How to Choose the Right ISO for your Digital Photography - Digital Photography School

How to Choose the Right ISO for your Digital Photography

Iso“What ISO is best for my pictures?”

Changing the ISO setting on your camera changes the sensitivity to light of the image sensor inside of it.

The lower number that you select the less sensitive the sensor is to light (and conversely the higher the number the more sensitive it becomes).

This is useful when you’re shooting in different lighting situations – particularly when there’s low light and you might not be able to use a flash (you’d bump up your ISO setting in this case).

The only cost of increasing ISO is that as you do it you’ll notice that the ‘noise’ or ‘grain’ in your shots also begins to increase.

You probably won’t notice this graininess on your images when lookin at them on the LCD on your camera – however when you get them back to your computer they’ll become noticeable with higher ISO settings.

Here’s an example that I’ve used previously with two images taken with exactly the same settings except for the ISO (100 on the left, 3200 on the right).

Iso-100-3200

As a general rule you should choose the lowest ISO possible for smooth and grain-free shots.

6 Questions to Ask to Help Choose the Right ISO

Of course when photographing low light scenes there may be no other alternative so I’d suggest asking yourself some of the following questions when choosing what to set ISO at:

  • Am I hand holding the camera? – when using a tripod you might be able to use a slower shutter speed which would allow you to lower your ISO.
  • Is my subject moving? – if your subject is perfectly still (like when shooting a still life) and where you’re using a tripod you’ll be able to slow your shutter speed and lower ISO.
  • Do I need a big Depth of Field? – If you don’t need a large depth of field you might be able to increase your aperture which allows more light into the camera and will allow you to lower ISO.
  • Can I use some Artificial Light? – using a flash or even switching on a light can help to get more light into your camera – allowing you to decrease your ISO setting.
  • Can I get away with Grain? – sometimes a photo can actually look better with grain. Some photographers love the mood and atmosphere that a little noise can add and will bump up their ISO in the hope of getting it.
  • How big will the image be enlarged? – the reason that noise is not able to be seen on your camera’s LCD is that it is very small. As a result the pixels in the picture are small also and the grain is unable to be seen. It is only when you enlarge the picture on a larger screen or in printing that it becomes noticeable. If you’re only ever going to use the shot in a small size you can probably get away with a higher ISO.

Keep in mind that it’s only when you shoot in a manual or semi-manual mode that you need to change ISO. When you’re in auto mode or one of your camera’s preset modes it will select the lowest one that it can for you.

A Word Of Warning on Changing ISO

Also keep in mind that if you change ISO that you will need to get in the habit of checking what setting is selected at the start of every photo shoot.

Many photographers have been disappointed at the end of a shoot to find that they’d forgotten to check what ISO setting they’d left their camera on in their last shoot. There’s nothing worse than thinking you’re shooting at an ISO of 100 only to find you forgot to switch it back from 1600.

To help with this always check your ISO setting before starting to shoot – but also try to always switch it back after a shoot.

Have Your Say

Do you change ISO settings much in your photography or rely upon auto mode?

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • http://myworldmylens.aminus3.com/ Stunner

    Good info in this post. I usually leave my camera in Auto ISO, however, I am thinking of keeping it preset at 100 until I need a higher ISO.

  • kpburd

    Excellent article and I learned a lot from the comments. Thanks to everybody. Aslo, like Low Han Yew, I would like to know how to get those sharp moon shots on a clear night.

  • Manish Sanga

    Very very basic and handy tips thanx for the layman descriptions..

  • ALOKE KUMAR BASU

    THESE TIPS FOR SELECTING ISO FOR DIFFERENT SHOOTING CONDITIONS ARE VERY USEFUL AND I ALWAYS CHECK THE ISO SETTING IN MY P90 NIKON COOLPIX WHENEVER I DO SHOOTING. ANYWAY, I FELT THAT ISO 100 SHOULD WORK VERY NICE IN ALL SHOOTING CONDITIONS EXCEPT THAT YOU ARE NOT ABLE TO SEE YOUR SUBJECT THROUGH THE VIEW FINDER !!!!!!!!!

  • yousef

    very useful tips.thank you. I’ve always been afraid of raising my ISO during photography and tried to keep it at 100, in order to prevent noise in my photos.But I see a lot of very good photos on websites and photography forums that have been shot at surprisingly high ISO numbers.I was wondering if I should give up my habit and try higher ISOs hereafter.Your tips encourages me to do this.

  • andres

    hey thanks for the tips, I have a digital camera, and I didn’t know how to use the manual settings, now I’ve been improving my picts, each time I see your articles I learn more things, Thank you very much

  • terra

    To shoot the moon use 1/250 at f8 with 100 ISO on manual exposure mode

  • http://www.msE1ove.multiply.com Laarni

    Same thing.

    Thank you for all the tips…coming here in DPS is such a big help for me for improvement. I learn a lot of things too…thank you for sharing all these.

    :)

  • Stefan

    we’ll ill be damn, never knew ISO was for quility, now it explains more =)

  • BL

    i usually switch my ISO to auto when i’m done. that way, if i forget to change, it won’t be as big a difference than leaving it at 1600.

  • http://www.onesixtieth.com Seth

    What about the opposite? Is there too low of an ISO? My question is based on this scenario.

    Shooting outdoor
    Sunny or Bright overcast
    Environmental Portraits

    What is the optimal ISO? Does the focal length of your lens make a difference on what ISO you should use?

  • Aman

    hey..this is d great information..i m looking 4 a new camera…n m gathering information about technical points…so thankx alot dps n all…

  • Victorino D. Tablang Jr.

    i got canon 60d, what if i just set to auto my ISO, is this better so i don’t have to set it everytime i shoot?

  • Enujhskie

    i want to buy camera lens for my canon 60d, is there any suggestion for all in one or at least two lenses need to alternate depends what to shoot?

  • Enujhskie

    …and if i just set my ISO into auto for my canon 60D, is this better for not making any adjustment everytime you shoot?

  • http://www.designthirtytwo.com Niyi

    Great tips. I was beginning to get confused using ISO settings on my camera.

  • http://www.antiagingreference.com anti aging cream

    i like 100Watt audio amplifiers because they deliver great bass and some sort of punch,,                   

  • http://alltech-n-edu.blogspot.com/ mynamegb

    amazing post….today I actually got to know the purpose of ISO setting..

  • CCC

    How to Choose the Right ISO for my digital Camera

    Thank you for the information. Your tips are relative and have immediate operable application.
    Learning how to think before caption of images are important and I have become better as an
    image creator. I understand ISO relation to the Exposure Triangle.

    Your article has given me a mild-stone towards the importance of knowing my equipment and
    knowing it well. Thank you for this valuable information.

    Sincerely,

    CCC

  • Denise

    I want to try to figure out how to take great pictures at a football game don’t know what i need to do I have
    a canon sx10 they are all so blurry and I guess I’m dumb because don’t know how to take a picture from
    my picture storage and add url

  • Joshua

    The picture says it all! What a difference, wow. I’m trying to figure out why my new Canon Powershot Elph 100 HS sucks.The pics look gorgeous on the LCD but then on the computer they’re so grainy. I’m guessing it’s ISO, so I’ll try experimenting. Now, if only I could figure out why they insist on making the d*mned LCD extra contrasty, extra vivid/saturated, so that I’m basically “shooting blind” because I have no idea what my photos will look like. Also, dunno why it’s (when I put them on the computer) adding all these reddish tones to everything. It totally ruins all my pictures! I guess ISO can’t explain that? Very frustrated person here, but this ISO info helped, at least.

  • Gdaiva1

    Thank you soo much for clear explanations on the basics, but confusing stuff!
    I can’t tell how many times I have read about ISO, Aperture, shutter and couldn’t grasp, now I just discovered your site from flickr yesterday and getting together in my head what its all means.

  • http://www.fascinating-travel-destinations.com Gail

    I am curious that no one mentions using automatic ISO settings to avoid problems of forgetting to readjust. Is there a reason for this? I do find when travelling that it is easy to forget to change things, or sometimes you have to take a shot quickly….with not a lot of time to adjust the camera.

    Is there a problem with leaving the ISO setting on automatic? I do want good quality photos which go on my websites and am hoping to look at Stock photos although I have a G9 Canon not a full DSLR.

  • Larry Reedman

    I use a Pentax K7 and have set the default ISO to 100. I can change the ISO at any time during my shoot but when the camera is powered off/on the default of 100 ISO is always selected.
    This default can be set to any ISO value.
    Isn’t this feature available on other brand cameras?

  • Franssales

    It is not surprising that people are confused of the use of ISO. Even writers tend to talk of “adjusting ISO” when they set the sensitivity, even though they do not “adjust meter/feet” when they focus to some distance.

  • namrah

    hey i realy liked your articles. i like to do photography and the problem is i cant get the right photo. i tried using iso but i didn’t know how it worked. thanks to you i will know now. my camera when taking pictures with low or high iso takes time to process and that makes my images blurred because either i move or subject starts moving. help needed here

  • http://www.andydixonphotography.co.uk Andy

    I’ve just received some prints that have come through that are suffering with high iso issues and noise/grain, really disappointed as this was my girlfriends daughters birthday and three shots that i thought were free of this were in fact noisy! been reading some of the tips on here which I’m going to practice practice and more practice! i too have done a shoot and forgot to reset the settings!

  • Vicky

    “Also keep in mind that if you change ISO that you will need to get in the habit of checking what setting is selected at the start of every photo shoot.”

    This is a great tip. I recently did a family Christmas shoot and failed to keep my ISO in mind. I had changed it for a previous shoot and wound up with ultra-grainy family images! Such a disappointment, but I guess my lesson has been learned.

    Thanks for all of the great information and tips, Darren. Everytime I Google a camera question or issue, I can always count on finding a great article by you/ on your website!

  • Nickey

    Hello. I have recently gone into photography. i have got a nikon d5100 18-105mm. my ISO is always in auto. Should i take it off auto? Im finding it so confusing to understand my camera. can someone help me please

  • Christine

    Thank you for this article! I’ve always wanted to find out what ISO is… and I’ve often left out adjusting the ISO while taking photos, never realising how important it is for image quality. Now I realise how important it is! Now my photos won’t be as grainy. :) Thanks again!

  • http://lensadangrafik.blogspot.com/ azranx

    To nickey,
    I use d5100 too.About ISO, better to set it manually and use Aperture mood since we must use ISO for it best for.For an example,in bright day use lowest iso-100, moderate use iso800 and dimmer use iso1600 but its depend on type of subject and vary from situation to another.ISO must be to follow a shutter speed.When you shoot fast moving subject, shutter speed must be enough to freeze the action. So if you get slower shutter speed say around 1/200s iso100 while shooting sport events, iso must be up to iso400 to get 1/600s.But, if 1/600s not enough, iso need to be up more.It can be a bit difficult at the beginning but when you master it, you will like it very much.Now you can choose what iso to use not your camera.And remember, lower iso leads to slower shutter speed and you will get blurred photo.A little noise is far better than blurry image!
    If you afraid of high iso, look here to love it http://www.flickr.com/photos/57585557@N06/9046919968/ or type azranx flickr in google.

  • OC Guy

    Great post. I just got a Sony Nex 6 and am trying to figure out how to use the manual modes. This site is just what I was looking for. Now on to the other two sides of the triangle

  • Avinash

    Very nice article, i’ve tried it on my sony’s digital camera and i find the results good now. previously i used to bump up on a higher ISO not knowing what it was but now after reading this article i’ve got a good grip on my photography.

  • http://adhocspace.com.sg/ Coral

    My partner and I absolutely love your blog and find many of your post’s to be what precisely I’m looking for.

    can you offer guest writers to write content for yourself? I wouldn’t mind composing a post or elaborating on a lot of the subjects you write in relation to here. Again, awesome blog!

  • Antara Kundu

    Quite a helpful post for beginners like me, Darren. Thanks. One question – if I shoot outdoor in bright daylight with a high ISO setting (say, 1600) – will it have any effect on the image (say, color saturation etc.) other than increasing the noise?

  • Johan Bauwens

    If you have taken indoor pics at Iso 1600 and go outside (and it’s a bright day) and forget to switch to Iso 100, you’d get pics at f 22 or a shutter speed of 1/2000th of a second, and that should ring a bell.

  • bigdeli

    Thank you for your useful article. I enjoyed this article very much. Thank you for useful information.
    ???????? ???? ???? ?????-??? ??? ???? ???-??? ??? ?????? ???? ???

  • himanshu pengawala

    I HAVE PROBLEM WITH FOCUS POINT IN WEDDING FUNCTION
    I NOMALY USE CENTER FOCUS POINT,MANY PICTURE GON OUT OF FOCUS,IN MULTY FOCUS IN GROUP PHOTO ALSO GON OUT FOCUS. PLS TELL ME ALSO PROPER ISO IN BOUNCED PHOTOGRAPHY . I USE GENERALLY 1000 ISO IN BOUNCED PHOTOGRAPHY WITH HALOGEN LIGHT.

    PLS… HELP ME

  • Roger Clark

    Changing ISO does NOT change the sensitivity of the sensor to light. ISO only changes post sensor gain. Only exposure time and lens aperture change the actual amount of light recorded by the camera. There are deep implications to this, especially in extreme photography, like in night and low light photography.

    Search for: ISO does not change sensitivity
    see the article on clarkvision for plenty of details.

Some older comments

  • Antara Kundu

    September 11, 2013 10:54 pm

    Quite a helpful post for beginners like me, Darren. Thanks. One question - if I shoot outdoor in bright daylight with a high ISO setting (say, 1600) - will it have any effect on the image (say, color saturation etc.) other than increasing the noise?

  • Coral

    August 16, 2013 04:47 pm

    My partner and I absolutely love your blog and find many of your post's to be what precisely I'm looking for.

    can you offer guest writers to write content for yourself? I wouldn't mind composing a post or elaborating on a lot of the subjects you write in relation to here. Again, awesome blog!

  • Avinash

    July 21, 2013 04:46 pm

    Very nice article, i've tried it on my sony's digital camera and i find the results good now. previously i used to bump up on a higher ISO not knowing what it was but now after reading this article i've got a good grip on my photography.

  • OC Guy

    July 2, 2013 04:39 am

    Great post. I just got a Sony Nex 6 and am trying to figure out how to use the manual modes. This site is just what I was looking for. Now on to the other two sides of the triangle

  • azranx

    June 23, 2013 03:29 am

    To nickey,
    I use d5100 too.About ISO, better to set it manually and use Aperture mood since we must use ISO for it best for.For an example,in bright day use lowest iso-100, moderate use iso800 and dimmer use iso1600 but its depend on type of subject and vary from situation to another.ISO must be to follow a shutter speed.When you shoot fast moving subject, shutter speed must be enough to freeze the action. So if you get slower shutter speed say around 1/200s iso100 while shooting sport events, iso must be up to iso400 to get 1/600s.But, if 1/600s not enough, iso need to be up more.It can be a bit difficult at the beginning but when you master it, you will like it very much.Now you can choose what iso to use not your camera.And remember, lower iso leads to slower shutter speed and you will get blurred photo.A little noise is far better than blurry image!
    If you afraid of high iso, look here to love it http://www.flickr.com/photos/57585557@N06/9046919968/ or type azranx flickr in google.

  • Christine

    April 27, 2013 10:31 am

    Thank you for this article! I've always wanted to find out what ISO is... and I've often left out adjusting the ISO while taking photos, never realising how important it is for image quality. Now I realise how important it is! Now my photos won't be as grainy. :) Thanks again!

  • Nickey

    April 14, 2013 07:41 pm

    Hello. I have recently gone into photography. i have got a nikon d5100 18-105mm. my ISO is always in auto. Should i take it off auto? Im finding it so confusing to understand my camera. can someone help me please

  • Vicky

    January 12, 2013 07:17 am

    "Also keep in mind that if you change ISO that you will need to get in the habit of checking what setting is selected at the start of every photo shoot."

    This is a great tip. I recently did a family Christmas shoot and failed to keep my ISO in mind. I had changed it for a previous shoot and wound up with ultra-grainy family images! Such a disappointment, but I guess my lesson has been learned.

    Thanks for all of the great information and tips, Darren. Everytime I Google a camera question or issue, I can always count on finding a great article by you/ on your website!

  • Andy

    October 1, 2012 08:49 pm

    I've just received some prints that have come through that are suffering with high iso issues and noise/grain, really disappointed as this was my girlfriends daughters birthday and three shots that i thought were free of this were in fact noisy! been reading some of the tips on here which I'm going to practice practice and more practice! i too have done a shoot and forgot to reset the settings!

  • namrah

    May 28, 2012 06:19 pm

    hey i realy liked your articles. i like to do photography and the problem is i cant get the right photo. i tried using iso but i didn't know how it worked. thanks to you i will know now. my camera when taking pictures with low or high iso takes time to process and that makes my images blurred because either i move or subject starts moving. help needed here

  • Franssales

    March 24, 2012 03:15 am

    It is not surprising that people are confused of the use of ISO. Even writers tend to talk of "adjusting ISO" when they set the sensitivity, even though they do not "adjust meter/feet" when they focus to some distance.

  • Larry Reedman

    November 24, 2011 07:02 pm

    I use a Pentax K7 and have set the default ISO to 100. I can change the ISO at any time during my shoot but when the camera is powered off/on the default of 100 ISO is always selected.
    This default can be set to any ISO value.
    Isn't this feature available on other brand cameras?

  • Gail

    November 19, 2011 12:14 pm

    I am curious that no one mentions using automatic ISO settings to avoid problems of forgetting to readjust. Is there a reason for this? I do find when travelling that it is easy to forget to change things, or sometimes you have to take a shot quickly....with not a lot of time to adjust the camera.

    Is there a problem with leaving the ISO setting on automatic? I do want good quality photos which go on my websites and am hoping to look at Stock photos although I have a G9 Canon not a full DSLR.

  • Gdaiva1

    September 20, 2011 11:19 am

    Thank you soo much for clear explanations on the basics, but confusing stuff!
    I can't tell how many times I have read about ISO, Aperture, shutter and couldn't grasp, now I just discovered your site from flickr yesterday and getting together in my head what its all means.

  • Joshua

    September 12, 2011 11:44 am

    The picture says it all! What a difference, wow. I'm trying to figure out why my new Canon Powershot Elph 100 HS sucks.The pics look gorgeous on the LCD but then on the computer they're so grainy. I'm guessing it's ISO, so I'll try experimenting. Now, if only I could figure out why they insist on making the d*mned LCD extra contrasty, extra vivid/saturated, so that I'm basically "shooting blind" because I have no idea what my photos will look like. Also, dunno why it's (when I put them on the computer) adding all these reddish tones to everything. It totally ruins all my pictures! I guess ISO can't explain that? Very frustrated person here, but this ISO info helped, at least.

  • Denise

    September 8, 2011 08:14 am

    I want to try to figure out how to take great pictures at a football game don't know what i need to do I have
    a canon sx10 they are all so blurry and I guess I'm dumb because don't know how to take a picture from
    my picture storage and add url

  • CCC

    August 12, 2011 11:39 am

    How to Choose the Right ISO for my digital Camera

    Thank you for the information. Your tips are relative and have immediate operable application.
    Learning how to think before caption of images are important and I have become better as an
    image creator. I understand ISO relation to the Exposure Triangle.

    Your article has given me a mild-stone towards the importance of knowing my equipment and
    knowing it well. Thank you for this valuable information.

    Sincerely,

    CCC

  • mynamegb

    August 3, 2011 04:58 am

    amazing post....today I actually got to know the purpose of ISO setting..

  • anti aging cream

    July 7, 2011 09:20 pm

    i like 100Watt audio amplifiers because they deliver great bass and some sort of punch,,                   

  • Niyi

    February 28, 2011 09:46 pm

    Great tips. I was beginning to get confused using ISO settings on my camera.

  • Enujhskie

    February 4, 2011 08:48 am

    ...and if i just set my ISO into auto for my canon 60D, is this better for not making any adjustment everytime you shoot?

  • Enujhskie

    February 4, 2011 08:46 am

    i want to buy camera lens for my canon 60d, is there any suggestion for all in one or at least two lenses need to alternate depends what to shoot?

  • Victorino D. Tablang Jr.

    February 4, 2011 08:42 am

    i got canon 60d, what if i just set to auto my ISO, is this better so i don't have to set it everytime i shoot?

  • Aman

    January 18, 2011 11:39 pm

    hey..this is d great information..i m looking 4 a new camera...n m gathering information about technical points...so thankx alot dps n all...

  • Seth

    November 10, 2010 02:01 am

    What about the opposite? Is there too low of an ISO? My question is based on this scenario.

    Shooting outdoor
    Sunny or Bright overcast
    Environmental Portraits

    What is the optimal ISO? Does the focal length of your lens make a difference on what ISO you should use?

  • BL

    August 18, 2010 09:02 am

    i usually switch my ISO to auto when i'm done. that way, if i forget to change, it won't be as big a difference than leaving it at 1600.

  • Stefan

    July 28, 2010 09:20 pm

    we'll ill be damn, never knew ISO was for quility, now it explains more =)

  • Laarni

    May 5, 2010 05:46 am

    Same thing.

    Thank you for all the tips...coming here in DPS is such a big help for me for improvement. I learn a lot of things too...thank you for sharing all these.

    :)

  • terra

    April 13, 2010 03:43 am

    To shoot the moon use 1/250 at f8 with 100 ISO on manual exposure mode

  • andres

    March 28, 2010 02:54 am

    hey thanks for the tips, I have a digital camera, and I didn't know how to use the manual settings, now I've been improving my picts, each time I see your articles I learn more things, Thank you very much

  • yousef

    November 30, 2009 08:58 pm

    very useful tips.thank you. I've always been afraid of raising my ISO during photography and tried to keep it at 100, in order to prevent noise in my photos.But I see a lot of very good photos on websites and photography forums that have been shot at surprisingly high ISO numbers.I was wondering if I should give up my habit and try higher ISOs hereafter.Your tips encourages me to do this.

  • ALOKE KUMAR BASU

    November 23, 2009 02:14 am

    THESE TIPS FOR SELECTING ISO FOR DIFFERENT SHOOTING CONDITIONS ARE VERY USEFUL AND I ALWAYS CHECK THE ISO SETTING IN MY P90 NIKON COOLPIX WHENEVER I DO SHOOTING. ANYWAY, I FELT THAT ISO 100 SHOULD WORK VERY NICE IN ALL SHOOTING CONDITIONS EXCEPT THAT YOU ARE NOT ABLE TO SEE YOUR SUBJECT THROUGH THE VIEW FINDER !!!!!!!!!

  • Manish Sanga

    November 2, 2009 09:29 pm

    Very very basic and handy tips thanx for the layman descriptions..

  • kpburd

    September 27, 2009 10:24 am

    Excellent article and I learned a lot from the comments. Thanks to everybody. Aslo, like Low Han Yew, I would like to know how to get those sharp moon shots on a clear night.

  • Stunner

    July 31, 2009 01:33 pm

    Good info in this post. I usually leave my camera in Auto ISO, however, I am thinking of keeping it preset at 100 until I need a higher ISO.

  • Gilligan8

    July 27, 2009 05:31 pm

    Yes... ISO on DSLR's should be considered as GAIN... it doesn't make the sensor more sensative but ups the gain (amplification). The "grain" is noise... it's caused because you are cranking up the gain... same thing as turning an audio amplifier up and the noise floor comes up and becomes more audible. Same principle.

    Granted, 3200 is VERY clean considering how much gain is added! If I do that on my video camera (dvx100a) I get a WHOLE lot more noise (it gets ugly.)

  • E3Photog

    June 15, 2009 11:09 pm

    Hmmmm.....methinks the sensor has a fixed sensitivity; upping the ISO merely kicks in light amplification. For example, if you look through a military "night vision" scope, your eyes are not being made more sensitive, rather, the device amplifies any existing light to enable the user to see more.

  • James

    May 17, 2009 12:08 pm

    Thanks a lot for all the tips Darren, more power!

  • alwaves

    April 26, 2009 10:23 pm

    ISO setting does help a lot in augmenting low light situation whenever flash isn't possible.

  • Enrique Fajardo

    February 18, 2009 02:13 pm

    Im into underwater digital photography. Just started 2 months ago. I have a canon G9 point and shoot. And would like to try Manual mode to get better colors. Any suggestions? Thank You!

  • John in Fircrest

    January 18, 2009 02:56 am

    How to choose the right ISO was a great help. I recently went to norther Washington for an Eagle shoot and my photos did not turn out. I was realy bummed out. I so wanted to get some great photos for my walls.
    The Eagles did there job but I did not do mine. I was not thinking about my settings. I just shot away.
    I will read more of your writtings.

    Thanks

  • Abdullah

    November 9, 2008 05:41 am

    I think its great feature in DSLRs. you can up ISO to 200-400 in outdoor sports to achieve higher shutter speeds.
    And also required in low light, even with fast, IS-lens.

  • red

    August 12, 2008 06:46 am

    I have had too many times that I have shot a night soccer game and then started shooting the next day at an 800 or even a 1600 ISO to get night action shots. I now have the habit of always setting the camera back to 100. I then always know where I'm starting from.

  • airbrushjohn

    July 25, 2008 11:01 pm

    i change iso often, and yes i have blown out some images! hahahaha, but i'm old and forget easily. i shoot alot of sports, and sometimes it can be cloudy, then 5 minutes later, its full sun light! since i shoot aperture mode, iso is my best friend! awesome post! and very informative!

  • aLiTa

    July 25, 2008 07:30 pm

    I usually have my ISO at it's lowest. I'm quite steady, so I can go with longer exposers than most people, when shooting free-hand (is that the correct term?).

    I only bump up my ISO when I can't reach enough exposure when fiddling with app. & shutter speed.

    I like noise on certain pics, but I'm one of those people who like to add it in post-production, just to be on the safe side

  • Low Han Yew

    July 25, 2008 06:43 pm

    Good tips. I use a Canon Ixus 950 IS, but I do fiddle with the ISO according to different kinds of lighting. Normally, I use higher ISO and longer shutter time in dark places.

    I never knew about the grain effect caused by higher ISO. This is new!

    Has anyone tried shooting the moon under a clear night sky? It's quite hard. Any tip?

  • Cathy

    July 24, 2008 06:40 am

    I am always trying different ISO's. I like to see what looks the best. It is vital to remember to change it back.

  • Prmod

    July 23, 2008 05:46 pm

    I think the Auto-Iso feature in the newer cams is just great as you can set a maximum limit for the ISO when it chooses to go Auto. i use it effectively depending on the surroundings (Max Auto-ISO set to 1600 in case of Photogrpahy in night clubs and then changed and notched down to 400 in case of outdoor photography by day/evening)

    I never have to worry usually as the best ISO is picked out automatically by the cam

  • sangesh

    July 22, 2008 03:48 am

    @ nariposa

    thank you

  • Bilka

    July 21, 2008 03:36 am

    @ "Have Your Say - Do you change ISO settings much in your photography or rely upon auto mode?"

    When shooting digital images I change ISO to suit the lighting conditions in concert with the particular assignment and occasionally how "artsy" I want to get with an image. Like the ability to vary the white balance point changing ISO is one of the dream features of digital imaging. ISO change is a tool in digital photography, not a toy. If shooting with my strobe I never change ISO (we used to call it ASA), Fill Flash is a different story because one is balancing nat light against strobes.

    As for the second part of the author's question to us, my advice is to NEVER use the "Auto ISO" mode if it is available on your camera. Turn it off and break off the knob that turns it on so you never even accidentally put it back in the auto mode.

    If one shoots film changing ISO will give disastrous results unless you know what you are doing and do it by design. Don't do it unless you are having your film push or pull processed and keep it at a constant setting from first exposure to the last.

    Bilka

  • geoff

    July 20, 2008 12:04 pm

    I forgot to add:

    Some of the newer DSLR's have a great auto-iso feature, which would be good for achieving a high minimum shutter speed for sports, or a minimum shutter speed for handheld shots. Basically you tell it what the minimum shutter speed you'd like to use, and if the light is not available it will increase the ISO only when necessary. I believe you also give it a high limit in case you cannot afford too much noise, and that it will always default back to the lowest setting when possible.

    (If I have messed up the description above, please correct as necessary)

  • geoff

    July 20, 2008 11:58 am

    I too have made the mistake of leaving ISO high.

    Now, to ensure that all settings are back to default, I normally use the reset buttons before a new shoot. Not sure if all cameras have them, but both of my Nikons do (D50 & D300). If you have a Nikon DSLR, it is the two green dotted buttons, usually far apart so as not to reset by accident.

  • Richard X. Thripp

    July 20, 2008 11:12 am

    I always am fiddling with the ISO speed, trying to keep it as low as I can. I can't recall increasing the ISO to add grain, and I usually remember to reset it after shooting in the dark now.

    I'd also add that grain becomes a lot more visible when you add contrast in post-production. A photo that looks fine before editing can look awful once you've livened it up. Noise removal software has come along way, so you can blur the noise out without losing much detail. I use Noiseware, but Noise Ninja is great too.

  • nariposa

    July 20, 2008 05:10 am

    @sangesh

    There is no rule of thumb. You could be in the same conditions, and on three different cameras, you would need three different ISO, shutter, and aperture settings.

    I have a Kit lens with my Nikon D60, and a lens I bought specifically for low light shots called the Nikkor 50mm f1.8. With the Kit lens, I have to use high ISO just to get something visible. With the 50mm f1.8, which is designed to let in more light, I can use much lower ISO.

    The way I do it is this, for average to low light:

    1. Go to aperture priority manual mode ("A" on Nikon)
    2. Set aperture to lowest number possible (f.18)
    3. Set ISO to lowest number possible (ISO 100)
    4. Let the camera automatically pick the shutter speed
    5. Check the result. Usually it's too blurry and more bright than it needs to be. Note what shutter speed the camera picked (usually it's too slow for people, like half a second).
    6. Now go into full manual mode ("M" on Nikon), and slowly increase the shutter speed from that until people aren't too blurry. Then if needed slowly increase the ISO until the picture is not so dark.

    Tip: It's ok if pics are a *little bit* dark, I increase exposure in photoshop later.
    Tip: ISO 1600 and higher looks like crap. Avoid.

    This is what I do for parties and concerts. As the article said, if you're taking pictures of still objects, just use a tripod, then you don't have to worry about any of this (just use ISO 100 and a long shutter speed).

  • carol browne

    July 20, 2008 03:45 am

    I try different ISO settings all the time when I take pictures. I'll try a bunch of different shots with different ISOs so I can choose the best out of the bunch later on. With practise, I'm getting better at finding the best ISO for different situations.

  • Eric

    July 20, 2008 02:29 am

    I don't have an SLR, I shoot with a canon powershot S5. I've recently gotten into shooting exclusively in the manual mode. I set the ISO as low as possible, which for some nature photography or macros is down to 80. Otherwise I try to stay below 400 because noise is really noticeable with this camera. I can go up to 1600, but the only situation recently that prompted me to do that was photographing dark nasty clouds without a tripod.

  • Amit

    July 19, 2008 11:57 pm

    I always set the ISO to the lowest possible. I start with the ISO 80 for bright conditions and 100 or 200 for darker condition and then increase it if required. But I hardy shoot at ISO 400 and above.
    For tricky light condition I usually select the aperture priority mode and then adjust the aperture and ISO to get the right exposure, leaving the shutter speed to the camera to decided.

  • Mark Greenmantle

    July 19, 2008 11:24 pm

    I'm very comfortable shooting at ISO6400 and above now as the Nikon D3 handles noise so damn well. I only use that insane ISO 25600 level when absolutely desperate for captures handheld in abysmal light.

    I still have learned to check the ISO on the back lcd before every shoot though. While the D3 has a brilliant dynamic range, overexposure freaks me out more than noise.

  • Ryan

    July 19, 2008 08:55 pm

    I mostly rely on my Canon EOS 40D's auto mode. On rare occasions, though, when I know I'll be cropping a shot later in PP, I'd set a low ISO to avoid digital grains, or noise if you will.

    Of course when I'm shooting in manual mode, I set the ISO myself. It wouldn't be real manual mode if I wouldn't, would it? :)

  • sangesh

    July 19, 2008 03:12 pm

    most of the tips are known, but i wish if some one post, how to choose ISO, in what condition which ISO is good at what sutterspeed. I am in learning phase and i have trouble with selecting iso, sutter speed adn aperture. IT wold have been great if some one with example show the relation of these 3 at very low light. eg. 60 watt bulb glowing room, full moon outdoor etc.

  • Jon

    July 19, 2008 01:31 pm

    i have always try to shoot in the lowest POSSIBLE ISO setting. If you want noise, you can always add it in photoshop...

  • frombrandon

    July 19, 2008 10:07 am

    I've had to force myself to get into the habit of changing my ISO back to an average setting before putting the camera away. I have ruined too many shots by forgetting to remember to do it before shooting.

    I also have had a hard time learning to remember I have the ISO option. I am too eager to reset the aperture or shutter speed that I don't even consider changing the ISO to help. I'm getting it, though. I'm getting it...

  • Pete

    July 19, 2008 05:48 am

    I always shoot low ISO. I just fear noise. I didn't realize my problem with noise when I wasn't checking ISO and ever since I've got it dialed down. I'd rather have a darker image, or set the camera on something rather than having a brighter image with a bunch of noise. When I'm not going artsy it's just annoying to me.

    If I want some artistic noise I'll take it into Adobe ® Photoshop ® Software.

  • Nate

    July 19, 2008 03:44 am

    Sweet. This post just reminded me to change my custom WB before shooting today! Whew.

    And, yeah, I've left it at a high ISO once... haven't forgotten since. Also, I think it helps that I shoot in Manual, as I'm more likely to sporadically check the ISO, too.

  • Pete Langlois

    July 19, 2008 01:09 am

    I can remember not too long ago I was shooting a prom and was doing some low light indoor shots and I forgot to change the ISO from 800 to 200 when I went outside. The pictures came out ok but I was kicking myself. I try to shoot everything at 200 or 400 on my Nikon D50

    http://www.petelanglois.net

  • Chris Osborne

    July 19, 2008 12:59 am

    Once school starts (and the newspaper season with it) I leave the ISO at 1600 since that's what I'll use most often. I can live with shooting a flower at 1600 wen I wanted 100 more than trying to shoot volleyball at 100 when I wanted 1600.

  • Joy Luna

    October 19, 2007 10:08 pm

    thank you very much for the tip. Now I'm less confused.

  • Mark

    June 15, 2007 11:57 am

    cool said :)

  • tinnitus photography

    April 29, 2007 01:15 am

    @pbean:

    yes, increasing the ISO does increase the sensor's sensitivity to light, so that allows you to close the aperture or drop shutter speed accordingly (or, in reality, to let you get an acceptable handhold shutter speed). the higher the sensor gain, the more susceptible to noise, though this does vary from camera to camera, and sensor to sensor (you should see ISO 1600 and even 3200 shots taken w/ a Canon 5D...).

  • pbean

    February 24, 2007 04:58 am

    Does changing ISO actually change the sensitivity of the image sensor? Seems more likely that it just changes the exposure. In other words, setting a higher ISO raises the shutter speed, reduces the apeture, or both so as to let less light hit the sensor. Or am I missing something about digital sensor function? Thanks.

  • malcolm way

    February 20, 2007 02:22 pm

    does putting filters on your lens help with clearer pictures as what i find that when i take landscape shots they just seam to be lacking clarity , even when i ajust
    ISO etc camera is a canon 400

  • David Gaunt

    February 18, 2007 08:57 am

    Using both the Canon 30D and 5D and L-glass lenses, we find that we can routinely shoot at ISO 1600 if we process the images using Imagenomic NoiseWare Professional plug-in for Photoshop CS2. When printed in sizes as large as 17 x 22 using an Epson 3800 Pro printer and the ColorBurst RIP, any noise is essentially undectable in the prints without any noticable degradation of the image detail.

  • Lau

    February 17, 2007 09:13 am

    I realy enjoied reading this article because it uses a much simple way to explain things. In other words, it makes things easyer for beginers. But a corelation betwen the ISO numbers and the answers to those question will be even more helpfull like i sayed here: http://www.photoaxe.com/how-to-choose-the-right-iso-for-your-digital-photography/

  • HAL

    February 16, 2007 11:58 pm

    Great- You cleared up a big question mark when it comes to setting ISO with today's sophisticated Digital cameras

  • Mike

    February 16, 2007 07:44 am

    There a few golden rules to remember when shooting in different photographic climates. Sport for example. I still use ISO 400, even for bright daylight when shooting soccer and baseball...the results are excellent. Yet at the end of the game and using fill in flash, I go back down to 100 to 200 iso. Experiment as much as possible, WITH the camera and lenses you regularly use, to see what works for you.

  • Ben Husband

    February 16, 2007 06:16 am

    I work for a small newspaper and in the winter i shoot a lot of indoor sports (hockey, volley ball). I need to use a fast shutter speed to freeze the action but the lighting is usually so dim so i find myself cranking up the iso alot. How do you know how to balance iso with what you will be able to do in photoshop later. Which adds more noise, a high iso or playing with levels and whatnot in photoshop?

  • ShaolinTiger

    February 15, 2007 04:58 pm

    Yah I found that a problem with the interface of my old D70s, it didn't show ISO in the viewfinder or on the top LCD, so I found myself sometimes wrongly shooting the whole day at ISO800 from the previous night.

    Noise Ninja and Neat Image are pretty good though.

    I did an article on ISO a while back:

    What is ISO or ASA - Camera/Film Sensitivity AKA Filmspeed

  • Mike

    February 14, 2007 07:24 pm

    Great article, I too have suffered the embaressment of having done a whole shoot on ISO 3200, it was a wedding and the internal shots had to be flashless, so I bumped the ISO, then forgot to drop it down again!

    I used a bit of software called "Noise Ninja" which was amazing it cleaning everything up - it's not a replacement for actually shooting at the right ISO in the first place, but it helped me out.

    Since then, I've painted "CHECK ISO" just below the viewfinder - making sure it never happens again!

  • Bill

    February 14, 2007 01:22 pm

    When photographing the Light Parade at Disneyland,I was disappointed to find that there were streetlights and other object that interfered with the shots at 400 ASA. The following night I returned and shot the entire parade at ASA 3200 and found the results were startling to say the least. The lights and the characters on the floats were captured against a near black background - as if they were floating!

  • matt

    February 14, 2007 11:47 am

    Having recently gone through a similar faux pas of leaving my camera on a high ISO setting then finding a day of shooting at a hard-to-reach location had been spoilt, i started looking at ways of solving the calamity in post-production.

    There's a couple of solutions out there, but all can help salvage that ruined photo into a more friendly state. I've been playing around with a free tool called ND Noise with some very peasing results. Other tools can be found with a google search for 'Noise Reduction Software' or something similar.

    One large review of such tools can be found at: http://www.michaelalmond.com/Articles/noise.htm

  • ROB

    February 14, 2007 08:39 am

    Totally agree with Eric, there has only been one instance I have been happy with the end result when I had accidentally left the ISO high.

    When starting for the day I now always check the ISO, and the exposure compensation.

    This also applies if I have been inside a building/ cave/ tunnel, etc and then come out into the sunshine to start shooting different scenes.

  • janantha

    February 14, 2007 08:37 am

    Nice tips! i already knew some of them though! :) , ive seen many firework shots which looks good but have lot of noise!

  • Vicki at Catching Light

    February 14, 2007 07:47 am

    Great information. I really enjoy your blog. I read it everyday but don't always have time to comment.

  • Eric

    February 14, 2007 06:55 am

    I don't think I can agree with the last sentiment enough - I can't tell you how many times I've forgotten to check my ISO and then kicked myself when I discovered that my camera was at ISO 400 or 800 for a whole shoot.

    On the bright side, Photoshop can do a pretty good job of clearing up the graininess, though you lose detail when you do that.

    My advice is to get in the habit of putting the camera back at a low ISO when you're done shooting; you can't trust yourself to remember to do it before the next shoot.

  • mike

    February 14, 2007 04:42 am

    Very good tips. I have had that happen, a great shoot, great lighting, still camera and objects, eprfect for lower ISOS and did the whole thing on ISO 1600, I was really upset about that.

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