Since the days of film photography, there have been three cornerstones of great photography: properly using aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.


While aperture, or the opening in the lens that allows light in, and the shutter speed, the rate at which the camera shutter opens and closes, are important, we’re going to focus on the ISO today. This critical part of photography can make or break image quality on DSLRs and compact cameras – or point and shoot cameras – alike.


What Is ISO?

ISO is the means for quantifying a camera’s sensitivity to light. This means, the ISO determines how sensitive your camera is to light and can be adjusted to improve that sensitivity or decrease the sensitivity.


In other words, the ISO settings will create a darker or lighter photo as the camera snaps the shot. The higher the ISO, the brighter the image; the lower the ISO, the darker the image.


ISO photography is vital for high quality images but must be used with caution. Too high an ISO can create a lot of graininess in images, and too low ISO can darken forms enough that images are incapable of being determined. Photo editing will only do so much to correct these issues.


Because of the importance of ISO, it’s important to learn how to change the settings, and what each setting is useful for.


How to Change Your ISO Settings

Just like your computer, phone, and other electronics require setting changes to work the best for your personal needs, your camera settings will need to be adjusted to fit your photography needs. The ISO settings are one of those key settings to work on.


Each camera is different, but the basic steps include these:

1. Find Your Camera Settings

Generally, these can be found under the menu selection on your camera.


2. Find Your ISO Control

Compact cameras have these somewhere, often buried, so you may have to look for a bit before finding it. DSLR cameras, however, usually have a dedicated button or icon on the top menu for the ISO settings.


3. Determine Your ISO Needs

Now that you know how to change your ISO settings, the question is what do you want to change it to? Most compact cameras offer ISO speeds up to about 800, while DSLR cameras have 1600 or higher settings, or manual settings available.


4. Conduct Some Image Tests

To determine your ISO needs, you’ll need to do some photography tests. Go outside and find a simple shot you can make on multiple settings. A flower in a sunny spot, or half-shade is a great sample shot to take.


Use your P(program) mode to take these shots and adjust the ISO for each one.


Change the settings for each shot you take for your sampling to examine and determine your ISO needs. Make notes in a notebook or your phone so that you know which photo utilizes which ISO setting.


Bring your camera to the computer, download the images, and start examining the photos on your computer. Up close, you’ll be able to see things like noise, clarity, et cetera, and this will help you determine what settings work well for you.


Be sure to take special note of which speeds work while you’re taking hand-held shots with your camera. Camera shake can be one of the biggest issues in quality photography, so determining which ISO settings work for you is critical.


5. Adjust Your Shutter Speeds

To fully test your ISO and understand which settings are right for the photography you’re going to be doing, your shutter speeds will also need some adjustments.


The process for finding the shutter speed settings is fairly similar to that of finding the ISO settings.


5. If Necessary, Use a Tripod

While using a tripod isn’t necessary, and at times won’t work at all, if you tend to have shaky hands, a tripod will drastically improve the quality of your images. A tripod automatically adds steadiness to the camera, which produces clearer shots.


6. Most of All, Have Fun

Chances are, if you’re reading this article, you’re interested in photography as a potential hobby, or even a long-term career at some point. And one of the great things about an artistic hobby or job is that you have a lot of freedom to create, remake, and change the perceptions of images and reality around you.


Photography is an art, which requires skill. It also requires a creative mind and exploring heart. Test your ISO and shutter speeds, and other settings, and focus on the creation of images you love, whether or not they’ll win National Geographic contests or make it into anthologies.

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