ISO Photography – Say Goodbye to Auto Mode

iso photographyOwning a DSLR camera doesn’t necessarily make you a photographer more than owning a sports car makes you the next Michael Schumacher. You may have the means, but you also need the skills. Sure, your camera’s AUTO mode is pretty awesome, automatically adjusting everything so the only thing you need to worry about is pressing the shutter button; on the same note, so is cruise control – it controls everything, you just need to worry about the steering wheel; still, you haven’t seen Schumacher using it in a race now, have you?  Lucky for you, DSLR cameras are not so hard to master once you fully understand how they work. You can go the easy way and take a course that will walk you through the DSRL digital photography principles for beginners or you can learn their secrets one feature at a time. If you’ve opted for the second choice, you’re in the right place, as this article will focus on one of the most important aspects of a digital photography: ISO sensitivity.

ISO From Past to Present

If you try to deduce what the ISO feature is all about by looking at its name you won’t get too far, as its name has nothing to do with its functions. ISO stands for International Organization of Standardization, an entity that focuses on creating international standards for certain products and features.

In photography, the ISO we know today is referring to a digital camera sensor’s sensitivity to light. However, in the past, cameras were not using a digital sensor to capture the image but rather a shutter and a film, so ISO was referring to the film’s sensitivity to light back then. Besides the fact that it wasn’t named ISO, the measurement was referring to film speed in relation to its sensitivity, as it reflected how quick the film had to move from one position to another in order to capture just the right amount of light. Even though the first devices that were able to measure a material’s sensitivity to light date all the way back to 1880, the ISO we know today has its roots in a more recent period – 1974 to be precise.

ISO 6:1993 (1974) and ISO 2240:2003 (1982) are the first internationally-recognized parameters that defined the sensitivity for black-and-white and color films. ISO 12232:2006 (published in 1998 and revised in 2006) defined the light sensitivity parameters for digital cameras. As you can see, there are a lot of numbers involved, so the developers of the standards thought that it would be easier to refer to this parameter simply as ISO.

ISO Today

ISO sensitivity plays an important role in today’s cameras. Although most digital cameras come with an Auto mode that automatically adjusts all the settings, including ISO, knowing how to set the ISO sensitivity manually will allow you to take more accurate photos or even create some interesting effects. This Adobe Photoshop online course will teach you how to create awesome effects right from your camera and then give them a final retouch on your PC.

The lowest ISO value available on a camera (usually ISO 100) is considered to be the ideal setting, as it allows the image sensor to capture just the right amount of light in order to accurately reproduce the image you want to capture. However, this is the ideal setting for the ideal scenario, where your subject is not moving, you use a tripod and the lighting is just perfect –how often do all these conditions apply, though?

Digital cameras usually come with ISO settings ranging from 100 all the way up to several thousands. In order to understand how to set the right ISO value, you need to understand how a camera works, as there are three essential factors that influence the quality of your pictures: ISO setting, aperture and shutter speed. Simply put, when you press the button, the shutter opens up to a certain degree (determined by the aperture), allowing light to get to the sensor, which takes the picture, after which the shutter closes.

Using ISO

You will usually need to adjust ISO to a higher value in several scenarios. The most common scenario is when the lighting conditions are not so great and, for whatever reason, you cannot or do not want to use your flash. A higher ISO value in such scenario will allow the sensor to capture more light when the shutter opens, thus resulting in a picture that looks good, despite the improper lighting. You could alternatively use a slower shutter speed and a bigger aperture to allow more light to get to the sensor, and obtain a similar result, but a slow shutter speed will generally result in a blurry photo if you don’t use a tripod.

At the opposite pole is the situation where you want to use ISO to increase shutter speed. For example, if you go to a baseball game and want to take a picture of the batter hitting the ball, you will want the shutter to open and close as quickly as possible, in order not to miss the moment of the hit. For this to happen, you will set a higher ISO value, making the image sensor more sensitive, thus allowing it to make the most out of the amount of light that gets in when the shutter opens.


It’s not all fun and games with ISO, though, as setting it to a very high value can add a very unpleasant element to your pictures: image noise. You can learn how to remove image noise, image dust and do other Photoshop edits from this online course, but why not avoid making a mistake rather than having to correct it? Speaking of mistakes, here are the most common 10 photography mistakes and how to avoid them – very useful lecture if you want to be a better photographer.

Overall, ISO sensitivity is a very powerful feature to master, so experiment with it until you find the right setting for every scenario. When it comes to using ISO for creating effects… well, creativity is the final frontier to what you can do.