Saturday, April 16, 2016

Sunny Smith's Guide to Using Your Camera: ISO

It has been way too long since I wrote a post for the series that helps you understand how to use your camera. Bloggers often struggle to understand how to make the most of their camera, so this series is my attempt to promote some camera literacy by breaking the camera down. Previously we've talked about Shutter Speed, Aperture and today we're talking about ISO, next we'll be talking about white balance! If you haven't read my previous posts, I'd highly recommend it as the different sections build off of each other. Let's get to it!

The ISO (Internal Standards Organization) setting controls the how sensitive your camera is to light. The higher you set your ISO the more sensitive your camera will be resulting in a brighter image. The lower you set your ISO, the darker the picture.

For this comparison I kept my shutter speed and aperture (which also effect the brightness of a photo) the same and only adjusted the ISO, so you could see the full effect. Every camera reacts a bit differently with it's ISO, so I'd suggest running through all your ISO settings while shooting into a lamp like I did above. It will give you a clear scale of what you're working with. This exercise is how I first learned how to manipulate the ISO effectively with my first camera.

So Sunny, you're telling me that all I have to do to get a brighter picture is adjust my ISO? It sounds too good to be true!
That's because it is. Although raising your ISO will give you a brighter picture, it will also give your a grainier picture.

In the examples below I adjusted my shutter speed to keep the pictures relatively similar so you could see the effect of the grain. I was also shooting a a pretty low-light situation, so don't be scared off by the high shutter speeds. Instead look at how much change there is between the different photos and settings. I would recommend clicking the photos to bring up the little shadow box where you can see them larger. You'll be able to see the difference much easier.

So let's recap with a little pro-con list:

Pros of raising your ISO: You'll get a brighter image which can give you the opportunity to use a faster shutter speed (freezing action) or higher aperture (getting more in focus).

Cons of raising your ISO: The higher you go with the ISO the less quality you'll have to work with, making it harder to crop pictures and make edits.

Every photographer has a comfort level of how high they'll go with their ISO. You have to decide how much quality you are willing to risk. When I take pictures for the blog I might go to ISO 1000, because I know the photos aren't going to be blown up, but when I'm shooting portraits or pictures that have the potential to be developed, I'll rarely shoot above ISO 400, maybe ISO 800. You also want to be careful when using the AUTO ISO setting because the camera won't hesitate to bring it up, which might lead to grainer images. You can clean up some of the grain using photo editing software, but it's so much easier (and looks so much better) to just shoot with a lower ISO from the beginning.

Have you played around with the ISO on your camera? Have you had grainy images before? Do you have any other questions about ISO that I didn't cover? Feel free to ask them below. Also, let me know if you're like me to continue doing this series. I'm definetly going to be doing another post on white balance, but would you be interested in a post on composition or using your flash? Let me know all your lovely thoughts and comments below!

Reading: Blue Lilly, Lilly Blue by Maggie Stiefvater
Watching: The 100
Listening: Coldplay


  1. As an aspiring photographer (someday), I loved the information here :)

    1. Happy to help! The best way to be an awesome photographer is to get out there and shoot with whatever camera you have:) Good luck!

      Thanks for visiting SOI!

  2. So that's how it works! My sister is quite the photographer and keeps trying to explain how all this stuff works, but I never could get it. Also, your pictures are gorgeous. I am in awe of your skills.

    1. Awww, thanks! I'm so glad that this helps you understand! It can be hard to teach someone everything they need to know in one go, so I always try to break it down. It also helps to see the examples.

      Good luck with your photos!

  3. This is so interesting! I didn't know this much detail about my camera, but this helps me understand much more. Thank you! ^ ^

    1. Thanks! I wrote this post for people just like you! Hope you have the encouragement to get and experiment with your camera:)

  4. I'll have to go over this series of yours, and see if I can maybe, actually, retain some of this information this time? LOL bc I remember you trying to tell me about this stuff, and it would leave my mind pretty much as soon as you said it. I don't know why it goes over my head; I just can't seem to grasp it! XD

    1. Practice makes perfect! The more you use the camera the easier it gets. Also, I just fake it till I make it most of the time, haha:P

      It might help you retain it b/c it's in writing. Good luck!

  5. These posts are so helpful! I love photography but I do not understand my camera at all. I've always left it on auto *shameful face*. I just haven't experimented enough to be comfortable with choosing my own adjustments. I'm gonna try the ISO today and also look at shutter speed. It's really great how you've put all the photographs together, you can really see the difference!
    I was also wondering what you use to edit your blog photos. Is it photoshop? They always looks so unique and beautiful!
    Marian ^_^


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