The rear LCD screen of your camera is a lying liar who lies. Though the screens of newer cameras are fairly good, the image they display can be lighter, darker or a different color from your actual photo. Do not use them to accurately judge exposure (until you get to know the bias of your screen).

nikonrgbThe best “in the field” indicator of exposure is the RGB Histogram display. It looks something like this and if you learn how to read it, it can quickly tell you if you photo is under exposed, over exposed or just right. Periodically checking your histogram while shooting will help you get the maximum amount of detail out of your photos!

To learn how to read your histogram, click here.

  1. Chris;

    I live in a small town (150 miles to the nearest town over 100,000) and have been shooting concerts about 2 years after doing mostly sports and event work. I love doing concerts and the challenge of capturing what is in front of me based on what the performers and spotlight gods give me. I shoot in smaller venues of about 700 persons max and shoot from the perimeter and on the stage from behind the curtains. My main lens is a 300 2.8. There is no pit to shoot from and for most of my concerts the audience remains seated except for standing to applause. I have shot Sophie Milman, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Richie Havens, Brett Dennen, Martin Sexton, and several dozen more.

    I find my histogram gives me inaccurate readings (thinks it is much darker than it is) even with spot metering. The reading are in most cases swung way over to the left only coming out by 20-40 probably because of key lighting. After coming home to images with blown out faces and skin I have learned to use my LCD. I blow it up up to 10x which will give me a pretty good view and let me see if I have the correct exposure.

    About an hour ago I just received a request for a bid to shoot The Traverse Symphony Orchestra at the Interlochen Arts Academy. They will be performing Mahler’s Resurrection with a cast of 250. They want shots of the full orchestra, Kevin Rhodes, sections and individuals. I am excited about this opportunity…nervous too.

    I appreciate you and your brother’s work…I learn from both your sites.

  2. Hi Alan,

    Thanks very much for the comment. I should add that I also have the “highlight warning” display turned on so that I can see if the performers skin is blowing out. I compare the “blinkies” to the histogram and make a decision from there.

    Don’t be too nervous about The Traverse Symphony gig. I’m sure you’ll do a wonderful job. Whenever I find myself getting distracted by the celebrity of a subject or the enormity of a job, I just remind myself to “do the work.”

    Thanks for your kind words and best of luck.

  3. JC

    Just found this site, so I'm way late on this, but…

    Histograms often display incorrect Red and Blue channel information if you are a RAW shooter, because they are derived from converted-to-JPEG data. If you want an accurate histogram (assuming your camera's histogram displays separate RGB channels), look into installing UniWB on your camera. The main disadvantage is that all of your images will look green (including the in-camera LCD playback) until you assign a new White Balance during post-processing. But it makes getting an accurate exposure easier (ETTR – “Expose To The Right”).

    Google it, scour DPReview, etc. Lots of information and downloads out there.

  4. chrisowyoung

    Hey JC,

    You bring up a very interesting point. I experimented with UniWB years ago before I was shooting concerts but have not revisited it. Have you had any luck with this?

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