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How to Use ISO Photography to Enhance Your Photography

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You can never undermine the effect of any photography composition features. ISO, as one of the concepts, helps to manipulate light in your DSLR camera. You can explore ISO photography as a beginner or expert photographer in various ways.

Let’s review the dynamics and procedures regarding your camera's ISO.

What is ISO?

ISO refers to the sensitivity of your camera's sensor. Furthermore, it's one of the three photo compositions alongside the aperture and shutter speed. Your camera's ISO determines the light required to achieve the perfect exposure.

Basic Introduction to ISO

Knowing ISO values for different lighting conditions is important, as a low ISO indicates that your DSLR sensor is less light-sensitive. In contrast, a higher ISO implies that the sensor is highly reactive to illumination. The camera sensor allows you to switch between high and low ISO settings.

Common ISO Values

Your digital camera model ISO values commonly range from 100 to 6400. Let's analyze some common ISO values and how you utilize them:

  • ISO 100: The value is the lowest ISO setting with the least sensitivity to light. You can mainly use it to capture images in well-lit surroundings or daytime.
    • ISO 200: The double of 100 camera sensitivity offers a moderate level of sensitivity while still maintaining good image quality. You can use it in slightly lower lighting than the ISO 100.
    • ISO 400: This value offers a higher sensor sensitivity level, thus useful in low-light situations. Again, you can utilize quicker shutter speeds to avoid motion blur on your images. However, be careful; the shot can have significant noise when in poorly lit environments.
    • ISO 800: The extra sensitive settings are suitable, especially in worse lighting environments. It applies in harsh light settings, like concerts and various night photography.
    • ISO 1600 - 3200 - 6400: Ideally, you won't require these high settings in basic ISO photography, as image results with them have noticeable digital noise and can affect image quality. Nonetheless, they can be helpful if you do astrophotography or lack a flash in lowly lit areas.

    Control ISO

    camera control iso

    Image credit:

    There are several ways to achieve the perfect ISO exposure, including auto and manual settings, which also come in semi-modes or scene modes if you use automatic configurations.

    Manual & Semi-automatic modes

    Manual Mode

    Firstly, manual settings give the photographer full control over all exposure settings. You can manually select appropriate ISO values based on the surroundings and get to dictate the photo results.

    The concept requires a good understanding of exposure principles and the ability to make quick adjustments based on changing lighting conditions.

    Semi-automatic Modes

    This mode prioritizes different concepts which offer a balance between manual and automatic modifications and include:

    • Program mode: The camera lets you pick the best shooting mode and dictates the perfect ISO to match your program mode.
    • Shutter priority: You get to select your desired shutter speed as your camera sets the ISO.
    • Aperture priority: You choose the appropriate aperture value while the camera automatically adjusts the exposure settings.

    Automatic or Scene Modes

    Automatic Mode

    Your camera will generally control the ISO configurations in this mode. Its in-built light metering system helps set the exposure needed by the sensor.

    The factor is ideal if you're a beginner in ISO photography. However, you should get used to manual settings to explore the various customization features.

    Scene Mode

    This concept is a specific automatic mode common in various shooting scenarios, such as portrait, landscape, sports, or night photography. Your camera can regulate specific camera settings like ISO in a particular photography scene.

    How to Use ISO

    Understanding ISO photography involves knowing the right value to use in specific lighting or time of the day. Here's how you can explore your camera sensor in different illumination situations:

    Different Scenes

    1. Sunny Day

    couple play in the sea

    Photo by Elisey Vavulin on unsplash

    You'll need to use a low ISO configuration for sunny times, with the sensor exposed to excess lighting. Normally, ISO 100 and 200 are perfect depending on the intensity of the sunlight.

    2. Cloudy days

    cloudy day

    Photo by Jide Lambo on unsplash

    Cloudy days will have low/dim lighting, thus requiring a higher ISO for the perfect exposure. You can start by setting your ISO to around ISO 400 or ISO 800 and making further adjustments if needed.

    3. Well-Exposed Photo with Low Light

    Well-Exposed Photo with Low Light

    Photo by Guilherme Stecanella on unsplash

    You must increase your exposure when in lowly lit rooms or environments. Start exploring with ISO 400 and continue increasing till you find the perfect image illumination. If needed, you can also shoot in RAW for post-editing exposure.

    4. Sharp Photo or/and Freeze Motion

    Freeze Motion

    Photo by Sane Sodbayar on unsplash

    Freezing a moving subject will first require a fast shutter speed. You can match your shutter through medium to high ISO settings, typically around 400-800. However, they depend on the speed of your moving subject and can vary when it is relatively slower or much quicker.

    5. A Photo with Adequate Depth of Field

    A Photo with Adequate Depth of Field

    Photo by Coco Winter on unsplash

    You'll need to consider other factors, especially the aperture when needing a greater depth of field. The perfect ISO typically ranges from 200-400 or more when using an f/11 aperture setting.

     Photography Tips for ISO

    Numerous factors affect the ISO in use, which comes into play when exploring different genres of photography. Let's look at ISO in other photography practices.

    1. Wildlife Photography

    Wildlife Photography

    Photo by Sebastian Gorzow on shutterstock

    Working with wild animals can be tricky, considering the risk involved and the preparations needed. You need to combine the pillars of photography with ISO acting as the final piece.

    Increase your exposure settings at times, going to a maximum of ISO 6400 to capture a fast-moving animal. This is especially in compromised lighting conditions.

    2. Landscape Photography

    Landscape Photography

    Photo by Valdis Skudre on shutterstock

    Unlike wildlife, the landscape genre is a controlled environment to decide the best composition features applicable. You might need to use faster shutter speeds in windy times; thus, your ISO must also be high, from ISO-800.

    3. Milky Way Photography

    Milky Way Photography

    Photo by Nicole Avagliano on unsplash

    Due to the dark sky circumstances and the desire to capture faint details, Milky Way photography presents unique problems. Youtube's ISO should be at its highest, considering you'll be working at night and trying to capture moving Milky Way components.

    4. Night Photography

    Night Photography

    Photo by Jordan Pulmano on unsplash

    This genre can also include different events, like concerts and a variety of informal and formal occasions. An ISO between 400-1000 will work, depending on the lighting available.

    5. Astrophotography


    Photo by Patrick Mcmanaman on unsplash

    This is another instance of utilizing the rarely used high ISO settings. An ISO between 400-3200 is perfect, depending on your camera's sensor and lighting conditions. These settings result in noise grains, but you can correct them in post-editing.


    That's all we had regarding ISO background and its dynamics in digital camera usage. You can use the illustrated values for different purposes but remember to balance them with your aperture and shutter speed.  

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    What Is Base ISO?

    This refers to the ISO sensitivity that provides the picture sensor with the greatest latitude.

    Noise sensitivity is determined by the amount of exposure to your sensor, where higher ISO settings result in grains and distortion.

    Advantages and Disadvantages of Various ISO Speeds

    Here is why you should use or avoid specific ISO configurations; ○ISO 100-200 is the best setting for an under-exposed photo. On top of protecting the sensor, you can blur any moving subjects in a photo. These settings have drawbacks; they might compromise other components, like slowing the shutter speed. Also, you can get unwanted blurring effects. ○ISO 250 - 500 (Medium modifications): Unlike the low settings, the medium settings allow you to get faster shutter speeds in addition to the smaller apertures. They also have short backs that affect your image's color composition. ○ISO settings over 500: Firstly, you can conveniently photograph in low light scenarios using the enhanced shutter speed. It is also perfect if the aspects of noise are needed in your photos. One of the major disadvantages is that you get low-quality photos. Additionally, the amount of noise generated can overwhelm the editing process.

    What if I Get the ISO Wrong?

    You can explore a wide range of editing apps to help you make necessary corrections, especially regarding noise and grains from high exposure.

    What's the Difference Between Film ISO and Digital ISO?

    Film ISO measures the film's sensitivity, whereas digital ISO measures the digital sensor's sensitivity.