All digital cameras have an ISO setting, but what does it mean?

ISO stands for “International Standards Organization,” which originally referred to film speed in the early days of film. Today it refers to a digital camera’s sensitivity to light.

ISO is measured using a number value. The higher the number, the less light is needed to take a photo that is correctly exposed (not too dark or too light).

In bright light (like the middle of a sunny day), you’ll normally use ISO 100 or ISO 200 or even ISO 50 if your camera has a setting that low. These low settings can be used because there is lots of light around.

However, in lower light, your camera will need some help. There are two ways of doing this:

Decrease Shutter Speed

With a slower shutter speed, the camera has more time to ‘take in’ the amount of light it needs. Unfortunately though, the slower the shutter speed, the more chance that your images will turn out blurry.

Increase ISO

Instead of decreasing the shutter speed, you can increase the ISO, this will increase the sensitivity of the camera which means you can get the same shot with less light entering the camera. It also means you can keep the shutter speed low and avoid blurry images.

Increasing the ISO will increase the shutter speed, so a high ISO can also help when taking fast moving sports shots. You’ll get clear, crisp shots with no blur.

However, I still recommend you use the lowest ISO possible. Why?

Problems of using a high ISO

Using a higher ISO means the camera has less light to work with. Unfortunately this also means that ‘noise’ is introduced into your camera, this can make your pictures look grainy and bitty.

Your camera’s highest ISO value will produce a lot of noise in your image, so I suggest avoiding them unless the light is so low that you have no other choice. Instead choose the second highest value (second largest number).

Auto ISO

Fortunately most of the time you don’t need to worry about selecting the correct ISO. Most cameras have an “Auto ISO” setting. With Auto ISO, the camera will look at the amount of light in the scene and change the ISO appropriately so that the shutter speed doesn’t get too slow.

ISO Values

If you choose to use a manual ISO, what values should you use?

ISO 50-100. Suitable for bright light (like outdoors on a sunny day).

ISO 200. Great for overcast or cloudy days.

ISO 400 and 800. Use these values when the light is getting dim but it is not yet night.

ISO 1600 and above. Use for indoor or night shots. Also useful to freeze the action in sports shots. These values will produce the most noise.

Automatic Mode