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Understanding your ISO

Take a look at this image of my daughter and I on Christmas. From far away and sized down it looks okay right?


But zoom in, and you'll find:


See all those dots or what is called grain or "noise"? That noise is actually a result of a high ISO setting on your camera. ISO stands for International Standards Organization and it refers to the industry norm for sensitivity of emulsion based film. In "what on earth does that mean", ISO stands for how sensitive to light your sensor will be and how the image will be recorded.

Noise in your photographs is very common in point and shoot cameras. Why? Often times when you shoot in AUTO your camera will adjust for low light situations by increasing the ISO on your camera - the higher the ISO, the more likely you are to end up with noise.

For portaits, I often keep my ISO around 200. Shooting outdoors I have plenty of light. For sports or low light situations you can really crank up the ISO to record a lot of light in a short about of time. Remember - the longer your shutter is open and you expose the "film", the more likely you are to get a blurry image from your body movement.

For what it's worth, I HATE noise. It's the biggest reason I lug my DSLR around because I cannot seem to get rid of noise from my point and shoot. Take for example this great image of myself and my best friend Kae:


Because I hate the look of a flash, I opted not to use one. So, to compensate for the lack of light indoors my point and shoot automatically cranked my ISO way high - resulting in all this noise. Is it all starting to make sense now how it works? I avoided the harsh shadows and look of a flash but I ended up with a lot of noise. It didn't help the best restaurant EVER Tucanos has "mood lighting".

So - is there ever an instance where you want a high ISO? Yes. Even with a lot of light outdoors, if you're shooting action, sports or a lot of movement a high ISO is going to make a big difference. If you're indoors and don't have a flash and can't change your aperature or shutter speed - crank up your ISO and you'll be able to get clearer images. 

Just remember - the higher the ISO the more likely you are to get noise. If you find your images looking at all like the ones above, find the ISO settings and turn it down. Voila!

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