Tech of the month: Play with that ISO value

It is time to get technical again! Lucile kindly invited me for a monthly photography post on her blog and this is already the sixth time that we co-host the Tech of the month photo challenge. This time, I invite you to join me in playing with the ISO value.

Last month was all about long exposures, with great contributions submitted by these bloggers:

Something to Ponder About: Tech of the month: Long Exposure
Andy Townend: exposed
Desley Jane: Wheel-ly Long Exposures
Lucile de Godoy: Motion Blur
Angle and views: Skyline Wednesday 1: Boston
perelincolors: Berlin Sights: Reichstag

This month, we will look at another way to get the most of the available light. Instead of opening the shutter for a long time, we will increase the sensitivity of the sensor to collect a lot of light in a short time.

Remember, exposure is determined by a combination of three factors: shutter speed, aperture and ISO value, or in other words, how long the shutter is open, how wide is opened and how the sensitivity of the sensor behind the shutter is calibrated. We have played with shutter speed and aperture before, so it really is about time to tackle the third factor!

Typical ISO values for daytime and outdoors photography are ISO 100 or ISO 200, depending on your camera. In the evening, at night or indoors, you may consider to use a higher value. The lower the value, the less sensitive the sensor. Higher values on the other hand correspond to a higher sensitivity to light. Accordingly, a higher ISO value allows you to collect the same amount of light within a shorter exposure time and with a smaller aperture. This is particularly useful to avoid blurred motion in semi-dark environments. The image above was taken with an ISO value of 1000, enabling me to get along without a tripod, and the one below is at ISO 800.

Monbijou Theatre, Berlin - F5.5, 1/3 sec, ISO 800
Monbijou Theatre, Berlin – F5.5, 1/3 sec, ISO 800

While it may sound like a good idea to crank the ISO value all the way up at night, there is a drawback. A higher ISO value also means more noise in your images. It will depend both on your camera and on your personal taste which ISO values still produce pleasant images. Up to ISO 800 will probably be okay and I advice you to test if you like values beyond that.

Believe it or not, the sight of these means home to me - F4.0, 1 sec, ISO 800. Even at ISO 800, the exposure time was to long to avoid camera shake.
Believe it or not, the sight of these means home to me – F4.0, 1 sec, ISO 800. Even at ISO 800, the exposure time was to long to avoid camera shake.

On most DSLRs, you can adjust the ISO value in manual mode and in aperture or shutter speed priority. Many compacts do not allow you to select the ISO value manually. If you want to play along with a compact anyway, check the scene modes: changing from ‘landscape at night’ to ‘party’, ‘people at night’ or ‘candlelight’ will effectively change the ISO value (as well as shutter speed and aperture).

Korean pavilion, Expo 2015, Milano, F2.8, 1/25 sec, ISO 1000 – choosing a high ISO value allowed me to capture the fast-changing images on these screens

ToM is a monthly photo challenge. To play along this month, take a pictures with different ISO values than usual, and post them on your blog, website or social media page. When you do so, don’t forget to create a pingback to this post so that we can find your photos. You can also drop your link in the comments section. As always, you are also invited to submit your images to Lucile’s photo rehab, and we will list all in-time contributions at the end of next month’s challenge. There is no time limit to participate in the challenges in the archives and you will always be listed at the end of each challenge you completed.

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16 thoughts on “Tech of the month: Play with that ISO value

  1. Thank you so much for this post on ISO. I’m still learning about taking photographs in lower light situations. To date my attempts have been quite pitiful. That is just me being totally honest. 🙂 I just tried some portrait photography the other day in very low overcast sky light. I had my camera set to manual. Shutter: 1/60, Aperture: 10, and ISO 100. They came out with an extreme amount of noise. It was disappointing, but a good learning experience. My dad suggested that I let the camera meter the photo for me by choosing aperture priority and then adjusting my manual settings. Your explanation of ISO is extremely helpful in helping me to understand the setting. Thank you.


    1. I am surprised that you got a noisy image at ISO 100, I wouldn’t expect any at such a low value. Are you sure it wasn’t ISO 1000? Aperture F10 might produce fuzzy edges though. I agree with your dad that aperture priority is a great mode to practice and learn.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I wish I had the excuse of it being ISO 1000. I’ve found that my camera seems to get really noisey in lower light. I’m going to try out the aperture priority this weekend on an indoor shoot.


  2. Thanks for this. Always good to hear another view on things. I love the photo of the theater in Berlin! Did you take the night photo of your home without a tripod?


      1. Got it. I hate carrying a tripod, used to do it all the time, everywhere I traveled. Got tired of hauling all that camera equipment. I’m leaning toward simply using my iPhone now!!! Things change.


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