What is ISO in Photography - When do I Use it? - B&C Camera

Discover how ISO sensitivity works, how to measure it, and how lower ISO values impact your pictures.


The more at ease, you are with your camera, the wider range of shots you can try. This includes a manual mode, which gives you complete power over the settings like ISO. Now let's explore what exactly ISO is and why shooting with a low ISO setting is ideal.


What is ISO in Photography?

Your camera's ISO is your camera's sensitivity to light as to how much light is needed to produce a quality photo. A lower value means less sensitivity, and thus more light is required. Conversely, a higher value means the opposite. It's one element of photography's exposure triangle- along with aperture and shutter speed - and plays an essential role in the quality of your photos.


How is ISO even measured?

Every camera has a range of ISO values, with the lowest number identified as the base ISO. From there, each additional ISO value is typically double the previous one. However, these numbers can vary depending on your camera brand and model — your camera might have a broader or narrower range of options.


ISO Cheat Sheet by B&C Camera shows the difference between iso levels

How does ISO even affect my images?

Generally, when you use a low ISO, such as 300 or below, the photo quality is better. Low values are ideal for bright conditions — like shooting outdoors on a sunny day. For example, landscape photography looks excellent with low ISOs because it prevents the photo from looking overly exposed or washed out.


When you utilize a low ISO, your photos will be clear and without graininess or noise. When you raise the ISO, you trade off the image quality; thus, if you Shoot with a high ISO, your photo could appear grainy.


You should use the lowest ISO setting possible for a given situation to produce the least noise and the sharpest image.


How to Determine the Best ISO Settings

To determine the best ISO setting for a particular lighting condition, consider the light available and the effect you want to achieve. You should use the lowest ISO setting possible for a given situation to produce the least noise and the sharpest image. However, you may need to increase your ISO to achieve a brighter exposure if you're shooting in low-light conditions. Here's a quick guide to ISO settings for different lighting conditions:


  • ISO 100-200: This ISO range is ideal for shooting in bright daylight conditions and typically produces sharp images with minimal grain or noise. Many cameras have a default ISO base setting within this range.
  • ISO 200-400: This ISO range is suitable for shooting in environments with slightly less ambient light, such as indoors during the daytime or in shaded outdoor areas.
  • ISO 400-800: Low light indoors or at night when you can't use a flash.
  • ISO 800-1600: This ISO range is suitable for low light conditions indoors or at night when a flash cannot be used.
  • ISO 1600-3200: This ISO range is appropriate for shooting in extreme low-light conditions without a flash. However, the resulting image may have significant grain or digital noise due to the low light.
  • ISO settings below 100 or above 6400 are usually reserved for specialized camera applications, such as night photography, capturing extremely fast movement, or using a long lens on a handheld camera.


By adjusting the ISO settings, you can control the light entering your camera and create different effects in your images. Experiment with different ISO settings to see what works best for your particular photography style and the lighting conditions you encounter.


Explore more article to help you with your photography journey:


Related article: The 3 Most Important Camera Settings

Related article: Recommended Camera Equipment for Beginners

Related article: Landscape Photography Composition

Related article: What is Shutter Speed in Photography

Related article: What is Aperture and How to Use It?


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