How to Preserve the Drama in Your Photos

Histogram in Dramatic Lighting

Many people approach photography from an understandable, but flawed perspective. They learn that an ideal histogram peaks in the middle and recedes toward the edges. For many photos, this is certainly ideal, but following that rule 100% of the time will ruin the mood of some of your more dramatic work.

This is only exacerbated by HDR where people work to eliminate shadows from their photos. While the look has its audience and uses, I personally try to avoid the technique since I believe photography itself is the art of balancing light and shadows in aesthetic and interesting ways. In many photos of dramatic scenery and lighting, that means maintaining the light and shadows as they were captured.

Had I tried to balance out the light and shadows in the above image, centering the histogram as much as I could, the mood would be completely lost. The drama would have been eliminated. By keeping most of the information on the left side in the shadows, this allows the warm light to create a much stronger contrast while also preventing the highlights from being blown out.

That’s why you should never process an image based on an expected outcome for the histogram. The histogram is meant to guide where your light is in your photo, not dictate how to process the photo.

Likewise, a very foggy day or whiteout blizzard conditions will also yield a histogram that leans heavily to the right. Exposing too many shadows on the left will not only muddy up the values, but will also eliminate the coldness from the blizzard or the fog itself from the thick fog.

You can see in the example below had I processed the shadows to be all the way on the left of the histogram, the moose and other vegetation would have turned out much darker, essentially getting rid of the atmospheric perspective that creates the whiteout.

Histogram in Whiteout Blizzard

So rather than trying to force the histogram into a certain mold, let your photos speak for themselves and that should help to share your experiences with others much better.

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