"YOU MUST HAVE DETAIL IN YOUR SHADOWS AND HIGHLIGHTS," the book says. "YOUR HIGHLIGHTS ARE BLOWN AND YOU COMPLETELY LOST YOUR SHADOWS," says the internet critiquer.
I read statements like the ones above when I first started shooting and felt like I was failing at photography because it seemed that no matter how hard I tried, I was often blowing highlights and/or losing detail in my shadows. Many of my images would often look good to my eye, but it seemed that everything I read told me that what I was doing was wrong.
The easiest way to see if your highlights are blown or your shadows are lost is to check your levels (in photoshop, image > adjustments > levels). If the chart spills past the right, your highlights are blown. If it spills of the left, you lost detail in your shadows.
While the histogram is a great tool to use, sometimes I do not want all tones to represented a scene. Sometimes, if we expose for all tones in a scene, it will absolutely destroy the mood and we will end up with an image that does not look like the scene we shot!
So I encourage you trust your eye and disregard the histogram (sometimes)! Keep the mood!
The images below have severely flawed histograms but I feel have a mood to them and represent what the scene actually looked like:
My youngest minutes before he fell asleep. The only light was from a hallway light coming through a crack in the door:
My nephew's 7th birthday. Candles were the only light in the room. If I shot for a balanced histogram, it would appear that the lights were on in the room!
Halloween. It was DARK (1/20th, f/1.4, ISO3200).
Birth of my youngest child. The dramatic lighting was caused by the spotlight that the surgeon was using. If I used a flash to balance out the background, this image would not be as dramatic.
Ditch the histogram and trust your eyes!
Thanks for checking in!