September 25, 2018

In the past few weeks, we’ve mastered both aperture and shutter speed in relation to winter photography. This week we’re taking a quick look at the final pillar of photography: ISO.

ISO is the last step to understanding the basics of shooting on manual mode and is a crucial component to a well-exposed photo.

What is it?

ISO is your camera’s sensitivity to light. Back when film photography ruled the land, ISO was an indication of how sensitive the roll of film was to light. Now that digital photography is king, ISO still functions the same but now refers to the sensitivity of the image sensor, not the film. When shooting on film, photographers were stuck with whatever ISO the film was set to but with digital photography, photographers have the freedom to change the ISO for every shot.

Man taking photos in winter with gloves on
Photo by Lukas Reidl.

How is it measured?

ISO is measured in numbers. The higher the number, the more sensitive your sensor becomes to light. The lowest ISO setting on a camera is 100 and from there, the sensitive doubles in number as the ISO increases 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400, etc. High ISO is used in very low light conditions and low ISO is used in bright conditions.

ISO Scale

Why is it important?

Often when you adjust your aperture and shutter speed settings, you’re left with a dark image. This is especially common when a fast shutter speed or a small aperture is required. 

In those instances, you may need to bump up your ISO to compensate for the lack of light. For example, if you’re shooting a low light action shot, such as a snowboarder at dusk, you’ll want to maintain a fast shutter speed to freeze motion which might require a high ISO to maintain the light. On occasion, even if your aperture is wide and your shutter speed is long (when shooting the stars, for example) you’ll still need to have a high ISO to get enough light onto the sensor.

Winter photography at night
A higher ISO might be needed to capture a starry night.
Photo: Rickard Croy

What’s the drawback?

With photography, changing a setting always has a counter effect and with a higher ISO, the drawback is the amount of grain (or noise) in a photo. The higher the ISO, the grainier the photo.

ISO 100 should be where you start as this will give you the sharpest and cleanest shot possible (with almost no noise/grain), however, you may find yourself in a situation where you need to increase your ISO due to lack of light.

You do not need to be afraid of bumping up your ISO as the technology of digital cameras have come a long way and are able to handle high ISO settings.

Having said that, just because your camera can go to ISO 6400 doesn´t mean you should.

We recommend shooting the same image with different ISO settings, then compare those shots to see how high you can put your ISO before it ruins your image.

Grainy photo of woman in front of ice bergs
The high ISO in this photo made the exposure grainy.

How does it work with Aperture and Shutter Speed?

ISO is a key part of the exposure triangle and adjusting the ISO settings will have a direct effect on the aperture and shutter speed. Bumping up your ISO to 400, for example, will make the exposure brighter, allowing you to increase the shutter speed or have a smaller aperture (both of which decrease how bright the exposure will be). Of course, increasing the ISO will also increase the graininess of the photo so start at ISO 100, set your aperture and shutter speed first, then adjust your ISO to a higher setting as the last resort.

ISO Settings for Winter
To capture afast-moving subject in low light, you'll need to keep your shutter speed fast to reduce image blur, which might require you to increase your ISO to ensure the exposure is bright enough. Photo: Todd Easterbrook.

Our Winter ISO Setting Recommendations:

Its hard to give you an exact ISO setting as this very much depends on your other settings and the available light, however here are some good starting points:

Bright snowy landscape: ISO 100

Winter sports during the middle of the day: ISO 100

Winter sports photography in low light: ISO 800

Cloudy winter day: ISO 200-400

Northern Lights: ISO 1600

Winter night sky: ISO 800-3200

Snowboarder hitting a jump on a bluebird day
A bright sunny day will allow you to keep your ISO low, ensuring the crispest shot possible. Photo: Lukas Reidl

 

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Winter is no joke! Keep warm and shop our range of Vallerret Photography Gloves.


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