Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Photo Tips - ISO Settings

I don't have a compelling reason for starting the photo tips series with ISO settings, but I had to start somewhere and for whatever random reason -- this is it.  ISO.  :)  After this will be aperture and shutter speed, and then a look at how they can all work together.

The ISO setting controls the sensitivity of the camera's sensor to light.  If you have a lot of light, like a bright sunny day, you can use a lower ISO setting, e.g. 100 (or lower if your camera has it).  If you are in lower light, then a higher ISO setting is needed in order for there to be enough light in the photo.  This is particularly useful if you need to take a no-flash photo in a church, a museum or maybe even a recital.

Though it might seem safer to choose a higher ISO setting in order to ensure you definitely get enough light, there is a price to be paid for doing so -- the photos will appear more grainy. This is also referred to as 'noise'.  This graininess will worsen if you need to crop your photos or if you enlarge them, so you don't want to go any higher with ISO than you need to.

To show you an example of what difference you might notice, I have taken the same photo with the same aperture and shutter speed.  The only thing that changes from photo to photo is the ISO setting, which I have put under each picture.  Also note that these photos were taken on a bright, though not sunny, day -- lots of light.

100 ISO
This 100 ISO is my favourite.  It seems the clearest to me with rich colour.

200 ISO 
I don't mind this 200 ISO either, but it has more of a highlight making the colour a little brighter, less rich.  Still good though.

400 ISO

Even my novice eye can start to see the difference here.  The front pumpkin is really starting to look washed out, too bright, and the bicycle wheel looks faded.

800 ISO
Yep, it's just downhill from here.

1600 ISO

3200 ISO

Kind of hurts your eyes at 3200, doesn't it.

Now if you were really taking photos, obviously you could adjust the aperture and/or shutter speed so that a photo at 3200 ISO wouldn't be overexposed like that.  I just wanted to show you how the ISO means that light is perceived differently by the camera sensor.  

Most camera have an automatic setting for ISO.  If you don't want to guess at what would be an appropriate setting, feel free to start with the Auto mode.  Once you have tested out the Auto mode, you can see which ISO settings you like for any given situation and go from there.

Remember earlier it was mentioned that if you go higher on the ISO setting range, you will have more graininess or noise? Well, check out the example of this graininess at Digital Photography School (cursor down to the photos of the flowers) to see a big difference between 100 ISO and 3200 ISO. Pretty obvious, huh.

Another good thing to note is that most cameras have an option, off of the main menu, to activate 'Noise Reduction' which will help to reduce the graininess found at higher ISO settings.  You might want to figure out where this is on your camera, and toggle it as well.  I have a Nikon and I get to it this way:  Menu/Shooting Menu/Noise Reduction/On.

We're just getting started with series, so if you have ANY questions, please do let me know and I'll do my best to find the answers.  Also if you find this too technical or not technical enough, let me know that too.  :)  Happy snapping.



Etcetorize said...

Thanks Terry! You made this really understandable. I usually just glaze over and zone out when I'm trying to learn this stuff but you made it make sense. I'm looking forward to the rest of the series!

Unknown said...

Good job Terry! Did you use a tripod? I like the 100 ISO too. I need to look at mine. I have only ever turned it up for taking photos inside. I never think of turning it down for over bright photo's outside.

I have never heard of the noise reduction. I will look for it. I have an older Cannon so I am wondering if I don't have one.

Also, I am excited to get to aperture. That one kind of confuses me.:)

Macey said...

ISO is a perfect place to start.
It was one of those things that took me forever to learn but photogs talk about it all the time!

Yvonne@StyleBurb said...

That was easy to understand, Terry. It sounds like I should be using a higher ISO in my dark family room in order to give the camera enough light. Did you use a tripod to take the picturesÉ -- my keyboard is stuck on the French settings and I donèt know how to fix it until the kids come home from school-- so thatés why Iève got all these weird symbols!

Rosemary@villabarnes said...

Great tips, Terry. I love your down to earth, easy to understand, tech talk. You have the perfect visual demonstration too. Now, excuse me, I have to go adjust my eyes after that last shot.

Honey at 2805 said...

Oh, I love photography tips!

Ann from On Sutton Place said...

I am trying to understand ISO and aperture but have to admit that I'm struggling. I need a tutor to sit with me and show me where on my camera all this stuff is. I find that in a bright setting the auto setting doesn't work very well. The pictures come out a bit dark. I bought the Dummies book for my camera and have spent some time looking through it. It's a little more complicated than I thought it would be...I was hoping for exact directions. I'm trying. You are doing a great job already...have a great weekend!

Shani @ said...

Every time I take out my DSLR manual, I want to fall asleep. It's so boring and technical. Your post is inspiring me to take my camera out and stop using Auto Mode!

Rhonda said...

I hopped over from Happy Hour Projects. Just now having the time to look at more blogs. Thank you for this tip. A few weeks ago I played with the ISO setting on my camera and I got the white-out pics but my camera booklet does not explain exactly what it's for. When you explained I was like "duh"- it's so easy! New follower. I also baked acorn squash for the 1st time (just used Kerry Gold and salt) and will try it using your recipe next time.

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