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Welcome to Dijemeric Visualizations

Where photography and mathematics intersect with some photography, some math, some math of photography, and an occasional tutorial.

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Friday, November 30, 2012

Histogram Basics

Histogram Basics for Photographers
© Ken Osborn 2012

Light meter?  Isn’t that something like a sliderule?  A few photographers still use light meters but most of us depend on the histogram to tell us if an image is over or under exposed.  And some know about histograms but don’t use them because they rely on the camera to make all of the photographic decisions.  Nothing wrong with that if you have no desire or need for creative control, but if you’d like to go the next step and not let the camera make all the decisions, then this little tutorial is for you.

A histogram plots light received by the camera’s sensor with light value the horizontal axis and number of pixels on the vertical axis as in the plot below.

Light values for 8 bit pixels range from 0 (no light) to 255 (blown out highlight).  The next chart shows light value assignments and the relationship to the Adams Zone System numbers.  This makes for a total of 256X256X256 color shades when the Red, Green, and Blue (RGB) channels are combined for full color.  Our eyes can see more shades of color than that but it’s close enough and many color printers can’t do any better.

So how do you use a histogram for proper exposure?

Below is a properly exposed photo shot at sunset.  There are no blown out highlights or blocked up shadows.

Abandoned Building at Sunset

Now compare to the badly overexposed image below.

Here is the same photo with the histogram superimposed.

Note that the histogram is pushed to the right with no space on the right side: the highlights are blown.

An underexposed version of the same scene.

Perhaps you want that nighttime look.  That’s good and exactly why you want control over your shot.  Before you look at the histogram below, what will the curve look like?

Of course you knew the curve would be pushed to the left with the shadows blocked, yes?

So what does a ‘proper’ histogram look like?  If you don’t want blocked shadows or blown highlights, then you will want a histogram that has nothing extending to the edges, as in the next image.  

So that’s it. Properly exposed, a photograph should have neither blocked shadows nor blown highlights.  Shadow areas that are too dark have no detail and generally lack interest.  Highlights that are blown also have no detail and are usually distracting to the central features of the image.

And now you know what happens to the histogram if the shadows are too dark or the highlights are too bright.  Of course that is not to say that the artist’s intention was not have shadows without detail or highlights that dazzled the eyes.  After all, photography is an art.  

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Recapturing Your Pre-digital Memories

Remember Hi8 video?  If you are like me you will have several 20+ year old pre-digital analogue video recordings you may wonder what to do with.  You could just forget about them for several more years and let someone else worry about what to do with them or you could convert them to a digital format, put them on a hard drive, and even edit them for the memorable segments like your daughter's first steps, your visit to Paris in 1990, or the historic footage you shot and is now no longer possible because the old factory has been replaced with condominiums.

Having 30 Hi8 tapes representing over 50 hours of video, I decided it was time to recover some of the past and to perform the remastering from analogue to digital myself.  My setup for the process includes an iMac computer, a Sony TR700 video camera (the one originally used to shoot the Hi8 videos), a Elgato Video Capture converter, and cabling to connect camera to Elgato.  The Elgato takes both S-Video and Composite Video inputs and provides a USB output.  It records in the H.264 mp4 format, which maxes out at 640x480.  Seems low rez by today's standards, but Hi8 is not today's standard.  Elgato is simple to use but lacks on-the-fly controls although you can batch control brightness, contrast, etc through the Preferences settings.  More info on Elgato at

So far I've remastered some 20 hours of video and am mostly satisfied with the quality.  Some actually looks a bit nicer than the original when played directly from the camcorder to TV monitor.  Some of the converted footage exhibits 'jitters' which are generally not overly noticeable.

Once a tape has been converted to digital video (DV), it's possible to edit selections.  I used iMovie for that purpose.  I selected a 30 min segment from a 2 hour tape then edited it to a 7 min video, The Scotia Sawmill - 1993.  Scotia was a company town dominated by the Pacific Lumber Company (PALCO).  See for more information.

You may need to convert the video format and/or compress it for posting on your blog (Blogger limits file size to 100MB).  MPEG Streamclip, free software that will convert formats and compress video files is available for both Mac in PC at