Written by: Subhasish Adhikary

What is ISO in Photography

Photography is something that tells you everything without actually saying anything. It is like an expression that one shows digitally or via film.

Previously, professional cameras were owned mostly by photography professionals but nowadays almost every individual owns a smartphone or a DSLR.

People mostly click pictures in the auto mode.

They do not know how to do the manual settings of the camera and their smartphone as per the light and surroundings in which the picture is being clicked and so they don’t make the best of the features available in their smartphone and DSLR to click a photograph.

Light plays a key role in photography, and that ISO is majorly managed.

This article will cover the basics about ISO and how you can make a drastic change in your photography skills by getting to know about ISO better and how it helps in getting the best possible results.

What is ISO in Digital Photography?

ISO stands for International Organization for Standardization.

What is ISO in Digital Photography?

ISO is a worldwide federation that deals with national standard bodies.

However, lately, this has been made a word itself related to light sensitivity.

ISO is one of the main pillars in digital photography which deals with the light intensity (brighter or darker) to be captured in your photograph.

In simple language, you need to adjust the ISO as per the light available while you are clicking a photograph.

For example, when you take an image in dark you increase your ISO and when you are shooting in bright light, you decrease your ISO. 

Importance of ISO:

ISO has a major effect on the clarity of the photograph. It channels the intensity of light that enters through your lens to the sensor attached to the digital chip of your camera body. 

Value range of ISO:

There are different ranges of ISO values available.

They are:

  • ISO 100 (lowest)
  • ISO 200
  • ISO 400
  • ISO 800
  • ISO 1600
  • ISO 3200
  • ISO 6400 (highest)

These ranges have meaning with reference to the light. The more the ISO, the more the light is exposed and so brighter the image.

For example, ISO 400 will expose twice the light than ISO 200, which in turn will expose twice the light than ISO 100.

Base ISO:

The lowest ISO available in the camera is called the base ISO. The lower the value of the base ISO, the better will be the quality of the image.

Usually, try to capture the image in the base ISO setting, the quality of the image will be the highest.

The greater the ISO, the image will be noisier.

Then again, if the image is coming quite dark and the shutter speed and aperture are not giving you the perfect click, then ISO can be increased.

The disadvantage of using higher ISO:

As discussed, ISO can brighten or darken the photograph.

By increasing the ISO, the image will become brighter and will enable the photographer to capture the image in the dark.

But there is a disadvantage of increasing the ISO to capture the image. 

When you increase the ISO to brighten the image, it shows a lot of grain which in common terms is known as noise.

ISO should be used to brighten the image only when the shutter speed or aperture cannot brighten the image.

When should lower ISO be used:

Mostly the base ISO should be preferred.

If the subject to be clicked is exposed to plenty of light, then the base ISO is the best. It will give you a good quality image with clarity in its details.

When should lower ISO be used

Even in a dim environment, if the subject to be clicked is stable and you have a tripod to place the camera, then the camera will not be introduced to camera shake and even the long shutter speeds will not be a problem and will not give you a shaky image but if the subject is moving, then low ISO will not work.

When should higher ISO be used:

We recommend high ISO for a dim/dark environment or when the subject to be clicked is moving.

When should higher ISO be used

When the subject to be clicked is moving, then it is introduced to motion blur.

Then the photographer has to decide if they want to go for a sharp photograph with high ISO or a blurred photograph at low ISO.

In a nutshell, we should introduce high ISO when there is dim light and or the subject to be clicked is in motion.

For beginners, most of the cameras these days have an option of ‘auto ISO’ which will adjust its ISO according to the light.

Also read: DSLR vs Point and Shoot Camera – What is the best choice for YOU?

How to Change ISO?

Now that we know on what basis we should change the ISO.

How to Change ISO?
How to Change ISO?

Here’s a guide to change the ISO.

Changing ISO may differ from camera to camera. The common ways to do so are:

  • We can change ISO only in manual mode. So the first and foremost step is to switch from auto mode to manual mode. You’ll find one of the following options to do so:
    • Manual
    • Shutter Priority
    • Aperture Priority
    • Program

Usually, Aperture Priority or Manual is preferred.

  • You’ll possibly find an option of ‘menu’ or ‘quick menu’ to select the ISO in case of entry-level; DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. You can select the desired value of the ISO to be set and if you’re not sure enough, then the option of Auto is available.
  • You’ll find a dedicated button for ‘ISO’ in the camera in the case of high-end cameras. You can click on the same and select the value of ISO you want to set.
  • Some of the cameras come with a dedicated wheel which enables you to set the ISO and other settings. 

You should try changing the ISO of your camera by entering the manual mode since it’s one of the most required settings to be done if you want to capture in low/ dim light if you are not having a tripod or flash.

What is ISO in Film Photography?

ISO in film/ video is the same as that ISO in photos. ISO is used to make the image bright or dark.

As discussed for the settings of ISO in photos, the lesser the ISO, the better will be the quality of the video, and vice versa.

ISO 100 is the best-case scenario to make a video, and this setting is best for ideal situations, i.e. the subject is exposed to plenty of light.

The more you increase the ISO, the more noise will be introduced to the video.

Effect of ISO on videos:

As discussed above, ISO has the same effect on videos as that on photos.

The lesser the ISO, the better will be the quality of the video.

ISO is used to brighten or darken the video, basically, it manages the amount of light to be exposed to the subject to be captured.

The best setting for ISO will be for sure the base ISO, but then it’s only possible in ideal situations, else you need to increase the ISO to capture the sharper image.

In a nutshell, choose the base ISO or ISO closer to the base as much as possible and only increase the ISO only when required to get the high-quality video.

Other Key Pillars in Photography:

ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed are the key pillars in digital photography and videography.

Having ISO discussed in detail in this article, let’s get the basic idea about the other 2 key features in digital photography and videography.

  • Aperture: Aperture in simple words can be understood as the opening in the camera’s lens which allows the amount of light to be passed in the camera. Just like in our eyes, as we move to dark places, our eyes expand allowing more light to enter, this is handled through the pupil. In the camera, the pupil is the aperture.
  • Shutter Speed: Shutter speed is used to handle the motion blur. Shutter speed helps you to capture images in high-speed motion.

As they say, practice makes the man perfect and so is the same with photography.

The more you click, the better you’ll understand shutter speed, ISO, and aperture in the camera. Happy clicking 🙂

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Frequently asked questions about ISO:

Is higher or lower ISO better?

The lower the ISO, the better will be the image quality.

It is recommended to prefer using the Base ISO of the camera which you’re using.

The lowest base ISO(ISO 100 in most modern cameras and ISO 200 in earlier cameras) should be preferred for getting the highest quality image but then if the subject is too dark and shutter speed and aperture cannot brighten the image then the ISO should be increased.

Best ISO setting for low light?

ISO should be increased in low light. For dark indoors, ISO 800 – 1600 is recommended, for indoors at night, ISO 1600 – 3200 is recommended and for extremely low light, ISO 3200+ is recommended.

Also read: Best Low Light Cameras of 2021

Difference between ISO and Shutter speed in camera?

Both ISO and Shutter Speed are used to handle the amount of light to be entered in to the camera and allow it to strike the image sensor.

ISO controls the amount of light needed to have the correct exposure of the image whereas aperture is used to control the amount of light entered the camera.

Photo of author

Subhasish Adhikary

I'm constantly in search of the latest gadgets & technology news that I can share with you. In my meantime, I blog on topics ranging from digital marketing, online business, startups to tech gadgets.


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