Early digital cameras typically only gave you a choice of 50, 100, 200 and 400 for ISO. Pictures shot at 400 just weren’t very clean and crisp – they had a lot of noise. 50 or 100 gave the best results but weren’t practical in any conditions without LOTS of light. Modern digital cameras offer a choice of ISO from 100 all the way to 6400 or even higher. So which should you most often use? And what about Auto ISO where the camera chooses ISO for you?
You need to have some understanding of the relationship between ISO, shutter speed and aperture (aka f-stop or lens opening). If you need to brush up, read my post Shutter speed, f-stop and ISO.
It would be nice to just shoot everything at 100 ISO since that will give you the “cleanest” image with the least noise (noise is something like graininess in film). I’ve found that 100 ISO though often forces you to use too slow a shutter speed or too large an aperture. If you have a point and shoot camera I suggest you try 200 and also see how well your camera does 400 if light is dim.
With a recent DSLR you have a lot more choices. I typically start at 400 ISO and move up if I’m finding shutter speed too low. I usually shoot in AV or aperture priority mode so I set the aperture/f-stop that I want and check to see what shutter speed the camera chooses. I might go up to 800 ISO even with plenty of daylight if I’m shooting a soccer game or something else where I want pretty high shutter speeds.
Indoors without flash and relatively dim lighting (church, museum, etc.) I try 1600 and if it just won’t work, move to 3200. I rarely use 6400 but if there just isn’t much light at all that’s what I’ll do. I recently was outside around dusk and wanted to capture a picture of my neighbor’s red tree. Even at 6400 with the lens wide open I got a pretty show shutter speed. So I shot at 12,800 ISO. This was the result.
So, if you need to don’t be afraid to bump your ISO as high as it can go to get a shot. Would this have been better on a tripod at ISO 100. Probably but this one is good enough for me.
Here’s another one inside the President’s performance at Disney World that I shot as ISO 12,800 because it was so dark in there.
And here’s one at the Magic Kingdom shot at 6400 ISO
So, if you need to, crank up that ISO. A lot of people are afraid to because of the dreaded noise but that just means that they hand hold at very slow shutter speeds and the resultant picture may not be sharp.
One of the nice things about shooting in AV (aperture priority) mode is that the camera will always give you a shutter speed that works. It may be too slow to handhold so you might need a tripod but it will pick a shutter speed for you. TV or shutter priority mode, on the other hand, has a built in problem. You pick a shutter speed and the camera tries to choose an appropriate lens opening. It may not be able to because the required f-stop is beyond what your camera will support. So you get the dreaded flashing f-stop as the camera tries to tell you this won’t work. You can keep bumping up the ISO a little bit at a time to see if you can get a usable f-stop with the shutter speed you have chosen. This may work fine for you at a soccer game on an overcast day.
But in certain situations you just can’t afford to keep fooling around with camera settings or you’ll miss the shot. If you’re shooting from a moving vehicle you may be going through a whole range of scenes with bright light and dim light. I was recently confronted with just this problem on a train in Switzerland. I wanted to set a high shutter speed so that my pictures from the train wouldn’t be blurry. But the scenes outside were going to be changing rapidly from snow scenes to dark forests and everything in between. If I kept trying to change the ISO to get a usable f-stop I would miss a lot of shots.
The solution was to set the camera to Auto ISO. I set the shutter speed to 1/1000th (in shutter priority mode) and let the camera choose the f-stop. If the camera can’t do the job at a low ISO it will pick a higher one until the combination works.
Here’s the first shot from the moving train 1/1000th sec, f5.6, ISO 100
Here’s one at 1/1000th sec, f4.0, ISO 1600
And finally one at 1/1000th sec, f9, ISO 100
On my camera, a Canon T3i, there is a menu setting for Auto ISO that lets me restrict how high the camera will go. I set this to ISO 1600 but could have set it as high as 6400 if I had expected low light conditions.
I recently post a side by side picture of my grandkids in their Halloween costumes and someone asked to explain how to do it.
I opened up both pictures in Photoshop Elements. I noted the height and width in pixels of the picture of the boys. Going over to the picture of the girls, I entered those dimensions in the appropriate spaces for the crop tool
Next I flipped over to the picture of the boys and chose Image, Resize, Canvas (not image). I entered a value of 2328 in Width, left relative unchecked and clicked on the left most arrow for Anchor. The picture of the boys was only 2323 wide but I used 2328 to leave a 5 pixel white space.)
Clicking OK gives me this
Now back to the picture of the girls, choose Select, All, then Edit, Copy. Back to the picture of the boys, choose Edit, Paste. Use the arrow keys to move the picture of the girls all the way to the right, leaving a thin white line in the middle.
The layers pallette looks like this
and the merged image like this
Yesterday we went to a children’s museum with our grandsons. One of the areas of the museum has a whole bunch of exhibits about light. One of them featured colored blocks in a booth with a constantly changing light source. It was fascinating to see a yellow block change to orange and then to white. I decided to try to capture the essence of this experiment with my camera. When I took a look at the pictures on my computer I saw that the Auto White Balance was “fooled” much of the time. I opened up the RAW file in each case and use the eyedropper tool to set the white balance by clicking on the desk surface.
Here’s what I would call a “normal” view of the blocks
In this shot the Auto White Balance was really off
By adjusting the white balance I got this – which is what my eye saw
Here’s another from the camera
And the WB adjusted version
So here are the same blocks in three different lights
Note the shift in red to dark red and then orange. And the blue to turquoise and back to blue.
Here are three more unadjusted shots that have picked up a blue cast
Correcting the white balance though gives very different results
So here are all the variations that we saw (these have been adjusted to correct white balance)
Two points to take away from this:
- Keep in mind the color of your light source
- Shoot RAW and check the white balance to see if you can get a better result.
I caught this sign yesterday and it got me to thinking about sign photos
Be on the look out for signs that are funny or just interesting. I don’t always remember to look for signs but when I do they make interesting photos.
In April I wrote http://arthillphoto.wordpress.com/2011/04/16/shoot-something-different/ to help you think over new things to shoot. Recently a couple of people have discovered that post and feel that it helped. So, I thought I’d update it with some shots I’ve done this year that aren’t my typical subjects.
So get out there and shoot something different. And let me know how you do.
Early this week I visited Navy Pier in Chicago with my wife, daughter and grandkids. There are lots of photo ops, especially of the Chicago skyline. You sometimes get the best shots of cityscapes if you can find a place well above ground level.
Here’s a shot from the Ferris wheel (which is 150 feet high)
About halfway down the pier there is an outdoor stairway to the second floor of Festival Hall with a nice platform. I didn’t get anything Monday but I usually shoot something from there like this
Continuing on down the pier I shot the towers and the roof of the Grand Ballroom
That got me to wondering if there was a way to get up there. Sure enough there was an elevator to the flat roof so I went up there and shot these
So look up, find a place above ground to take your shots. Sometimes the higher you get the better. I shot this from the 41st floor of Lake Point Tower.
and this one from the same place
I forget when I switched from a digital “prosumer” or all-in-one camera to a DSLR but it’s been a few years. So, as often as not I drag my whole camera bag with me and end up shooting all my shots with just the camera and my 17-85mm lens. I did have an old leather holster style camera bag that I would use sometimes when I didn’t want to carry the whole bag of stuff. But, it wasn’t ideal. The fit was pretty snug. The only way to close the holster was with a zipper so it was pretty slow to get the camera out for a shot. The strap was pretty short so when I had the camera out the holster would always slip off of my shoulder.
Well, I’ve found a great solution and thought I would share it with you. It’s a Tamrac Digital Zoom Pack. http://www.tamrac.com/5683.htm
It’s just right for me when I only want to take my camera with the one lens. It has a zipper but also has a clasp for the cover. So, when I’m walking around I leave it unzipped with the cover held down by a clasp. It’s easy to get the camera out. It has nice long strap so I put it over my right shoulder and let the case hang down on my left hip. They have other models in case you have a longer lens.
I mostly shoot in color but every once in a while I do some black and white. It is surprising to me how many people do shoot in black and white or at least convert to black and white.
I’ve seen some very compelling black and white photography but for lots of subjects I think color is just so much better.
Check out this little piece on color vs. black and white.
If you’ve read my blog before you noticed that I dropped out for a while. I guess I was out of “big” articles. So I’m going to try to post more frequently but do shorter stuff. We’ll see.
Canon DSLR’s have a feature called Picture Styles. The ones built into the camera are:
You can download more at
- Studio Portrait
- Snapshot Portrait
- Autumn Hues
What do these do? Well, Canon makes the analogy that it’s just like choosing a film type in the old days. Let’s take the built-in ones first. I generally shoot Standard but sometimes switch to Portrait. Canon describes the Portrait effects as:
People are one of the most difficult subject to reproduce photographically because skin color can vary significantly depending on lighting conditions and exposure balance. The “Portrait” Picture Style adjusts the color tone magenta-to-yellow close to red range and adds brightness. Skin color is reproduced light pink with still the correct exposure. It is particularly well-suited for shooting women and children. To keep the soft and natural feeling of skin, sharpness is set modestly.
I’m of a mixed mind on this one. Sometimes I like people pictures better with Standard and sometimes with Portrait. You’ll have to experiment and see what you like.
Before we go further I should explain that if you’re shooting JPEG then you select one of these on the camera menu and that’s what you get. If you’re shooting RAW then you can open the RAW file in Canon’s Digital Photo Professional and choose any Picture Style. For me, this is one of the most compelling reasons to shoot RAW (or as I do, RAW + JPEG). Another important point – you can actually download some of the new styles into your camera and use them from the menu. But, at least on my camera I can only add 3 of the new ones. So you’ll need to shoot RAW and apply them later if you want to use ones that you haven’t installed into your camera.
Now I’m not going to cut and paste the Canon explanations of all these styles since you can read them on the Canon site. I do try to use Landscape for, well landscapes, and I use Monochrome from time to time. I think the names of the others are pretty self explanatory so let’s get to some examples.
Here’s a Grand Canyon shot with Standard Picture Style
Let’s see what it looks like with other Picture Styles applied
None of these pictures have any other adjustments made to them – just the Picture Style has been changed.
I want to say a few more things about Clear and Nostalgia. For me, neither or them works very well with this particular picture. But Clear can have dramatic effects in cutting through reflections and haze. Look at this picture I shot from an airplane in Standard and Clear style
Or these two in Standard and Clear
And check out these two shots I took on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills
The last one I’m going to talk about is Nostalgia. I don’t use it much but you might like it if you are trying to achieve that old photo look. Consider these two shots of Crystal Cove State Park near Laguna Beach.
Apologies to my readers that don’t have Canon cameras or have ones that don’t support this feature. I would be interested to hear from you Nikon owners what the corresponding feature is for Nikon.
SOOC, short for straight out of the camera. Every day people post photos online at smugmug, Facebook, Flickr, etc. and, in the caption or the description, tell us that the image is SOOC. Some people who usually manipulate or at least crop their photos seem to give us this information just to say “Hey I know I usually fix up my posts but I got lucky this time and I was so happy with this picture I didn’t need to do anything to it”. For these people I think it is a way of heading off questions about post processing.
For others though, it seems that SOOC is some sort of accolade. That it’s a good thing. For some it seems they always say SOOC and even go on to say uncropped or no post processing. Some even emphasize the point in their “about me” or bio section. “All my photos are SOOC” or something like that.
In today’s post I am going to try to discourage this whole SOOC thing. I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings but sticking with SOOC and trumpeting the fact just doesn’t make sense. Ed Spadoni over at 2guysphoto and I have had some conversations about this. We see a lot of photos that could be significantly improved by cropping. His post today ask-2-guys-photo-im-ready-for-my-close-up has a good example of how cropping can make a huge difference. My post Crop it makes the same point. Why would I be happy with this
when I can crop to this?
Here’s the way I ended that post
“Too many people take it as a badge of honor to post everything on-line just as it came out of the camera (SOOC). Don’t be one of those. I’d much rather look at an image that displays your cropping skill and judgment than occasionally be impressed that your in viewfinder composition was spot on. Sure, theoretically in viewfinder composition should be as good as you can make it. Practically it often isn’t. So crop already.”
But I’m not just talking about cropping. Most pictures can be improved with other post processing techniques. It can be something quite complicated or something very simple e.g. adjusting the exposure or contrast. If you don’t want to make any adjustments you’re saying that you’re willing to accept all mistakes that your camera’s metering system makes. Why?
Let’s say you shoot a picture and see right away on your camera screen that it is too bright. So you make some camera adjustments and take another picture. Why is that any better than noticing that a picture is too bright and adjusting it on your computer before you post it somewhere.
I think some people have the idea that the great photographers from the past were great because they got the exposure and composition right SOOC. That’s baloney. They manipulated things a lot in the darkroom – burning, dodging, cropping, doing prints with various exposure times and then picking the best. And the pros, now? They go nuts with Photoshop. Lots of them only shoot RAW so that they can do all of their tweaking on the computer. In other words, they never produce an SOOC image.
I’m not suggesting that – it’s just as silly to never do SOOC as it is to always do SOOC.
I’ll get off the soapbox now and close with a few examples of pictures I shot that were okay SOOC or needed a little help.
SOOC Adjusted exposure Gave it black background Put a red border around it
SOOC although I could darken the background and even crop some off the top.
Straightened it and adjusted the exposure.