Photography Tips – What is ISO?


Low light photography need not be just for the professionals. You take photos all the time at parties or indoors, right?  Many of these situations don’t have adequate lighting. Even artificial lighting such as tungsten lamp might not be great lighting for your subjects. There are many options with a camera to take better pictures in these situations.

– Improve lighting artificially. This might require elaborate equipment or additional flash lighting.

– Bigger aperture : think of a camera being able to capture more light because it can open the lens opening bigger.

– Longer shutter speed : When you click a camera’s button, a shutter opens and closes. How long it does is dependent on the shutter speed. The slower the speed, the more light it allows and hence it capture better pictures in low light situations.

– ISO: ISO is a measure of the camera sensor’s light sensitivity. There are typically indicated by numbers such as below:

  • ISO:Auto / 80 / 100 / 200 / 400 / 800 / 1600 / 3200

The higher the number, the more sensitive the film is. That means, it can capture more light. However, the higher the number, the more grainy the image will become. This is called as noise. As you increase the ISO number, you will be able to see more detail on your images. Professional cameras have noise filtering mechanism built into their processors so as to reduce noise in the images.

If you use a point and shoot camera (P&S), you might not have control on all these. But if you look at the images in a photo editor such as Picasa, you will see what the camera chose for the setting.

I took the photo in the post in twilight conditions when lighting can be less than desirable.

This photo looks great because the camera used a higher ISO setting of 294. Usually automatic consumer level cameras (p&S) can take good images till about ISO 400. If you look up the specs of a camera, it will tell you the highest ISO setting that is supported, but it won’t say how good the image will be at higher settings. This is where you need to look up a review of the camera on a professional site where they post sample pictures at different ISO settings. A great site that I visit is


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