Lightroom: The Histogram and the Basic Section

3/18/2014 0 Comments A+ a-

Post 15
Series: Introduction to Adobe Lightroom®

Historical, Hysterical, Hista…? Histogram

The Histogram is a graph of the tones in the image. Darker tones or shadows are on the left, and lighter tones or highlights are on the right. That middle range is called Midtones. The Histogram will automatically change for each image. There is no right or wrong histogram. The look you are going for determines whether it is right for your particular image. A more even and spread out histogram will likely be more balanced in lights and darks. If you are going for a subtle look or a strongly contrasted image, then your histograms will look very different. As you become familiar with the look you are going for and the types of histograms those images show, you will have a nice edge: You will know how to adjust your images right away simply by looking at your histogram.

Linked and Coordinating

Click and drag inside the Histogram with your mouse, and you will see below that the Basic section reacts accordingly.

Clipping is where the top points, or spikes, in the histogram go above the register. If the area is clipped in the highlights, the light in your image will have blown out the highlights and lost it’s detail. If the clipped point is in the shadows, the image will show those really dark section without detail. If there is clipping, triangles will appear. To remove the clipping in your image, adjust the tones with the slider or by clicking and dragging parts of the histogram. You may finally decide your image is supposed to have such strong highlights and/or shadows.

The Right Temperature

Tone and Tint are sliders near the top of the panel which adjust the color temperature of the image. Move the Temp slider to the right and add warmth (yellow) to the image.  Slide it to the left and introduce a colder (blue) temperature. Tint sliders add either green or magenta.


An evenly exposed image will reach fully from left to right and have relatively even distribution.  Changing the Exposure will change the Midtones most, but will slightly affect shadows and highlights.

In Contrast

If you move this slider to the right the whole histogram moves to the right side of the graph, extending the shadows. Moving the other direction extends the highlights. Depending on the direction you choose, the highlights become lighter or the shadows darker.

The Exposure and Contrast sliders are very important in changing the look of your shot. Make these adjustments first.

The Highlights

Highlights adjust the tones next to the Whites. They are great for recovering detail lost in blown out highlights.

In the Shadows

The Shadows slider moves tones that are just lighter than those found in the Blacks. This can add subtle interest to areas that would otherwise be hidden.

In the Black

The Blacks slider controls the tones on the far left. I recommend not removing all of the blacks from the shot because most images work better when they have some areas that have areas of pure black.

White Space

The Whites slider affects the tones on the right of the Histogram. Before you change the Whites, adjust the Highlights first. Adjust the Whites by making small changes to the brightest parts of the image.

Contrast & Clarity, Vibrancy & Saturation

Contrast and Clarity sliders should be done FIRST before saturation because increasing the contrast of the shot will boost its saturation.

The Clarity slider gives mid tones more contrast. Pulling the slider to the right will make the image appear sharper and crisper while pulling the slider to the left creates a softer look. The less-is-more idea fits well with this slider.

Vibrancy and Saturation sliders change the color intensities in the image, but work in slightly different ways. Most find it best to start with the Vibrancy slider because these adjustments are more subtle. Highly saturated images have strong colors and are bright. A little goes a long way. If areas of the image are already highly saturated, the Vibrancy slider won't change these areas and some of the other tones won't be affected either. 


If you decide that you want to erase and start over you can double-click a slider and take it back to 0. You can also use the History panel and click on a particular step you want to re-start at.

With everything you could do, a few tweaks of the Histogram could be all the change your image needs.

Wait! What are these thing-a-ma-bobs?  We'll go over these tools next time. Promise!

Next post: Tools and Tone Curves
These posts are part of a series: Introduction to Adobe Lightroom®

Jennifer Apffel is a photographer with over a decade of experience in portrait, event, and product photography. She also does freelance graphic design and fine art. For more check out, or look for her on

"You can't be an artist. Artists don't make any money," ... a trusted adviser told me. So I studied something else. And I worked at other jobs. But, given a moment and I'd find a paintbrush and canvas, or I'd make food into art. I found a camera, and light and composition became my medium. I found a computer, and I became a Photoshop fanatic and graphic designer, and I taught myself to build websites. Anything to be able to create.

I am an artist, plain and simple, and I've come to understand that all these years later. Artists create beauty where there was none. Artists ask tough questions and challenge others. Artists communicate without words. Artists build and tear down. Artists bring joy, hope, understanding, empathy, growth, change and a myriad of things to others.

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