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Study Guides > College Algebra

Graph logarithmic functions

Now that we have a feel for the set of values for which a logarithmic function is defined, we move on to graphing logarithmic functions. The family of logarithmic functions includes the parent function [latex]y={\mathrm{log}}_{b}\left(x\right)[/latex] along with all its transformations: shifts, stretches, compressions, and reflections.

We begin with the parent function [latex]y={\mathrm{log}}_{b}\left(x\right)[/latex]. Because every logarithmic function of this form is the inverse of an exponential function with the form [latex]y={b}^{x}[/latex], their graphs will be reflections of each other across the line [latex]y=x[/latex]. To illustrate this, we can observe the relationship between the input and output values of [latex]y={2}^{x}[/latex] and its equivalent [latex]x={\mathrm{log}}_{2}\left(y\right)[/latex] in the table below.

x –3 –2 –1 0 1 2 3
[latex]{2}^{x}=y[/latex] [latex]\frac{1}{8}[/latex] [latex]\frac{1}{4}[/latex] [latex]\frac{1}{2}[/latex] 1 2 4 8
[latex]{\mathrm{log}}_{2}\left(y\right)=x[/latex] –3 –2 –1 0 1 2 3

Using the inputs and outputs from the table above, we can build another table to observe the relationship between points on the graphs of the inverse functions [latex]f\left(x\right)={2}^{x}[/latex] and [latex]g\left(x\right)={\mathrm{log}}_{2}\left(x\right)[/latex].

[latex]f\left(x\right)={2}^{x}[/latex] [latex]\left(-3,\frac{1}{8}\right)[/latex] [latex]\left(-2,\frac{1}{4}\right)[/latex] [latex]\left(-1,\frac{1}{2}\right)[/latex] [latex]\left(0,1\right)[/latex] [latex]\left(1,2\right)[/latex] [latex]\left(2,4\right)[/latex] [latex]\left(3,8\right)[/latex]
[latex]g\left(x\right)={\mathrm{log}}_{2}\left(x\right)[/latex] [latex]\left(\frac{1}{8},-3\right)[/latex] [latex]\left(\frac{1}{4},-2\right)[/latex] [latex]\left(\frac{1}{2},-1\right)[/latex] [latex]\left(1,0\right)[/latex] [latex]\left(2,1\right)[/latex] [latex]\left(4,2\right)[/latex] [latex]\left(8,3\right)[/latex]

As we’d expect, the x- and y-coordinates are reversed for the inverse functions. The figure below shows the graph of f and g.

Graph of two functions, f(x)=2^x and g(x)=log_2(x), with the line y=x denoting the axis of symmetry.

Figure 2. Notice that the graphs of [latex]f\left(x\right)={2}^{x}[/latex] and [latex]g\left(x\right)={\mathrm{log}}_{2}\left(x\right)[/latex] are reflections about the line = x.

Observe the following from the graph:

  • [latex]f\left(x\right)={2}^{x}[/latex] has a y-intercept at [latex]\left(0,1\right)[/latex] and [latex]g\left(x\right)={\mathrm{log}}_{2}\left(x\right)[/latex] has an x-intercept at [latex]\left(1,0\right)[/latex].
  • The domain of [latex]f\left(x\right)={2}^{x}[/latex], [latex]\left(-\infty ,\infty \right)[/latex], is the same as the range of [latex]g\left(x\right)={\mathrm{log}}_{2}\left(x\right)[/latex].
  • The range of [latex]f\left(x\right)={2}^{x}[/latex], [latex]\left(0,\infty \right)[/latex], is the same as the domain of [latex]g\left(x\right)={\mathrm{log}}_{2}\left(x\right)[/latex].

A General Note: Characteristics of the Graph of the Parent Function, f(x) = logb(x)

For any real number x and constant > 0, [latex]b\ne 1[/latex], we can see the following characteristics in the graph of [latex]f\left(x\right)={\mathrm{log}}_{b}\left(x\right)[/latex]:

  • one-to-one function
  • vertical asymptote: = 0
  • domain: [latex]\left(0,\infty \right)[/latex]
  • range: [latex]\left(-\infty ,\infty \right)[/latex]
  • x-intercept: [latex]\left(1,0\right)[/latex] and key point [latex]\left(b,1\right)[/latex]
  • y-intercept: none
  • increasing if [latex]b>1[/latex]
  • decreasing if 0 < < 1
Two graphs of the function f(x)=log_b(x) with points (1,0) and (b, 1). The first graph shows the line when b>1, and the second graph shows the line when 0<b<1.Figure 3
Figure 3 shows how changing the base b in [latex]f\left(x\right)={\mathrm{log}}_{b}\left(x\right)[/latex] can affect the graphs. Observe that the graphs compress vertically as the value of the base increases. (Note: recall that the function [latex]\mathrm{ln}\left(x\right)[/latex] has base [latex]e\approx \text{2}.\text{718.)}[/latex]
Graph of three equations: y=log_2(x) in blue, y=ln(x) in orange, and y=log(x) in red. The y-axis is the asymptote.Figure 4. The graphs of three logarithmic functions with different bases, all greater than 1.

How To: Given a logarithmic function with the form [latex]f\left(x\right)={\mathrm{log}}_{b}\left(x\right)[/latex], graph the function.

  1. Draw and label the vertical asymptote, x = 0.
  2. Plot the x-intercept, [latex]\left(1,0\right)[/latex].
  3. Plot the key point [latex]\left(b,1\right)[/latex].
  4. Draw a smooth curve through the points.
  5. State the domain, [latex]\left(0,\infty \right)[/latex], the range, [latex]\left(-\infty ,\infty \right)[/latex], and the vertical asymptote, x = 0.

Example 3: Graphing a Logarithmic Function with the Form [latex]f\left(x\right)={\mathrm{log}}_{b}\left(x\right)[/latex].

Graph [latex]f\left(x\right)={\mathrm{log}}_{5}\left(x\right)[/latex]. State the domain, range, and asymptote.


Before graphing, identify the behavior and key points for the graph.

  • Since = 5 is greater than one, we know the function is increasing. The left tail of the graph will approach the vertical asymptote = 0, and the right tail will increase slowly without bound.
  • The x-intercept is [latex]\left(1,0\right)[/latex].
  • The key point [latex]\left(5,1\right)[/latex] is on the graph.
  • We draw and label the asymptote, plot and label the points, and draw a smooth curve through the points.
Graph of f(x)=log_5(x) with labeled points at (1, 0) and (5, 1). The y-axis is the asymptote.

Figure 5. The domain is [latex]\left(0,\infty \right)[/latex], the range is [latex]\left(-\infty ,\infty \right)[/latex], and the vertical asymptote is x = 0.

Try It 3

Graph [latex]f\left(x\right)={\mathrm{log}}_{\frac{1}{5}}\left(x\right)[/latex]. State the domain, range, and asymptote.


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  • Precalculus. Provided by: OpenStax Authored by: Jay Abramson, et al.. Located at: https://openstax.org/books/precalculus/pages/1-introduction-to-functions. License: CC BY: Attribution. License terms: Download For Free at : http://cnx.org/contents/[email protected]..