October 1, 2013

Photography Exposure Tips: Understanding ISO

Hello Cropped Stories readers!  I am so excited to be here as a guest contributor.  Keep an eye out for my posts here on Cropped Stories as I will be providing tips as a non-professional photographer trying to achieve professional looking photographs.

Today’s post is all about ISO.  While I was in Hawaii, one of the tours I did was a photography expedition.  I found a local photographer that offered these personal, one-on-one tours.  I went into it thinking he was just going to take me around the island, and we would capture some pretty pictures.  However, I gained SO MUCH more than just a few tropical photographs.  He taught me things about my camera and photography that brought my picture taking skills to a whole new level.  I will benefit from what I learned for the rest of my life!

And guess what?  I am going to share some of the things that I learned with you!

The first thing that this photographer went over with me was the “Photographic Triangle.  The triangle consists of three things you need to understand in order to obtain technically correct exposure in your photos.  Technically correct exposure is the first thing you need to comprehend before you can begin exploring creative exposure. 

The Photographic Triangle for Proper Exposure via West Street Stories

The three things you need to take into consideration when trying to achieve proper exposure in your photographs include: shutter speed, aperture (or f-stop), and ISO.

Today I am focusing on ISO.  The technical definition is “International Standards Organization”, but anything in regards to photography will read “ISO”, so that is how I will continue to reference it.

So what exactly is ISO?

Think back long and hard to the days when you had to buy film for your camera.  Yes, I am old enough where film was the ONLY option at one point in my life.  If you can remember, while buying film, you had to choose between different film speeds such as 100, 400, or 800.  Nowadays, a digital camera’s “film” speed can be changed by altering your ISO setting.  By changing the ISO setting, you are telling your camera to let more or less light in as it takes the picture.

Now, here is where the photography tour really paid off.  He broke it down for me in a simple way so that I will never forget what I am doing when tinkering with my ISO.

He started by explaining as I increase my ISO setting (e.g. from 100 to 200), I am letting in more light.  And how should I remember this?  Think about worker bees.  Yes, worker bees.

As you increase your ISO from 100 to 200, imagine your camera asking 200 worker bees to gather light for you rather than only 100.  As you increase your ISO setting and ask more worker bees to gather light, you are increasing the amount of light you let into your camera as it takes the picture.

Another thing I learned was the standard for photography was an ISO setting of 100.  You will want to try and keep your ISO setting at this level and adjust your f-stop and shutter speed to achieve the optimal exposure.  If you cannot achieve optimal exposure after adjusting the f-stop and shutter speed, then you can start to increase your ISO, but only as a last resort.  The reason you should try to leave your ISO setting at 100 is so your photo will not contain a lot of noise.  The more noise in the picture, the grainier it will appear.  An ISO of 100 will give you the most crisp result assuming your other camera settings are correct.

So that is a little bit about ISO.  My next post will be about shutter speed and, then of course, I will finish explaining the parts of the photographic triangle with a post on aperture (f-stops).  Once we make it through all three points, you will be ready to read a histogram which represents the pixels exposed in your photograph.  When you can decipher the histogram, you will begin to understand exposure better!

If you want to see some of the photographs I took on my photo expedition tour in Maui, make sure to check out my post here.

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Contributor post by Jen at West Street Stories via Cropped Stories

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  1. Wow, I did know a bit of this from good old-fashioned film back in the day, but totally forgot now having a digital camera. Seriously appreciate you breaking it down here with the worker bee analogy and look forward to your post explaining shutter speed now, too!

  2. Nice photos! I'm a professional photographer and I struggle to explain ISO to people. I get it in my head, but I'm just no teacher. I like the worker bees line and I might have to steal it!
    I have to raise ISO a lot because my camera can really do non-noisy photos at high ISOs, but of course, it's a last resort as you said.

  3. What a great post! I always love new things, and I love how you related ISO to worker bees carrying light. Thanks for sharing!


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