Beware of Curve

The title to this post is a maxim from a sign common on the road here in California. It is also good advice when shooting digital photographs or dealing with photographs in post production. Getting the histogram correct as early as possible in the process is probably the most important thing in photography. Here is a guide to working with your histogram.


An Iris just getting ready to open with droplets from a spring shower.

It doesn’t happen too often to me any longer, but every once in a while I am humbled (often after a lot of work) when I forget to keep my eye on the curve of the histogram! This photograph is one of those examples. I was doing some work in Photoshop and just was never satisfied. Near the end of my work, when I just couldn’t get what I wanted, I happened to use a curves adjustment layer and selected the Auto option just to see what Curves was suggesting.  Immediately, I saw the problem; the photograph was taken in a low contrast setting and all the information was in the low end of the histogram. There wasn’t enough contrast or light values in the original image. I had to start over from the beginning for several reasons:

  • First, the most information to do an adjustment of the histogram is in the raw image (camera raw file)
  • I had several layers, each would have needed a separate adjustment
  • All my corrections in each layer were based on a bad starting histogram. I probably would have made the adjustment differently with a different starting image.

The good new? Well, I needed far fewer adjustments overall when I got what I wanted directly from the Camera Raw file. None, in fact! The image directly out of camera raw is what you see here.


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