Shooting with the Histogram, Not the LCD

With the sub-30 degree temperatures taking a break last Thursday, I took the chance to go for a walk in the park (Celery Farm, Allendale, NJ) at lunch to snap some pics.  Sadly, I couldn’t walk out onto the lake, since the ice wasn’t solid enough anymore.  Should’ve braved the freezing cold last week to walk out and get pics I won’t be able to get now for the rest of the year, in all likelihood.

17mm, ISO 200, f/5, 1/800", 8 picture panorama

I tried an experiment on this trip.  I didn’t adjust my exposure by looking at the LCD, but rather by the histogram.  I exposed to the right as much as possible, and looked for a break between the right shoulder and the end of the chart.

What did I learn?  Well, at the time, the pics that looked best on my LCD were underexposed.  I took a deep breath, reiterated my faith in RAW files, and ran the exposure compensation wheel to the right in Av mode, or just shortened the shutter speed in Manual mode.  I took pics in both.

There wasn’t much to see. I took the pano pic overlooking the lake you can see above, since the nice blue sky looked even better being over the white lake.  And I tried an HDR or two with the small walking bridges over the stream behind it.

Pictures and lessons learned are coming up after the break:

17mm, ISO 200, f/8, 1/100" + 1/400" + 1/1600"

The real find of the day was the cardinal flying around the park.  He sat still just long enough for me to try fidgeting with some settings, but sadly, it wasn’t good enough. In retrospect, I wish I had tried lower ISO and higher shutter speed, but I was shooting with a 70-300mm lens racked all the way out to 300mm handheld.  I needed no blur, not less noise.  There’s always time to crop later.  But I did my best with it in post-production, and think it’s still a worthy effort:

300mm, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/500"

The one big lesson I learned from this experiment is that trusting the histogram is good, but double checking the blinkies is also a smart idea.  There are a few pics where the histogram looked good, but I had blown out highlights. I blame that on not properly recognizing the right-side boundary of the histogram, thinking that it went out a few more pixels than it really did.

So I did get a few decent pics, learned a valuable lesson, and got some fresh air into my lungs for a half hour.  Not a bad way to go.

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