Digital camera photography? Don’t trust the monitor

Digital camera photography? Don’t trust the monitor

Okay, so how many times do you look at your camera monitor at a shot you’ve just exposed and thought, “The image is too dark” or “The image is too light”?

Often on the photography workshops I run, particularly the PhotoTrek workshops for beginners and improvers, guests will show me an image on the back of their camera and make one of the statements above. I even had the same thing at a local camera club last night during a tutorial session.

However, here are some things to consider. How many times have you tried to view the camera monitor in bright sunlight and not been able to see the image successfully?
How many of you have adjusted the brightness of your monitor from its default setting?
How do you know how bright the default brightness of the monitor is any way?

The point is, how you see your monitor varies according to the ambient light – its one of the reasons the lights are turned down in cinemas. In sunlight, the image invariably looks dark and in low light it will look bright. The second question is, how bright is the image produced on the monitor anyway? Especially as most cameras have the facility to lighten or darken the monitor for personal preference. Some of the latest cameras claim to ‘adjust’ the brightness of the monitor automatically, so again you don’t know how it relates to your image.

So, what can you do. Nearly every digital camera has a ‘Histogram’ display. This is a graph which shows how many light tones and how many dark tones have been captured in the image. The left hand side of the 'graph' are the dark tones and the right hand side of the 'graph' are the light tones – “Right is Light”, remember that. Therefore if the histogram is bunched to the left, the image is made up of dark tones and if it is bunched to the right it is made up of light tones. Whether it is too light or too dark depends on the image you are trying to take and show. What is useful however is learning to read the histogram and adjust the image accordingly.

So, to start to familiarise yourself with histograms, the first thing is to find how to display it on your camera. Then, have a look at it after each shot you take. Deliberately photograph some dark, shadow areas and correspondingly some bright areas, followed by some mixed light and dark areas and see the effects on the histogram.

Getting to read the histogram is one of the great benefits of digital photography. How to maximise this benefit I will go into further another time. I hope this helps?

Ian