Tech of the month: Play with that ISO setting

It is time to get technical again! This month, 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.

This post was originally published on

3 thoughts on “Tech of the month: Play with that ISO setting

  1. desleyjane

    Excellent post. People often forget about ISO. But it’s super important, especially if you tend to shoot in auto as the camera will choose it for you. I try to keep it as low as I can. It’s a great idea to take different shots at different ISOs to compare, now to just find time to do it ūüėĄ

    Liked by 1 person

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