Photography 101 | ISO

ISO is a term we’ve heard as long as we’ve held a camera in our hand.  Whether it be when we were buying film or now turning a digital dial to the correct ISO, it’s always been a decision to make.  Many of you probably have never thought given it much thought, but I’m here to tell you:  the ISO setting is your first important decision to make when you pick up your camera to take a picture.  Why??  I’m so glad you asked!

The ISO setting on your camera determines your cameras sensitivity to light? Clear as mud, right…???  No worries, you’ll get it by the end of this post.

Stop.  Get your camera and let’s look at it on your own camera.  If you’re still can’t find it, go get your instruction book and look under the Table of Contents for ISO.

Got it?  On my camera the lowest ISO speed is 100 and the highest number speed is 1600, but it actually goes a step further to “H” which probably represents 3200.  There are many more cameras that reach up to a 6400 ISO speed.

Now listen to this, it’s important.  The lower your ISO speed (i.e. 100-400) the less sensitive to light. I repeat:  the lower your ISO the less sensitive to light…which means it will require more light to hit your frame to expose for a properly lit image.  Why, because it’s not that sensitive to it, so it will need more of it to reach your camera. For example, if I’m taking pictures outdoors on a bright sun shiny day, I’m going to set my ISO to a low setting because I’m not going to require that much light to make a decent picture.  And because it’s sunny outside, that low ISO setting is going to soak up all that light on my frame and therefore, soak up all the great colors, too.

Now, consider the opposite.  The higher your ISO speed (800+), the more sensitive to light. Now, think about this:  if I’m indoors taking a picture and can’t use my flash or I’m outside and the sun is quickly setting, I’m going to turn my ISO up to a higher number.  Why?  Because my camera is going to become more sensitive to the light and it will not require as much light to reach the frame to make a better image. You get it?  Because a high ISO is more sensitive to light, it will require less light to reach it to take a better picture.

Compare this:  If it’s getting darker outside and I have my ISO set to 100, my camera will almost never be able to read for a properly exposed image, because it will therefore require tons of light to hit my frame and there is simply not enough of it to do it.

Let’s review:   ISO-your camera’s sensitivity to light (does it need more or less). Low ISO=less sensitive=needs more light. High ISO=more sensitive=needs less light.

Look at these pictures.  This also gives me another opportunity to show off more DNOW Weekend pictures.  😉

In this picture the kids were in their worship time.  The room was dark except for a few particularly placed spotlights and stage lights.  I didn’t want to use flash because it would take away from the ambiance in the room and you wouldn’t get the mood of the image.  Where do you think I have my ISO set for this image??  Would you think lower or higher?

ISO: 1000

Dark room=need more light=higher ISO more sensitive to light (so any amount of light will reach your frame).

These next two images were during their game-time outdoors.  Shelby gagged all over the place while eating chocolate syrup from a baby diaper.  It was priceless!  Again, where do you think I have my ISO?

If you guessed lower then you would be right!?  Go you!!

ISO: 100

Lots of available light (bright sunshine)=lower ISO (remember a low ISO doesn’t require as much light to properly expose for a good picture).

In this last picture, Joseph attempts to lead his group in singing “Whistle While You Work” with crackers in his mouth.

ISO: 100

Ponder over this all week. Get your instruction book out.  Read.  Play.  Ask questions.  You’ll get it!

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See you next Monday!

Disclaimer:  The ISO setting is not the only requirement in exposing for a dark or well-lit area.  Other major factors play an important role in attaining a proper exposure.  That’s what these mini-lessons are all about: learning the basics for taking a good picture and getting your camera off the P Mode or fully automatic mode.  It’s simply where you want to be in your photography skills and knowledge.

Marinda - June 5, 2012 - 9:50 am

Thank you so much for sharing this information – very helpful and I get it now!

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