Understanding the Lightroom Histogram

Lightroom Histogram

Understanding the Lightroom Histogram

The histogram is very helpful tool used by photographers to tell whether their photo has good exposure, and whether there are any lost details (clipped highlights or shadows) in their image.

The information in the histogram will help you decide whether you need to adjust your exposure and/or contrast.

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Where is the Lightroom Histogram Located?

You can see histograms displayed in most camera's that offer a manual mode (although you may need to turn this feature on) AND within Lightroom - located at the upper right hand side of both the Library and Develop modules.

In this tutorial, we will focus on the histogram in Lightroom!

What is a Histogram?

Simply defined, the histogram is just a graph of all the different tonal values located in your image.

Lightroom histogram tutorial

  • Blacks are graphed all the way on the left.  These are the tones that are so dark that details and colors cannot be differentiated.
  • Shadows are graphed just to the right of the blacks.  These tones are also dark but some details and colors can be differentiated.

how to use histogram in lightroom

  • Midtones are graphed in the middle section of the histogram.  These are tones where you can see clear details and color differences.
  • Highlights are graphed just to the right of the midtones.  These tones are bright colors and have less contrast, but you can still see details.
  • Whites are graphed all the way on the right.  These tones are so bright that details and colors cannot be differentiated.

how to read a histogram in lightroom

The more of a certain tone there is, the higher the histogram graph will get in that area.

Is there a Perfect Histogram?

There is no such thing as a perfect histogram!  The dynamic range of tones in each individual photo will dictate what the histogram looks like.

For example:

  • If you take a photo in the Winter snow, you will have a lot of whites in your image and the majority of the tones will be graphed toward the right side of the histogram.
  • If you take a photo at night, you will have a lot of blacks in your image and the majority of the tones in this case will be graphed toward the left side of the histogram.

histogram lightroom tutorial

Clipped Tones

Photographer’s often talk about “clipping” the highlights or shadows.  Or they sometimes refer to it as the highlights or shadows being “blown out.” 

Simply put, this means is there is no photo information in those particular areas - THEY ARE PURE WHITE OR PURE BLACK.

Histogram’s with clipped whites or clipped blacks will look similar to the images below:

histogramme lightroom

How to Use the Lightroom Histogram

Looking at and understanding what the histogram is showing you will allow you to determine if you have successfully captured an evenly lit, dark or light image.

If that is not what you were trying to achieve, you now have the chance to make some adjustments.

1. Make Adjustments Directly on the Histogram!

No need to adjust your exposure in the Basic Panel.  You can just click and drag directly on the histogram in Lightroom.  Adjustments you make there will move and show in the sliders within the Basic Panel.

how to read histogram lightroom

As you hover your cursor over the histogram, the affected area will be highlighted and the name of the slider you will be adjusting will appear on the left side directly below the histogram.  When you click and drag, the amount you are adjusting that particular slider will appear on the right side directly below the histogram.

lightroom histogram explained

2. Use the Histogram to See "Clipped" Whites and Blacks

To see any "clipped" values in your photo, hover over the small triangles in the upper right and upper left of the histogram.  You can also press Lightroom keyboard shortcut "J" to toggle on or off seeing those clipped areas.

  • Hovering over the triangle on the left will show clipped blacks in blue.
  • Hovering over the triangle on the right will show clipped whites in red.

lightroom show clipping

3. Use the Histogram to View the RBG Color Values

Hovering over areas of your photo will display the RGB color values directly below the histogram.  You can see these values change as you move the cursor around your photo.

how to use the histogram in lightroom

This can also be used to see "clipped" values as well (0% is black and 100% is white).

AND, you might also note that when you aren't hovering over your image, you will be able to see all the metadata information for the photo.

lightroom histogram tutorial

Do you have any questions or comments about the Lightroom Histogram?  Leave us a comment below - we would LOVE to hear from you!  And PLEASE SHARE this post using the social sharing buttons (we really appreciate it)!

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