How to Use the Histogram in Lightroom

lightroom histogram header_small

The histogram in Lightroom is a very useful tool used by photographers so they can tell whether their photos are properly exposed, and if there are any lost details in their image due to clipped shadows and highlights. The information provided by the graphs in the histogram shows you if you need to adjust your exposure or contrast. It is a display of all the tones in your photo and shows you where you may need to make changes!

Where is the Lightroom Histogram?

The histogram in Lightroom can be found at the top right corner of the Library and Develop Modules.


What is the Lightroom Histogram?

The histogram is a graph that shows all the different tonal values in your image. This graph is broken into 5 parts, which divide up the tones in your image.

1. Blacks are shown on the farthest left side of the graph. These are the tones that are so dark you cannot make out any details or differentiate between colours.

Histogram blacks

2. Shadows are shown just to the right of the blacks. These tones are also dark, but some details can be made out and colours can be differentiated.

Histogram shadows

3. Midtones (Exposure) are found in the middle of the graph. The midtones are the tones where details and differences between colours are clear.

Histogram midtones

4. Highlights are found to the right of the midtones. These are the bright colours in your image. While they have less contrast, you can still make our details and differences between colours.

Histogram highlights

5. Whites are the farthest right on the graph. These are the tones that are so bright, you cannot make out details or differentiate between colours.

Histogram whites

What does the graph on the histogram mean?

The histogram shows the distribution of different tones in your image. The more of a certain tone there is, the higher that area of the histogram will be. The histogram is a great tool to use to tell if your photo is overexposed or underexposed.

If there is a gap on the right side of the histogram, for example, this means that the photo was likely underexposed, and you are missing some of the highlights and lighter tones that your image should contain. On the other hand, if your photo is overexposed, you may notice that there are peaks on the right side of the histogram, showing that the highlight detail is being washed out.

If the histogram is bunched together towards the middle, and does not cover the full range of the graph, this usually indicates that a photo has low contrast. To fix this, deepen the midtones and increase your photo’s dynamic range by moving the contrast slider to the right. Making slight adjustments to the clarity and sharpening sliders can also increase the dynamic range of your photo.

See Also:
How to Use Lightroom Mobile Presets to Edit Eyes
8 Tips for Using Colour to Create Stunning Photographs
Using the Radial Filter Tool in Lightroom

What should the Lightroom Histogram look like?

While the histogram is a useful tool when editing your photos, it is important to remember that there is no “perfect histogram”. Aiming for a certain balance of tones or making your histogram look a certain way will not guarantee that you have a great photo at the end. Every photo contains a different tonal range and will have a different graph on the histogram!

For example, a photo taken in the winter with snow all around will have far more highlights and other tones graphed towards the right side of the histogram, than a photo of a black cat on a dark rug, which will have a significant amount of tones graphed towards the left side of the histogram.

Don’t get stuck trying to make your histogram look a certain way! Simply use it as a tool to help you avoid clipping tones and to make sure you have enough contrast in your images.

How to Use the Lightroom Histogram

Making Adjustments Directly on the Histogram

Each of the areas on the histogram (blacks, shadows, midtones, highlights, and whites, as mentioned above) corresponds to the slider of the same name in the Basic panel (except midtones, which corresponds to the “Exposure” slider). Any changes that you make to the tonal areas on the histogram will be shown on the sliders below. The name of the slider you are adjusting will also appear directly under the histogram.

To make adjustments to these areas of your photos directly on the histogram, simply hover over the area of the histogram you want to adjust until the cursor with arrows on either side appears. Then, click and drag to the left or right to adjust the tones in your images.

Use the Histogram to See Clipped Blacks and Whites

If there are peaks on the far edges of your histogram, you may be clipping certain tones! To reveal which tones are being clipped and the areas of your photo where this is happening, hover over the small triangles found in the upper right and left corners of the histogram. You can also press “J” on your keyboard to toggle seeing clipped values on and off.

Once you have turned this one, Lightroom will show any clipped whites in red, and clipped blacks in blue. Now that you know where you are clipping tones, you can adjust your settings as needed until you are no longer clipping any tones!

Histogram clipped

Luminance and Colour Histograms

If you are editing a colour photo, you will notice that part of the histogram is coloured. This is because you are actually being shown four histograms in one!

The grey histogram that appears in the front is the luminance histogram. This one shows brightness values only, and has nothing to do with colour. This is similar to the luminance histogram found inside your camera.

The other three histograms are red, blue, and green, and they correspond to the colour channels in your image. You may also see some additional colours, which is where the red, green, and blue histograms are overlapping.

In a black and white image, the only histogram that is visible is the grey luminance one, which is great for showing you how much contrast is in your image.

As you can see, the histogram in Lightroom is a very valuable tool, and one that is crucial to understand in order to fully grasp the power of Lightroom and take your photos to the next level. Now that you know exactly what the histogram is showing you, you are ready to continue editing and create some gorgeous photos!