up your flash!) If you're really feeling bold, try going to manual mode where you control both the shutter and the aperture yourself. I recommend doing this only when you aren't going to be rushed. Take a walk by yourself and shoot a tree or a park bench. Subjects like these don't get impatient when you take four or five test shots to get your settings right. Taking control of the shutter and aperture isn't easy, but the rewards can be great. Understanding how they work allows you to do more than just get the right amount of light into the camera, it enables you to get the artistic results you want; the results no camera could ever choose for you. Remember to use the shortcut modes, aperture priority and shutter priority. They're there to make your life easier. Congratulations! No mere button-pusher, you. Not anymore. You're well on the road to becoming a real photographer. All you need now is practice. So get going, and happy shooting!

Scott D. Feldstein lives in Wisconsin with his two children and works in e-learning at Marquette University. He is also a part-time photographer, part-time teacher and full-time nerd.

Learning how to use your DSLR’s manual controls
Posted in equipment, photos at 10:45 am by wingerz

One of the big advantages to using a SLR over a point-and-shoot is being able to shoot in manual mode, opening the doors to more creative photography. Manually setting the sensor sensitivity (ISO), aperture, and shutter speed for the correct exposure can be quite satisfying. I especially enjoy it because it involves doing some simple arithmetic in my head. It boils down to figuring out the appropriate sensor sensitivity and the amount of light you allow to hit the sensor. The amount of light allowed to hit the sensor is determined by how wide the shutter is opened (the aperture) and for how long (the shutter speed). That’s all there is to it. Shooting digital means that you get instant feedback and taking pictures is free. If you have time to set up for a photo, you can fiddle with the settings until you get the exact right exposure. Another great way to learn is to use one of the other camera modes (like aperture or shutter priority) to suggest starting values and then tweaking those. These modes also very useful when you’re under some time pressure but would still like to have some control over your camera. So here’s what’s going through my head when I shoot manual: Pick an ISO: A lot of digital cameras, when left to automatically set their own ISOs, seem to pick particularly high values for them (indoor scenes can be quite dark). A high ISO can

introduce a lot of noise into the photo. For black and white conversion this is not a huge deal because it looks like film grain and can give your photo an artsy feel. I haven’t gotten around to purchasing it, but Noise NinjaTM is supposed to be quite good. Another solution is to invest in the new Canon 1D Mark III, which produces images with a lot less noise at high ISOs. I typically try to stay at ISO 400 or below. Figure out your effective focal length: The actual focal length that I’m shooting with is 1.6x what it says on the lens (since I have a Rebel XT, which does not have a full-frame sensor). This is important for the next point. Figure out your shutter speed: When handholding, the shutter speed should be at most the reciprocal of the actual focal length because camera shake is accentuated by long focal lengths. So for my 50mm prime, which is actually 80mm, the shutter speed should be at most 1/80 sec. Image stabilization technologies go part of the way towards allowing photographers to relax this requirement, as do monopods. A good tripod gives you even more flexibility here. Start with the “Rule of 16″: To get the proper exposure in bright sunlight, at f/16, the shutter speed should be the same as the ISO (1/100 sec for ISO 100). Recalling the descriptions on films with different ISOs (100 for sunlight, 200 for cloudy days, indoors with flash, 400 for indoors, assuming other settings equal) gives me a very rough estimate of how much light to expect in non-bright-sunlight settings. This gives you a baseline to work with; since you’ve figured out your shutter speed you can now calculate the appropriate aperture after reading through the next point. Change stops: The Rule of 16 can only take you so far; indoor lighting situations can vary a great deal so you’ll probably need to change the amount of light that hits the sensor. If you start reading about photography techniques, you’ll run into the word “stop.” The difference in the amount of light between two stops is a factor of 2. To double the amount of light, double the ISO, divide the f-number by 1.4 (sqrt(2) to be accurate), or double the amount of time that the shutter is open. If you don’t need to change the amount of light but would like to change something else, you will have to change the other variables to compensate. If you reduce the aperture number by a factor of 1.4, which widens it to allow twice as much light in (and also narrows the depth of field of your image), you should either halve the ISO or the shutter speed to preserve the exposure. The f-number is inversely proportional to the radius of the opening, and the amount of light is determined by the area of the opening.

Photography might be too easy had the aperture measure been determined to be proportional to the area of the opening. Check the histogram: The image histogram is an incredibly important tool, something I check after just about every single shot I take. It’s not good enough that you are not clipping shadows or highlights. For best results, the histogram should be located to the right as far as possible, even if that means your photos look overexposed. You’ll thank yourself later when you go to post-process because there is a lot more information content on the right side of the histogram. This has to do with the way that digital sensors are different from traditional film (Thanks to CRV for pointing this out to me). Keep your equipment’s limitations in mind: Photos tend to be sharpest when you don’t shoot at your maximum (smallest f-number) aperture and you’re not at the extreme ends of your zoom lens. Sometimes this is hard to avoid doing, especially when you use the long end of a zoom lens. When handholding my 70-200mm f/4, I can see the image through the viewfinder move around, which makes me quite paranoid. Around dusk I’ll typically set the ISO to 400, keep the shutter speed to 1/640 sec or less, and aperture to f/5.6 at its widest. If the photo is overexposed, I reduce the shutter speed first before fiddling with the others. So usually when I’m taking a photo I’ll set the ISO to something appropriate, Figure out my minimum shutter speed based on the focal length, figure out what aperture would be appropriate for that shutter speed (by consulting the Rule of 16 if I’m outdoors), and go from there. Having a lot of light available outside gives you a lot of flexibility; once you get indoors everything is much, much dimmer. A decent flash is pretty much a necessity. If you can’t use a flash (maybe because you don’t want to kill the ambient lighting) you may find yourself pining for new equipment and features, like lenses with extremely wide apertures, image stabilization, and camera support (monopods and tripods). You also begin to really appreciate bright, natural light. After writing most of this I searched around for similar resources and found an excellent guide to exposure calculation. Definitely worth a read; important points are in bold.



Working with Image Histograms
For photographers, understanding light and color is a very important skill to learn. These are the basic elements of a photograph, and they will make or break your shot. The histogram is a vital tool for assessing the light and color in an image, yet it’s not widely used or understood by many people yielding a camera. Understanding the histogram will not only help while taking photos, but also with postprocessing. In the images below, I’ve shown (from top to bottom and left to right) the histograms for the red channel, green channel, blue channel, RGB composite, and Luminosity. Each histogram tells us something different about the photo. The color histograms show the distribution of specific color components with the left of the histogram representing no color (0% color saturation) and the right representing full color (100% color saturation). The RGB composite histogram is a combination of all three color histograms and it represents the tonal range for that image. The Luminosity histogram shows the distribution of luminance (brightness) values from black to white.

The shape of a histogram is not terribly important, but there are several key pieces of information that can be drawn from them. The spread of the histogram relates to contrast, meaning that a very narrow histogram will be representative of a low contrast image while a histogram that covers most of the scale will be higher contrast. Peaks in the histogram can tell you whether you have a high key or low key photo, or a very high contrast photo if you have a peak at each end of the histogram. Clipping can be identified with the histogram, which causes a loss of data. Color clipping occurs when the individual color histograms are shifted so far to the right that one or more colors are at 100% saturation for a group of pixels. This means that you lose tonal contrast in those pixels for that color, but it’s not always detrimental to a photo. Luminance clipping is a much more serious crime in photography. If the luminosity histogram is clipped at either end, you’ve lost information in either the shadows or highlights (or both). No amount of editing can bring back that portion of the image.

How is any of this usable when taking photos? Well, most cameras have a histogram display in the playback mode. Some cameras just show the RGB composite, some show luminance, and others will


give you everything. Your camera is only capable of capturing a certain range of tones, which is lower than what your eye can capture. This is your camera’s dynamic range — dynamic because it can be shifted using exposure controls. If it looks good through the viewfinder, it doesn’t mean that it will look good in the camera. A quick check of the histogram can tell you if you’re trying to capture a higher than possible range of light, if you’re shifted to one side or the other, and if you’ve got any clipping in the shadows or highlights. At a minimum, it’s a good idea to check the histogram for clipping each time you change scenes. I typically check on my first shot to see if I need any exposure adjustments. If I’m clipping highlights, I’ll bring the exposure down to shift the histogram. If I’m clipping shadows, I’ll bring the exposure up to shift the histogram. If I’m clipping both, I’ll bring the exposure down to salvage the highlights. Blown out highlights are typically more distracting to an image than under exposed shadows. If I really want to get the whole range, I’ll bracket my shot and bring them together as a High Dynamic Range (HDR) image. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting back to review your shots of the day to find that several sets are either under exposed or over exposed. Sometimes you can’t go back and do it again, so get it right the first time. So in summary: left is dark, right is bright, clipping is bad, salvage the highlights, and check you camera’s histogram often. CAMERA HISTOGRAMS: TONES & CONTRAST Understanding image histograms is probably the single most important concept to become familiar with when working with pictures from a digital camera. A histogram can tell you whether or not your image has been properly exposed, whether the lighting is harsh or flat, and what adjustments will work best. It will not only improve your skills on the computer, but as a photographer as well. Each pixel in an image has a color which has been produced by some combination of the primary colors red, green, and blue (RGB). Each of these colors can have a brightness value ranging from 0 to 255 for a digital image with a bit depth of 8-bits. A RGB histogram results when the computer scans through each of these RGB brightness values and counts how many are at each level from 0 through 255. Other types of histograms exist, although all will have the same basic layout as the histogram example shown below.


TONES The region where most of the brightness values are present is called the "tonal range." Tonal range can vary drastically from image to image, so developing an intuition for how numbers map to actual brightness values is often critical—both before and after the photo has been taken. There is no one "ideal histogram" which all images should try to mimic; histograms should merely be representative of the tonal range in the scene and what the photographer wishes to convey.

The above image is an example which contains a very broad tonal range, with markers to illustrate where regions in the scene map to brightness levels on the histogram. This coastal scene contains very few midtones, but does have plentiful shadow and highlight regions in the lower left and upper right of the image, respectively. This translates into a histogram which has a high pixel count on both the far left and right-hand sides.


Lighting is often not as extreme as the last example. Conditions of ordinary and even lighting, when combined with a properly exposed subject, will usually produce a histogram which peaks in the centre, gradually tapering off into the shadows and highlights. With the exception of the direct sunlight reflecting off the top of the building and off some windows, the boat scene to the right is quite evenly lit. Most cameras will have no trouble automatically reproducing an image which has a histogram

HIGH AND LOW KEY IMAGES Although most cameras will produce midtone-centric histograms when in an automatic exposure mode, the distribution of peaks within a histogram also depends on the tonal range of the subject matter. Images where most of the tones occur in the shadows are called "low key," whereas with "high key" images most of the tones are in the highlights.

Before the photo has been taken, it is useful to assess whether or not your subject matter qualifies as high or low key. Since cameras measure reflected as opposed to incident light, they are unable to assess the absolute brightness of their subject. As a result, many cameras contain sophisticated algorithms which try to circumvent this limitation, and estimate how bright an image


should be. These estimates frequently result in an image whose average brightness is placed in the midtones. This is usually acceptable, however high and low key scenes frequently require the photographer to manually adjust the exposure, relative to what the camera would do automatically. A good rule of thumb is that you will need to manually adjust the exposure whenever you want the average brightness in your image to appear brighter or darker than the midtones. The following set of images would have resulted if I had used my camera's auto exposure setting. Note how the average pixel count is brought closer to the midtones.

Most digital cameras are better at reproducing low key scenes since they prevent any region from becoming so bright that it turns into solid white, regardless of how dark the rest of the image might become as a result. High key scenes, on the other hand, often produce images which are significantly underexposed. Fortunately, underexposure is usually more forgiving than overexposure (although this compromises your signal to noise ratio). Detail can never be recovered when a region becomes so overexposed that it becomes solid white. When this occurs the highlights are said to be "clipped" or "blown."

The histogram is a good tool for knowing whether clipping has occurred since you can readily see when the highlights are pushed to the edge of the chart. Some clipping is usually ok in regions such as specular reflections on water or metal, when the sun is included in the frame or when other bright sources of light are present. Ultimately, the amount of clipping present is up to the photographer and what they wish to convey. CONTRAST


A histogram can also describe the amount of contrast. Contrast is a measure of the difference in brightness between light and dark areas in a scene. Broad histograms reflect a scene with significant contrast, whereas narrow histograms reflect less contrast and may appear flat or dull. This can be caused by any combination of subject matter and lighting conditions. Photos taken in the fog will have low contrast, while those taken under strong daylight will have higher contrast.

Contrast can have a significant visual impact on an image by emphasizing texture, as shown in the image above. The high contrast water has deeper shadows and more pronounced highlights, creating texture which "pops" out at the viewer. Contrast can also vary for different regions within the same image due to both subject matter and lighting. We can partition the previous image of a boat into three separate regions—each with its own distinct histogram.


The upper region contains the most contrast of all three because the image is created from light which does not first reflect off the surface of water. This produces deeper shadows underneath the boat and its ledges, and stronger highlights in the upward-facing and directly exposed areas. The middle and bottom regions are produced entirely from diffuse, reflected light and thus have lower contrast; similar to if one were taking photographs in the fog. The bottom region has more contrast than the middle—despite the smooth and monotonic blue sky—because it contains a combination of shade and more intense sunlight. Conditions in the bottom region create more pronounced highlights, but it still lacks the deep shadows of the top region. The sum of the histograms in all three regions creates the overall histogram shown before. CAMERA HISTOGRAMS: LUMINOSITY & COLOR This section is designed to help you develop a better understanding of how luminosity and color both vary within an image, and how this translates into the relevant histogram. Although RGB histograms are the most commonly used histogram, other types are more useful for specific purposes.

The image below is shown alongside several of the other histogram types which you are likely to encounter. Move your mouse over the labels at the bottom to toggle which type of color histogram is displayed. When you change to one of the color histograms a different image will be shown. This new image is a grayscale representation of how that color's intensity is distributed throughout the image. Pay particular attention to how each color changes the brightness distribution within the image, and how the colors within each region influence this brightness.



Luminance* histograms are more accurate than RGB histograms at describing the perceived brightness distribution or "luminosity" within an image. Luminosity takes into account the fact that the human eye is more sensitive to green light than red or blue light. View the above example again for each color and you will see that the green intensity levels within the image are most representative of the brightness distribution for the full color image. This also reflected by the fact that the luminance histogram also matches the green histogram more than any other color. Luminosity correctly predicts that the following stepped gradient gradually increases in lightness, whereas a simple addition of each RGB value would give the same intensity at each rectangle.

How is a luminance histogram produced? First, each pixel is converted so that it represents a luminosity based on a weighted average of the three colors at that pixel. This weighting assumes that green represents 59% of the perceived luminosity, while the red and blue channels account for just 30% and 11%, respectively. Move your mouse over "convert to luminosity" under the example image above to see what this calculation looks like when performed for each pixel. Once all pixels have been converted into luminosity, a luminance histogram is produced by counting how many pixels are at each brightness — identical to how a histogram is produced for a single color. *Technical Note: Strictly speaking, these should really be called "luminosity histograms." Unfortunately, the terms "luminance" and "luminosity" are often used interchangeably, including by Photoshop, even though each describes a different aspect of light intensity. Luminance refers to the absolute amount of light emitted by an object per unit area, whereas luminosity refers to the perceived brightness of that object by a human observer. An important difference to take away from the above calculation is that while luminance histograms keep track of the location of each color pixel, RGB histograms discard this information. An RGB histogram produces three independent histograms and then adds them together, irrespective of whether or not each color came from the same pixel. To illustrate this point we will use an image which the two types of histograms interpret quite differently.


The above image contains many patches of pure color. At the interior of each color patch the intensity reaches a maximum of 255, so all patches have significant color clipping and only in that color. Even though this image contains no pure white pixels, the RGB histogram shows strong clipping—so much that if this were a photograph the image would appear significantly overexposed. This is because the RGB histogram does not take into account the fact that all three colors never clip in the same place. The luminance histogram tells an entirely different story by showing no pixels anywhere near full brightness. It also shows three distinct peaks—one for each color that has become significantly clipped. Since this image contains primarily blue, then red, then least of all green, the relative heights clearly show which color belongs where. Also note that the relative horizontal position of each peak is in accordance with the percentages used in the weighted average for calculating luminance: 59%, 30%, and 11%. So which one is better? If we cared about color clipping, then the RGB histogram clearly warns us while the luminance histogram provides no red flags. On the other hand, the luminance histogram accurately tells us that no pixel is anywhere near full black or white. Each has its own use and should be used as a collective tool. Since most digital cameras show only a RGB histogram, just be aware of its shortcomings. As a rule of thumb, the more intense and pure the colors are in your image, the more a luminance and RGB histogram will differ. Pay careful attention when your subject contains strong shades of blue since you will rarely be able to see blue channel clipping with luminance histograms. COLOR HISTOGRAMS Whereas RGB and luminance histograms use all three color channels, a color histogram describes the brightness distribution for any of these colors individually. This can be more helpful when trying to assess whether or not individual colors have been clipped.


The petals of the red flowers caught direct sunlight, so their red color became clipped, even though the rest of the image remained within the histogram. Regions where individual color channels are clipped lose all texture caused by that particular color. However, these clipped regions may still retain some luminance texture if the other two colors have not also been clipped. Individual color clipping is often not as objectionable as when all three colors clip, although this all depends upon what you wish to convey. RGB histograms can show if an individual color channel clips, however they do not tell you if this is due to an individual color or all three. Color histograms amplify this effect and clearly show the type of clipping. Move your mouse over the labels above to compare the luminance and RGB histograms, to view the image in terms of only a single color channel, and to view the image luminance. Notice how the intensity distribution for each color channel varies drastically in regions of nearly pure color. The strength and purity of colors within this image cause the RGB and luminance histograms to differ significantly.


Histogram Guide
by Sebastian Szyszka This guide will to tell you how and why you should use your digital camera's histogram display. For a photographer, understanding how light behaves is critical for successful picture taking. One of the least understood and most useful tools on a digital camera is the histogram. These days, most digital cameras have a histogram display. Adobe Photoshop and other digital photography software packages also use histograms. Using the histogram is part science and part art and can be confusing at first. 2. What does it do? The purpose of the histogram, like a light meter, is to give you information about the scene you're photographing. However, a histogram offers a lot more information than your camera's light meter. In the simplest terms, the histogram shows how the contents of an image are distributed along the scale from pure black to pure white. This gives a complete and accurate representation of the exposure and the light values in a scene. Then you can decide what to do with that information. Every histogram is simply a very precise way of seeing the light values in an image. It's up to the photographer to interpret a histogram and decide if their exposure places the contents where they want them. It also indicates loss of detail (clipping) at either end of the range.

Reading and understanding the histogram may seem difficult at first. But just remember that it's only a graph. The left end of the scale (see below) represents black. This is the point where shadows lose all detail. RGB values are 0 (on a 256 shade scale where 0 is pure black and 255 is pure white); nothing but black is being recorded. Brightness increases toward the right until it reaches pure white at the far right edge. At this point highlights record as RGB values 255 - pure white - and there is no detail.


The brightness value of every pixel is distributed across the histogram's horizontal axis, from black (left) to white (right). But this alone doesn't tell us enough. The photographer needs to understand how much of the image falls into a particular brightness range. A snow scene, for example, will be largely white, with only a small percentage of the image containing darker values. To communicate the amount of image data in a particular range of brightness, the vertical axis is used.

This graphic above correlates to a simple bar graph where the horizontal axis could represent years, and the vertical could represent sales over those years. The histogram should be read the same way. The histogram displays two aspects of an image - the brightness, and the amount of the frame that contains that brightness. The hard part is interpreting the information in the histogram. Sometimes it can be misleading, if you don't understand it correctly. For example, a very dark image will show most of the data in the dark (left) areas. And a very bright image, like the snow scene, will have a graph that is skewed to the right. It would be easy to think of the exposures represented by these histograms as wrong. One appears to be underexposed and the other overexposed. This is deceptive, because the histogram's vertical axis is relative. A large amount of dark pixels will shrink the relative height of the bars representing the highlights, making it look like there is little data in the bright areas of the image. The same is true for a very bright image - the large amount of bright pixels makes it look like there is little data in the shadows. This is compounded by the small size and low resolution of most digital camera LCDs.

3. Histogram Examples Let's look at a couple of photos and their histograms to better understand:


The Dark Photo The image below contains lots of data in the very dark to black range. This histogram (right) might be misunderstood to indicate there's no detail in the highlights. But there's actually plenty of information.

And the opposite:

The Bright Photo The histogram for this brightly lit scene makes it appear as if there is no data in the shadows, even though there's actually plenty of shadow detail.


The two samples above represent the extreme ends of the histogram spectrum. A typical photo's histogram will fall somewhere between those above. Some will have bumps in the middle, some will have valleys, and some will be pretty flat. It depends on the tonality of the image. Every histogram is as unique as the image it represents. That said, there is one constant. There is always some data loss (clipping) in the shadows and highlights. These appear as spikes on either end and are clearly visible in the two extreme samples above. In both situations, the data loss was acceptable, even expected, due to the image content. When the histogram spikes like this the photographer has to decide if the data loss is acceptable or if an adjustment should be made to retain detail. Once again - clipping in the histogram isn't necessarily bad. It only informs and allows the photographer to make an educated decision about how and whether to change their exposure. 4. Variations on the theme The histogram above shows the combined, average brightness of all three color channels (RGB) of an image. Some cameras, and most editing software, allow the photographer to view a histogram for each individual color channel as well as the standard luminosity graph. This RGB histogram is interpreted in the same exact manner as the single histogram above, but it gives the photographer even more information to work with. With an RGB histogram, you might see that the red channel is getting clipped before the green and blue channels, and adjust your exposure accordingly. Since the color data is averaged on a luminosity histogram, it might appear that no data is being lost when one color is actually being clipped. Highly saturated colors, for example, may clip one channel way before two others.


Finally, most cameras display the histogram with an overlaid grid that represents the five-stop exposure range of the digital sensor. This provides a quick visual guide to help the photographer decide how muchexposure adjustment is required to place the tones where desired. 5. No easy answers A histogram, though easy enough to understand, is open to interpretation to such an extent that some practice is required to truly grasp it. A photographer that wants to be able to take full advantage of it needs to study their images and the associated histograms. With time, interpreting a histogram will become intuitive and instantaneous.

Understanding Histograms
Possibly the most useful tool available in digital photography is the histogram. It could also well be the least understood. In this article we will look at what a camera histogram tells the photographer and how best to utilize that information. Virtually every digital camera, from the simplest point-and-shoot to the most sophisticated digital SLR has the ability to display a histogram directly, or more usually superimposed upon the image just taken. (The Hasselblad H1, the latest generation of film & digital capable cameras, can display a histogram on the camera grip’s LCD while the image is separately displayed on the digital back’s LCD.) On most cameras though the histogram display takes place on the rear LCD screen, and most cameras can be programmed to do this both on the image that is displayed immediately after a shot is taken, or later when frames are being reviewed.

The 21st Century Light Meter
When I teach my landscape and wildlife field workshops and am using a DSLR (which I usually am these days) I am frequently asked why I frequently look at the LCD after taking a shot. The answer is that I’m barely even aware of the image on the LCD, it’s the histogram that commands my attention.


This histogram shows an almost perfect distribution of tones covering about a 4 stop dynamic range — from deep shadows on the left to just short of bright highlights on the right. This fits comfortably within the approximately 5 stop dynamic range capability of most digital imaging chips. A light meter reading tells you what exposure will render a standard 18% gray reference card as a mid tone. This reading may have been made because the camera read a variety of areas of the scene and averaged them out, or because you read the highlights, the shadows and some other areas and decided that a particular setting would yield the best compromise exposure for that scene. This setting, like every other that you or your automated camera makes, is a compromise. In most real world situations there is no such thing as an ideal or “perfect” exposure. There is simply one that places the tonal values found in the scene most appropriately within the capability range of the camera’s imaging chip. And "most appropriately" means that the mid-tones found in the image fall roughly half way between the darkest and the brightest values. Hold that thought while we digress for a moment and look at the concept of dynamic range.


Dynamic Range
The digital imaging chip in your camera is very similar to colour transparency film when it comes to its sensitivity to light. Like slide film, if a part of the image receives too much light it becomes burned out, and if too little light it is rendered as black. A recognizable image is only recorded if the light hitting the chip falls within a range of about 5 F stops. (Remember — each F stop is a doubling or halving of the amount of light hitting the film). With digital things are much the same and even the dynamic range is about the same as for slide film; about 5 stops. Also keep in mind that the total range of brightness values encountered in the real world is only about 10 stops — from the dimmest light that you can read in to the brightest beach or snow scene in which you might find yourself).

In an image recorded in 8 bit mode (we’ll ignore 12 , 14 and 16 bit modes for this tutorial) there are 256 discrete brightness levels between absolute black (0) and absolute white (255). 18% gray (the point that all exposure metering measures) has a numeric value of about 128, half way between black and white. If you think about it this is fairly logical. This means that if you are exposing for an average subject, say something like a scene with people, trees, grass etc, these subjects will be exposed at about the mid point of the camera’s dynamic range. Why is this important? This is because if a subject is exposed too close to either extreme you will run into the limitations of the chip’s ability to record the image. Too close to 0 (absolute black) and there won’t be an image at all, or it will be very dark and noisy, and too close to 255 (absolute white) and there will be nothing there except oversaturated pixels with no image information.


The Histogram
This is where the histogram comes in. It is a simple graph that displays where all of the brightness levels contained in the scene are found, from the darkest to the brightest. These values are arrayed across the bottom of the graph from left (darkest) to right (brightest). The vertical axis (the height of points on the graph) shows how much of the image is found at any particular brightness level.

Note that I somewhat arbitrarily labeled each of the five zones (or F stops) containing the dynamic range recordable by the cameras as Very Dark / Dark / Medium / Light / Very Light. But each of these 1 stop ranges contains within it just over 50 discrete brightness levels. (5X50=250 not 256, but who’s counting?) Seriously though, it’s a good idea to consider about 4- 5 points at the very bottom (black) and another 4-5 points at the very top of the scale (white) to be so close to the extremes as to not really be part of the image-forming segment of the graph. (NB: This is an oversimplified explanation. For how the data is really distributed please read my tutorial Expose to the Right.)


This view of the rear LCD on a Canon 1Ds shows a histogram for a particular shot and also the dotted vertical lines that Canon has engraved on the display separating the 5 stops of dynamic range that are available. As you can see this image has most of its content either in the shadows, or the highlights, with little in the mid-range.

So now things start to become clearer. The histogram shows us quite a bit, and just as a glance at the hands of an analogue watch instantly tell you the time without your even being conscious of the exact numeric values, similarly once you become proficient at “reading” a histogram you’ll be able to almost instantly evaluate the quality of the exposure that the camera is making. This is especially true when the histogram is superimposed on or just next to the image itself, making the graph that much more meaningful. Lets look at some examples.

As mentioned earlier, with the exception of a histogram that is very heavily bunched up to the right (overexposed) there really isn’t such a thing as a “bad” histogram, or for that matter a “good” one. The histogram simply shows you the way things are, and its then up to you to decide if what it is telling you needs to be acted upon. Here are some examples.


Here we see the same photograph taken with exposures about three and a half stops apart. Both were at an aperture of f/9. The one on the left was shot at 1/2000 sec and the one on the right at 1/200 sec. The histogram of the one at the left is bunched up at the dark end (underexposed) and the one on the right is bunched up at the light end (overexposed). There wasn't an exposure with today's digital (or transparency film) cameras that could encompass the full dynamic range of this photograph — which is about 8 stops. You therefore have to make some decisions on how to handle such a scene. To stuff 8 stops worth of dynamic range into a recorded image that can only handle 5 stops your choices are.... — use balanced fill flash on the foreground — use a graduated neutral density filter — take multiple exposures and merge them digitally — go home


Fill flash wouldn't work in this case because the foreground subject was too large and too distant. I didn't have any graduated neutral density filters with me (I no longer use them), and going home wasn't what I had in mind. Instead I shot the two frames seen above at about 3 1/2 stops apart and merged them digitally using one of the processes described in my tutorial Digital Blending. The image below is the result. Not great art, but it illustrates the point.

Histograms Just "Are"
As mentioned earlier, with the possible exception of showing badly blown out highlights there really is no such thing as a bad histogram. They just are.


This low key shot's histogram shows that almost all of the data in the image is down in the lowest areas (darkest) with just a small amount of data showing the bright moon. But since the dark areas aren't right up against the left hand side and the light areas aren't up against the right hand side of the histogram, the subject falls within the dynamic range that can be captured. The detail in the moon is what "makes" this shot.


In this "high key" image we see just the opposite. Almost every value seen is toward the right side of the histogram, in the highlight area. That's where I wanted it to be to properly reproduce the brightness found in this snow scene. Yet, since it doesn't bump up against the right hand side of the histogram I know that none of the highlights are blown out.

Not too long ago a histogram was something mysterious. Today it has become a valuable tool for the photographer who wants to gain mastery of their digital camera’s image quality. I hope that this tutorial has helped remove some of the mystery for you.


Start using the histogram review feature of your digital camera. Set your camera to display a combined thumbnail and histogram for 5-10 seconds after every frame. Get in the habit of glancing at it. It's the greatest invention since the built-in light meter.

How to Use Histograms
© 2006 INTRODUCTION The best way to evaluate exposure is to look at the picture, not a histogram. Histograms are a way to measure exposure more objectively for those who can't see very well. Histograms don't replace your eyes and experience. Histograms are helpful in sunlight where it's hard to see an LCD, or in the shop if setting something exactly. Your eyes are always the final judge. A histogram is just a guide. Worry about your image more than the histogram. HISTOGRAM BASICS A histogram is a graph counting how many pixels are at each level between black and white. Black is on the left. White is on the right. The height of the graph at each point depends on how many pixels are that bright. Lighter images move the graph to the right. Darker ones move it to the left. Easy! More Pixels

Fewer Pixels

Black - Dark - Medium - Light - White A Histogram A good image often, but not always, has a histogram spread all over. HISTOGRAM HISTORY Histograms are rocket science. Histograms have been used for automated image evaluation and optimization in self guided missiles for decades. When Tomahawk missiles share America's freedom with millimeter precision, you can thank histograms. Raytheon calls this "Digital Scene Matching Area Correlation," or DSMAC. This all used to be classified. You are smarter than a histogram. Use them as guides, not Gods. COLOR HISTOGRAMS Color histograms are required for color digital photography. Many cameras lack these. I cover this later. If your camera only has a single histogram, like the Nikon D70s, D1X or Canon 20D, ignore the histogram! Single histograms are dangerously misleading. I use a single histogram as a simplified example. DON'T use a histogram to set exposure unless you have a color (RGB) histogram! SETTING EXPOSURE Warning: I show a single histogram to simplify. DON'T use a single histogram to set exposure! You need a color histogram, otherwise you may overexpose colored areas and not know it. Read on to Color Histogramsafter you read this. Contrary to your camera manual, the histogram doesn't have to be in the middle. Black cats in coal mines may only use the left half. Snow scenes may only use the right half. The critical thing for which a histogram is helpful is to determine if any highlights have been clipped and washed out. Overexposure is death for a digital image. Histograms make this easy to check. If you have washed-out areas of 100% white (digital value 255) you'll see a tall vertical line at the far right of the histogram. If you blow an image to smithereens you'll see more than just one line peaked on the right. You may see a train wreck!


-2 stops underexposure. Even the whitest whites (the little hump in the middle) are medium gray. Everything else is dark and lumped on the left. This would be OK for a black cat in a coal mine, but not for a normal shot.

-1 stop underexposure. Some very small highlights are reaching towards white. That's the very slight extension to the right.


Normal exposure. The little hump on the right are the pixels corresponding to the white door. They are where you want them: close to white, but not clipped. The hump means the values are spread around a little bit, meaning you have detail and not a flat, washed-out door. You could give it a little more exposure and be OK. You'll learn from experience. that this is close enough, because even 1/3 stop more would clip. Look carefully and you'll see a few pixels indicated to the right of the hump at the brightest levels. These are specular highlights and are OK to clip in moderation.

+1 Stop Overexposure See the subtle vertical line on the right in addition to the box enclosing the histogram? That's what used to be the hump that was the white garage door! Overexposure smashed it into the right side of the histogram. It is washed out and clipped at 100% white Instead of having detail. Overexposure is shown on a histogram as this subtle peak on the far right.


+2 Stops Overexposure See the train wreck on the far right? This shot is so overexposed that there are a ton of pixels blown out to 100% white. As you overexpose more and more, the graph moves further to the right and eventually clips as your image destroys itself.

Reduce exposure if you see clipping. Try to get the histogram as close to the right side as possible without touching it. If your scene looks too dark when you do this there is no correct exposure: the scene's dynamic range (lighting ratio) is too great. In these cases professionals will correct the lighting by adding fill light to the shadows and/ or using scrims to dim the highlights. Amateurs scramble to attempt to increase the dynamic range of their cameras using hocus pocus like my increasing dynamic range trick. A little bit of clipping is OK on things like the highlights of sun dancing on water or the disk of the sun. Clipping broad areas like someone's forehead looks awful and often shifts colors. This is art and you'll have to learn what looks good to you. There is no law, so don't worry about being scientifically correct. Look closely and you'll see a peak on the left at 100% black, even when overexposed. This is the dark shadow on the left of the photo. This shows that the camera's contrast needs to be lowered, or better still, add fill light in the shadows. This is why you would see three huge trucks full of electric generators and lighting equipment if this was a Hollywood movie shoot. It takes a lot of artificial lighting to make a scene look natural on camera. Cameras respond very differently than our eyes. Usually an image is underexposed if no channel of the histogram goes all the way to the right. Images that are too dark are easy to correct later; just drag the right slider in Photoshop's Levels command to the left to meet the edge of the histogram. Overexposed digital images are almost useless. Anything that washes out to white is gone forever. There is no way to drag Photoshop's Level slider to the right of the right side because there's no data out there beyond 255.

How to Use Color Histograms
INTRODUCTION I explain basics of histograms at How to Use Histograms. Read it first. This page covers the specifics of color histograms. Color histograms are three separate histograms, one each for the R, G and B channels. They help determine correct exposure in an instant. Single histograms, popular in many cameras, are misleading and worse than useless for color photography. This is because single histograms can indicate correct exposure while colored areas can be hideously overexposed! WHY YOU NEED COLOR (YRGB or RGB) HISTOGRAMS


Overexposure with Nikon one-color histogram. Highlights look like cheese pizza.

Correct exposure set with full RGB histogram. Highlights look like wood.

Nikons' single histogram only looks at the

In this example all colors, especially red,


green channel. The green channel looks fine here. (Actually I need a better example because the green channel is a tiny bit overexposed as well.) The red channel, ignored by earlier Nikons and other digital cameras, is completely obliterated with overexposure.

are correctly exposed. This wood isn't that red. This problem is worse with more saturated colors.

Nikons have had a dirty little secret for years. All the earlier digital SLRs, which means the D1X, D50, D100, D70s, etc., only read a histogram for the green channel! These cameras completely ignored red and blue! This is easy to see: pull up the image in Photoshop and compare to the camera's histogram. It matches the green channel. This is awful because any color other than green can overexpose and you won't know it from the histogram. Worse, if you don't look at the photo, the histogram alone can lead you to overexpose and destroy your images! Newer Nikons, like the D200 and D2X, have color histograms. Even the Casio pocket cameras have them. Most digital cameras have useless single-color histograms. I ignore them and look at the image on the LCD instead. Ditto for blinking highlights: on cameras with single histograms the blinking is only looking at one channel. You can have gross overexposure that never blinks! You need to have a histogram that shows each of the R, G and B channels. Single channel histograms don't show when just one color is overexposed. Most camera makers call color histograms "RGB." I call them YRGB since they also show luminance, called "Y" by engineers, which is the combined value of R,G and B.Casio cameras and Nikon D200 and D2 series have full YRGB histograms, although the Nikons cheat and still use the green channel for Y. Just look at it: the Y histogram is identical to the green one. Color histograms can be laid out many ways. Some cameras, like Nikon, separate them as above. Other cameras, like the Casios, put colored lines on the same graph. READING WHITE BALANCE FROM A HISTOGRAM You need a color histogram to do this. When you shoot a flat card you'll see a spike in each color channel's histogram. You're balanced (neutral) if the spike happens in the same place in each channel. If not, you're not balanced. This is easy: if the red channel is too far to the right (too light) you have too much red. You get the picture. You don't even need a card. Look at your histograms. If all stop at the same point then your highlights are neutral. If not, your highlights aren't neutral. Obviously if you have sky you'll see the blue channel further off to the right.



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