Three Uses for High ISO you Might Not Know

Three Uses for High ISO you Might Not Know


You may already know that the ISO setting is used to control your camera’s sensitivity to light. When you use a high ISO setting essentially you are telling your camera to become more receptive to the available light. This is most often used when you are photographing in low light situations in order to maintain a proper exposure. However, there are at least three other reasons you might consider using a high ISO setting when you’re either in a good light situation or on a tripod.

Freezing fast motion

when to us high ISO

Use a high ISO setting to freeze fast motion – 1/8000th ISO 1,000

The only way to freeze fast motion, like the wings of a hummingbird moth, is to shoot with an extremely fast shutter speed. The above photograph was shot with a shutter speed of 1/8000th of a second in order to freeze the insect’s wings. However, even in the bright mid-afternoon sun, a shutter speed that fast required bumping the ISO setting on the camera to 1,000 to maintain an even exposure.

Below, is an example of why shooting at 1/8000th of a second was necessary. Even at 1/800th of a second the insect’s wings were barely visible. In order to ensure that the motion was frozen it meant that more light was needed in a shorter amount of time and the only way to get this (without a faster lens) is to bump up the ISO on the camera.

when to us high ISO-4

ISO 500 1/800th – even at that speed the wings are blurry.

Night sky photography

when to use high ISO 4

Use high ISO to capture the stars

Many different techniques come into play when you want to photographing the stars, but one of the more important things to remember is to increase that ISO setting. The reason you want to photograph the stars with a higher ISO, even though you’re using a tripod, is that as the earth rotates, the stars move across the sky and you don’t want to capture that movement in your photograph (unless you are doing star trails)

By using an ISO in the 800 to 1,000 rang,e with a fast wide-angle lens, you will be able to capture enough stars to fill the sky.  For more on photographing the stars check out: How to Photograph the Stars.

Hand-holding a long lens

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Use high ISO when shooting handheld with a long lens

If you’re shooting handheld with a long lens, you have to remember the shutter speed rule: 1/focal length (35mm equivalent).  This rule basically means that if you’re using a 300mm lens on a 1.5x crop factor DSLR then the minimum or slowest shutter speed that you can use is 1/450 (1/300 on full frame).

The bald eagle above was shot at a 450mm equivalent focal length using a shutter speed of 1/500th of second and an ISO of 1,000. Any slower on the shutter speed and you begin to run the risk of introducing camera shake.

What other uses can you think of for high ISO?

Do you ever shoot with an ISO of 800 or higher? What’s the highest you’ve ever shot? Share with us some examples and of course, if you have any other uses for high ISO that you think I’ve forgotten please share those below as well!

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  • LinFB

    Here it is – maybe.

  • LinFB

    Try again.

  • LinFB

    Shot with a Canon 5D III with 4.0 24-105 lens at 1/200 and ISO 25600, de-noised in LR. The setting was outdoors at night on Halloween. Stage lighting was not exactly robust. Couldn’t use flash. High ISO was essential.

  • Sachin Thite

    Hi ,
    Thanks to this article writter for giving us the use of ISO settings.
    I have taken this shot in the night with higher ISO (800) settings .
    Pl give feed back .


  • Ronald Ellsworth

    Sometimes you have to go extreme ISO. This is taken at 25600 ISO in a dark venue at F2.2. I still think it turned out pretty darn good if I do say so myself.

  • Phase19

    I’d take the 50mm prime lens any day…

  • Phase19

    The determination of ISO speeds with digital still-cameras is described in ISO 12232:2006 (first published in August 1998, revised in April 2006, and corrected in October 2006).

  • PPL

    Other uses : shooting in museums and churches in low light, with no flash or tripod allowed. Plus it keeps the natural lighting, you don’t have the pain to have to control flash or other extra lights. See shot of St-Patrick’s in Dublin.
    Or handheld street photography after sunset.

  • Doug Jerzycke

    I shot this waterfall about two months ago. I like the ethereal feel of flowing water but my wife likes the freeze shots. Shot this at ISO 3200 and 1/8000 on a Canon 50D with the Canon EFS 15-85 mm.

  • Paulo Dias

    Using flash with low battery (emergency situation…)

  • Chitram Banerjee

    I purposefully used the high iso to have the grainy effect in the pic.

  • Sachin

    I feel that higher ISO are also great to cature fog…. Try capturing a landscape filled in with dense fog, with a road and/or a tree in the frame with ISO 6400 or more and see miracle… the grains play an added advantage there …

  • Camera Man

    1600 iso image, I tend to shoot high iso in action settings, this room had very little light.

  • Jebby

    How did you get such a wide depth of field with <f2.9? Should background be blurry?

  • Jebby16

    You have ridiculous shallow depth of field for using f5.6.

  • The Flash

    Jean, how did you get the background lights in focus with an aperture of f2.8?

  • What the…?

    f16…small aperture? How do figure that? Great pic by the way.

  • F/2.8 is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to DOF – The focal length of the lens and distance to your subject and the subject from the background also plays a roll of how in focus it is.

  • Exactly! My focal length was 16mm hence The DOF is huge if the subjet is not to close.

  • Philipp

    One situation I’ve increased my ISO was when I wanted to to capture the lights of a bypassing train at night (with long exposure to create “stripes”). I wanted to include some nightly landscape so I chose a rather narrow apperture. While the picture was nicely exposed the lights of the train remained rather unimpressive (luckily I was shooting at some busy tracks and had only to wait about 10 minutes for another train). To strengthen the effect of the train’s lights I increased the ISO (while speeding up the shutter). The exposure of the landscape remaind of course the same but the lights of the train were much brighter.

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  • tmlakshmi

    High ISO creates grains. How do I remove them.? I like to take shots during a live dance performance. i took this with ISO 1200, F8, distance 135mm. 1.125 shutter speed with the internal flash. I ued Nikon D80 with Nikor lens 50-300 mm. How can I improve theis

  • tmlakshmi

    High ISO creates grains. How do I remove them.? I like to take shots during a live dance performance. i took this with ISO 1200, F8, distance 135mm. 1.125 shutter speed with the internal flash. I ued Nikon D80 with Nikor lens 50-300 mm. How can I improve this? the second image was at a distance of 240mm

  • Kirsty Wilson

    When shooting indoors in bad light, open your shutter as wide as possible – F8 was too closed, and your shutter for fast action was too slow (try 1/250 or 1/320). In Lightroom, there is a tool called Noise Reduction on the Develop Tab which deals very nicely with the grain inherent in higher grained shots. As you are also shooting a stage, turn the flash off as it is unlikely to be able to reach your subject, and can be very distracting to the dancers, use the lighting as an advantage and as part of the story. Use your exposure compensation if you’re not shooting in manual to brighten the shot up. Many tricks are available. Shoot at the highest ISO you are comfortable with but TRUST YOUR CAMERA.

  • Love the capture but it’s too noisy for my tastes.

  • Josh

    with my apsc, iso isnt great. still i prefer loosing resolution and getting grain not only over getting no image, but also over not getting the kind of image i want. i do use flash. i love using flash. but i do use flash with iso 3200 if i want the ambient. without half a second shutterspeed (yeah that works) or with a closed aperture. the look you want is more important than the technical quality. in the moment i dream more of an a7s than an a7r. adittionally. although i also like high resolution.

    this is shot on apsc with 85mm 1/80th 2.8 iso 12800

  • Shooting in museums and galleries. Museum displays of ancient cultures, in particular, often have very low lighting (partly to create ‘atmosphere’, and partly because of the special lighting that has to be used with delicate artefacts). Use of flash and tripods is usually banned, unless you get special permission. Upping your ISO means you can get decent photos of artefacts and art handheld.

  • K.G.W.Abeytunge

    Oh don’t be so pedantic, when the writer says, “uses for ISO” we understand what he means perfectly!

  • Enrique

    High ISO for artistic purposes, like bold grain or creating different moods…

  • Steve Scarlett

    Took this in France earlier this year, f/10, 1/800, ISO 800 240mm. Too worried about noise to go any higher but should have gone with it. Not come out too bad but room for improvement.

  • michael james

    I take pictures of jewelry and I find an ISO of 800 is best because the lighting in my house isn’t the best. Anything lower than an ISO 800 and I have to use too much software tweeking to fix the photo. I don’t like using software afterwards as it usually hurts the photo.

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