Sunday, January 19, 2014

Photography:What are my Camera ISO settings for?

      Let's chat about your camera ISO settings today.

     What does ISO stand for?

     International Standards Organization.  I'm sorry, what?   Exactly.  It doesn't really pertain to understanding your camera settings at all, so if you want, just forget about that.

     Next question:  What does it mean?
     Answer:  sensitivity

    Let's take you back to  the "old days" of using film.  Just a mere ten years ago we were phasing out film cameras and converting to digital.  Remember when you went to the store and the most common choices were 200,400 and 800 film?  Chances are you didn't understand what it meant so you picked the middle speed assuming that was the safest option.

     When using film, it meant film speed.   The film's sensitivity to light.  In our current world, it means sensitivity to the image sensor.  The "sensitivity" functions the same whether you are using film or digital.  
     Lower numbers (like 100 or 400) mean less light sensitivity.  If you already have an abundance of light, use a lower ISO setting. 
Higher numbers (like 800 or 1600) mean more light sensitivity, if you are in a low lit area, use a higher ISO setting.

     With low ISO settings you have less grain, whereas with high ISO settings, you have more grain.  What is grain?  Grain is sometimes referred to as "noise".  It is a graininess in your image when there is not enough light for an adequate exposure and your image sensor is compensating. 

     My first decision when I set out to photograph is where I want to photograph.  If it is outdoors, my initial question is: Where is the sun?  Will I be photographing in full sun or in a shaded area? Indoors: Where is the light?   I look for window light.  This is essential if you are using natural light and no flash.   I then set my ISO immediately.

     There is an ISO setting on almost every camera that you can set manually, even the smaller versions you can slip into your pocket.  When you have your camera on Auto, the sensor picks your ISO for you.  Sometimes it chooses correctly and sometimes, not so well.  I like control, so I am an advocate of NO Auto!  

     Here are some examples of events where you could push your ISO settings higher:
  • Indoor or evening/night sporting events-your subject may be moving quickly, yet there is limited light available
  • Churches and Birthday parties, Weddings - you are indoors with low lights.  Many establishments do not allow flash

     No flash was used with any of these photos, but the ISO was set high.  All three images were set at an ISO of 1600.  When looking closely at my daughter's skin or in the dark areas of the images, you can see the graininess.

     Some examples:                                 ISO
  •  Full sun, no shade                            100
  • Sunny day, but in open shade         200
  • Overcast day, but out in open         200
  • Sunny day, but in deep shade         400
  • Overcast day, in shade                      400
  • Setting sun                                          600-800
  • Indoors near window light               400
  • Indoors 5-10 ft from window           600-800
  • Indoors low light                                 1200
  • Indoor sporting events                       1200-1600+

If you are indoors, crank up your ISO no matter what, unless you are directly next to a window with great light. 

     Now if you are a visual learner, here are some photo examples:

      I procrastinated and it was dark outside, so I used a ceiling fan light located to the can's left.   I used the same exposure for each image only changing the ISO setting.   

     You can see the first image at ISO 200 is really unacceptable.  It bites.   Not much better with ISO 400 on the second.  The 3rd at ISO 800 is getting better, you can see the image is starting to lighten.  The 4th ISO 1250, 5th ISO 1600 and 6th ISO 2500 get better and better.   The last at ISO 3200 has the best image factor, but as stated earlier the grain increases with the higher the ISO setting.   

     So you can see the higher ISO setting is more sensitive to light.  It's trying to draw in more light to make your image more acceptable, but the draw back is graininess.  The objective is to create an exposure that is somewhere in between.  Decrease grain as much as possible without sacrificing your image.

    Human skin is a great way to show this, but I did not have any volunteers today, because it was lazy Sunday.

     Practice using your ISO settings indoors and outdoors. Keep a journal of your exposures so that when you view them later you can see how much your images change.   By documenting you can always return to those images and remind yourself of how to assess future situations.  It's also a great way to make it stick in your memory.

     Feel free to post your images to my FaceBook Page or email to for this assignment.