One of the best ways to experiment with your photography style is to alter your ISO; this is the sensor that detects sensitivity to light, and provides an option on digital cameras for emulating different speeds of film stock. Lower ISO levels are less sensitive to light, and are commonly used for daytime shots, and for slower exposures and shutter speeds; higher ISOs are more sensitive to light, and can be used for low light settings with a faster shutter speed.
Adjusting your ISO is all about controlling how much light your camera can receive by changing its sensitivity, and altering shutter speed; this can also be combined with opening out or closing your camera’s aperture to get different effects. Higher ISOs can be used in lower light to freeze subjects, while lower ISOs can be used with slower releases to create precise images and more motion blur for moving targets. High ISOs are consequently worthwhile to use for indoor concerts, with lower ISOs effective for combinations of low light and bright flashes in fireworks displays.
However, when using a high ISO setting, you do have to deal with increased grain and noise for your shots, which can result in images that lack the sharpness of low ISO images. An ISO of 50-100 is suitable for bright light, 400-800 for dim settings, and 600 and above for low light. Most cameras will now come with an automatic ISO setting, as well as options to increase your ISO to a customised setting; many digital cameras are also designed to reduce noise at high ISO settings.
You can use the natural grain of a high ISO, fast shutter speed photograph to create distinctive black and white portraits; in this context, the grain that’s produced can actually create a grittier style, and can be a good idea if you want to create images that can then be further sharpened with post-production tools. With cameras resisting noise, using post-production tools is often important.
Playing with your ISO settings is also a good idea if you want to get effective shots of fireworks. A low ISO of about 100 with a slow shutter speed can result in fireworks that are captured with moving trails, rather than just being blurry. Higher ISOs will expose more light, but can struggle to prevent shots from being too blurry due to the mix of darkness and sudden explosions. A slower shutter speed is generally best for exposing blur for moving fireworks.
Again, you have to decide what you can achieve with the light you have; it’s possible to produce some fun effects by going against the grain with light settings. A low ISO used with a normal shutter speed in a dim room can result in a finely defined subject, and background movement that renders people as virtually transparent; this is a good approach if you want to create a trick photograph, or just want to play around with it.
A higher ISO is recommended if you want to freeze motion for fast moving subjects with a fast shutter speed for indoor events like sports games – without a flash, you can create good shots of moving objects with a fast shutter speed. The same rule applies for shooting fast moving cameras and birds with a rapid shutter speed, increasing light to compensate for the lack of a Flash.
Featured Image: CC Attribution photo from Wikimedia Commons – source
Article by Rob James
Rob James is a professional photographer by trade, but his favourite subjects are firework displays. He likes to attend professional displays put on by Dynamic Fireworks. He enjoys playing with the settings on his camera to create interesting effects and applying them to his professional career.