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What is this thing called ISO?

ISO – What exactly is it?

Each blog I am going to introduce you to a photography concept that is vital to mastering the art of Photography. I hope you can learn from these blogs and as usual feedback is always welcomed.


Nutshell = ISO is your cameras sensitivity to light. You adjust your ISO depending on the lighting situation.

If there is a lot of light e.g. middle of a sunny day, shooting outside – your ISO is likely to be low like 100 or 200.

If there is limited light e.g. night time or inside a dark room – your ISO is likely to be higher like 1,200.

Cameras have a different ISO range – some going all the way to 6,400 while others stop at 1,600. No matter what range your camera has the lower the number the more sensitive your camera is to the light.

Some people are scared to bump the ISO up as the higher the ISO the more “noise” your image will have. Noise is that grainy look some photos have.

However, by bumping up your ISO you are allowing a faster shutter speed which in turn helps you get sharper images in lower light conditions. Each step is ISO DOUBLES the camera's sensitivity to light.

It is a balancing act but play around and see what you can do.

When I am learning I like to test my camera limits (don’t forget there is not just one kind of camera). With ISO point your camera to a dark area at the lowest ISO. Take one photo. Increase your ISO by 1 increment and take another photo. Follow these steps until you have reached your camera’s ISO limits

Repeat this exercise while pointing your camera into the light or outside in the sun.

Have a look at the difference in the photos in both locations and at each ISO range.

I find this is the best way to learn and understand ISO. For those of you that have the Sweet As Photos - Photography Quick Reference Cards more information on ISO can be found on cards 9 and 10.

Good luck!