Camera Techniques - Live View Histogram


Before I take a shot, I use a very powerful tool to adjust my exposure settings (ISO, aperture and shutter speed). While my camera offers a few ways to help with exposure, the one I rely on most is the camera’s Live View Histogram. The camera’s histogram is a graph that illustrates all the pixel data from the light that enters through the lens and hits the camera’s sensor. See the image above? This is showing Live View on the camera's back panel and the small graph on the bottom right corner is the histogram. As I view the scene, I pay attention to the histogram and adjust my exposure settings based on the graph's data. The actual image on the screen is less reliable because it does not truly represent what the image will look like when shot. The histogram is much more reliable because it provides all the information captured by the camera's sensor. But, before you can use it, you need to understand how to read it.

Take a look at the image with the histogram above. In the graph, data on the far left indicate dark areas of the scene and data on the far right indicate bright areas. Those in the middle represent midtones primarily. No two histograms are the same and we need another blog just to talk about how to interpret them. But for this blog, I’ll use one example of how I use the histogram. If I am shooting a white bird, I want to make sure I do not overexpose the feathers. Notice in the photo below the bird looks blown out, with great loss of detail in the feathers. In the histogram, notice some data pushed up against the right wall. That tells me that I have overexposed the bright areas and need to adjust the exposure (remove light) to get the detail back, as shown in the next image. By using the histogram, I can avoid overexposing (pushing data too far to the right) or underexposing (pushing the data too far to the left) a scene.

Before Live View, the photographer only had the histogram as feedback AFTER the shot was taken. The image and its histogram can be reviewed on the back panel (as in the image below) and the information provided would be used to make necessary adjustments before the next shot. Notice in the histogram below there are some bright areas on the right, but not enough to be pushed up against the wall.

As I make my exposure adjustments using Live View, I can see the data on the histogram change accordingly. That's very useful! Below is another example when I have Live View appearing on the camera's back panel. You can see that the screen image looks brighter than the actual scene. Bringing up the histogram provides me the best information I need to expose the scene the way I want it to be exposed.

Now you can see that before taking the shot, a photographer has useful information to help get the correct exposure. There are advantages and limitations to these tools, but once you understand them, you can make the best of them. The point is, learning to use them will only improve your photography. As you get proficient in the technical side of using your camera, it frees up more time for you to devote to the artistic or creative side of your photography. And that’s really what it’s all about!

Learn more about Live View from my recent YouTube video titled "Using Your Camera's Live View for Correct Exposure".. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at And of course, you can receive individualized instructions in the field or using Photoshop by scheduling a workshop with me.