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Keys to Properly Exposing a Photograph 3: ISO

22 02 2012

Welcome to Part 3 of “Keys to Properly Exposing a Photograph.” To start at the beginning, CLICK HERE

The final technique we need to learn about is ISO. The history of ISO is a bit fascinating but to avoid a long boring post, it will suffice to say ISO (in photography) was a way we rated how sensitive film was to light. The more sensitive it was, the brighter our photo would be. The trade off was what we call film grain.

Film grain has to do with photons, silver halide, and dye clouds. The long and short is that to achieve a higher ISO and to get more light, we must accept film grain. In appearance it’s a small “optical texture” that makes me think of a picture printed on a piece of fine felt. Apparently there is even a software for making your digital pictures look like they were captured on film.

In digital, ISO is used to describe how sensitive our sensor is to light. It’s interesting that it causes a similar effect though for a different reason. Using a high ISO setting today will cause noise. Noise is different from film grain because it only effects one pixel at a time where film grain caused more of a blob of pixels. Noise is basically visual static in an image. Click the below image to enlarge and you can see some “noise.”

Some cameras can handle high ISO’s very well, keeping your noise down even at ISO’s as high as 6400. Some cameras will struggle with noise even at very low ISO settings. The best way to learn about ISO is to experiment around with it and see what you can get out of it.

So what do we use it for? I touched on that question in the last tutorial, here’s the answer. If we are working in a low light environment and we either already have our f/stop down as far as it will go or we just don’t want to sacrifice any more depth of field but our images are still blurring from motion or hand shake, we can crank in some ISO.

I use higher ISO settings a lot at concerts when I’m either not allowed to use flash or don’t want to kill the mood. You also may want to use higher ISO settings if you’re too far away for your flash to make a difference.

I kept it especially short today since ISO, in practice, is a fairly simple tool. I hope this series has been beneficial for you. I got on a little tutorial kick for he past 4 posts so I’m going to be coming back with some more “ShootAbouts” shortly. Those of you not that interested in the tutorials, thanks for bearing with me 🙂

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I’m always working toward new features and better tools on the blog but these things cost money so if you would like to help, consider a donation via the PayPal button in the right sidebar. (Really want to launch a video series, got my fingers crossed :) )

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20 responses

22 02 2012
baggyparagraphs

Shooting auto races at night is the hardest for me, although some of the newer speedways (Nashville Superspeedway) are pretty well lighted.

22 02 2012
96arley

I did a pro circuit go-kart race once 🙂 the lighting wasn’t very impressive, haha.

22 02 2012
kocart

I am very sad about the differences in effects caused by high iso settings in digital compared to film photography. High iso film, especially black and white, had a lovely effect when used right. I don’t think the effects I got using fast black and white film in bright outdoor light can be replicated digitally–there is a texture to film grain that I don’t see in digital photo noise. I can’t even replicate it in Photoshop later. What to do?

That said, your images are very good, and the iso setting performed admirably. There are just some things I could do creatively way back when that I remember with great nostalgia. Do you have suggestions about digital black and white?

22 02 2012
96arley

I’m sad to say I cam onto the scene after the advent of digital. I imagine many great things about film are lost to us now. Perhaps a year of working with film would help me appreciate our forephotographers. 🙂 I’ve heard great things about Nik Software but I haven’t personally had the opportunity to use it yet.

22 02 2012
kocart

Film hung on for a long time. Now it is relegated to the horse and buggy days. And I am officially an old fogey!

22 02 2012
Inga

I knew a lot of this beforehand, but I think your three lessons are so well described and in such an easy way that people that are struggling with this can understand. Thanks for sharing.

22 02 2012
96arley

Thanks for the feedback Inga, I’m glad it came across that way. I’ve been wanting to do a simplified lesson on exposure since I was first learning it but never really felt qualified or had a venue to do so. I’m glad this has helped people learn the basics 🙂

22 02 2012
bluelyon

I always want to shoot at as low an ISO as I can because I like to get my shot as tack sharp as possible, but I’m starting to realize that high ISO has its place as well. I used it last night when shooting our local gas station, and while the result is a fairly grainy photo, it works for that particular subject.

22 02 2012
96arley

That’s really the key. You just have to know what you’re going to get and either want it or accept it. Thanks for commenting!

22 02 2012
Colline

I am learning all this for the first time. I will need a reread as I learn the meaning of all the terms and come to understand what they refer to. Thanks for the informative posts.

22 02 2012
96arley

Feel free to ask if you have any questions!

22 02 2012
Colline

Thank you – I do not have an appropriate camera yet. Still looking. Though I am not quite sure what to look for 🙂

22 02 2012
96arley

What do you plan on using it for and what’s your budget? I might be able to help you start looking in the right direction?

22 02 2012
Colline

Just for my hobby. Not the top of the range but it would be nice to take better photos than I currently do. I have a canon powershot, S2 IS

22 02 2012
96arley

The Nikon D5100 or 3100 are 2 good options for under $1,000 if you want to go with an SLR

22 02 2012
Laurie Bartolo

This was a great series. I enjoy your photos, but have also enjoyed these tutorials and have bookmarked them. I’ve studied the “3 kings” in books, etc. but appreciate how you’ve simplified some of it with easy- to- read posts that break them down one at a time. Because of what I like to photograph, I often shoot at a long focal length (400 mm) and this is one of the few times I’ve seen that specifically addressed in relation to the 3 kings, so thank you for that. In your post about shutter speed, your example of the toothpick, jousting lance and pinhead was particularly helpful in understanding the challenges I’ve been trying to overcome! Thanks!

22 02 2012
96arley

400mm? That’s a lens that will reach out and touch someone, you’ve definitely got a jousting lance in your hands there. I hope you have a tripod or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s forearms 🙂

27 02 2012
Keys to Properly Exposing a Photograph 2: f/stop « ShootAbout

[…] The next part in the series is ISO Share this:MoreDiggShare on TumblrEmailPrintLike this:Like38 bloggers like this post. […]

27 02 2012
Keys to Properly Exposing a Photograph Intro: The 3 Kings « ShootAbout

[…] ISO is a rating for “film speed.” It was a system that rated how sensitive film was to light. It basically means the same thing to us in the digital photography age. Increase your ISO and your sensor gets more sensitive to light. This means, your images get brighter. The trade-off here is you now have a hyper sensitive filter that records noise. We’ll talk more about ISO and noise in part 3. […]

3 10 2012
Nena Hyun

I really like outdoor ligthing that are made from LED because they do not generate so much heat and they look nice too. *:;,`

Ciao
http://www.prettygoddess.com

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