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There are three pillars of photography – ISO, shutter speed and aperture. Each of these settings can dramatically affect the look of your images.

The ISO camera setting controls the brightness of your photos. It is important to understand ISO if you want to take the best possible images.

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ISO Camera Settings Explained

I recommend you read the following articles to get a basic understanding of ISO:

Now let’s delve a bit deeper into the topic of ISO.

What is the best ISO setting for the shot I want? 

sunrise at overlook at Zion National Park - US National Park List: 25 Beautiful Parks to Visit

Before determining which ISO setting is best, you must decide the objective for the image you want to capture.

Once you have that picture in mind, you should evaluate the scene and light and use the camera settings that will produce this image.

Personal taste affects your ISO settings.

Sunrise Photography: Tips to Get Beautiful Sunrise Photos - sunrise with pink clouds at Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah

Some people like a grainier image and some stories are best portrayed in gritty detail.

This concept reminds me of a question I’ve been asked many times over the years.

Which martial art style is the best? Another deep question not easily answered. Simply put, though, the answer is that all of them are the best. Which style is best for the individual depends on the reason for learning, individual body type, physical abilities, and temperament.

ISO is equally broad. Settings depend on each individual and environmental circumstance.

ISO and wildlife.

I use higher ISO settings to improve my shutter speed for wildlife shots.

The best images of wildlife are often captured in lower light making freezing motion difficult. 

I will generally set my camera on aperture mode and adjust my ISO until I have the shutter speed I desire for the image I’m shooting.

To compensate for the lack of light and capture movement without blur, I tend to use a very high ISO.

It is a balancing act to find the best camera settings that will maintain image quality.

Higher ISO settings produce noise. 

buffalo with snow on its face in the winter at Yellowstone National Park - black and white photo

The noise from higher ISO settings can be corrected to a certain point in Lightroom during post processing. But at some point the images can become so filled with noise as to be unusable.

I personally do not enjoy a lot of noise in my images and strive to keep my ISO settings as low as possible.

Low light shots will always be grainy, but sometimes that’s part of the appeal.

One of my preferences for processing low light shots is black and white. I think the black and white image is accented by the noise levels produced by higher ISO settings.

In processing low light or night images this way the ISO noise provides an appealing gritty texture.

Use a tripod.

The Milky Way over Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

A tripod is essential to steady your camera and reduce shake.

When you are taking photos in low light situations, you don’t want to add additional noise.

If you hand hold the camera in low light, it’s likely the shot will be blurry. Shaking equals blurring.

With a tripod, the shutter can stay open as long as needed. As long the camera remains still, the picture won’t be blurry.

Experiment to find what works best for you.

Sunrise with golden clouds at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

My advice to you: practice and experiment to get the best ISO settings that produce images you are excited about.

In learning photography over the years I’ve been given a lot of advice regarding ISO settings and much of it has conflicted.

The end result is that with practice, I have a general idea where I want MY ISO settings to be in the vast majority of photographic circumstances I face.

Not everyone will agree with settings that I use, but hey, I’m the one shooting the shot and I’m the one that has to live with it.

The most important instrument is the person behind the camera who creates the images. Be confident in your abilities and have fun!


Camera Gear

We rely on our Camera Gear Checklist to make sure we pack the necessary, and possibly needed, equipment in our camera bag. We recommend the following items for low-light photography:

  • Camera
  • Lens for landscape
  • Tripod
  • Camera Backpack
  • Circular Polarizer and Neutral Density Filter
  • Cleaning Kit
  • Remote Shutter Release
  • Memory Cards and Batteries


What is ISO and how does it affect my photos?  Know your ISO camera settings to take amazing photos

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