Photography Guide : What ISO To Use?

There’s nothing ridiculous than coming across a newbie in photography that insists that he / she must no go beyond ISO 800 in order to make a photo look good, and we can’t blame them either as they’re probably taught by some supposed “expert” in the field.


In this guide, I will try to make it as simple as possible for you to understand by providing example of what ISO I use for what situations.

BUT before we begin – what is ISO? 🙂 In my own words – ISO is the setting you tell the camera on how sensitive the sensor should be. The higher the ISO setting, the more sensitive it is to light. With higher ISO settings, you can afford to use faster shutter speed or narrower aperture.

With that settled, here’s a table of what I usually use.

ISO 100 – 200 I don’t use them. I see no reason to use them as the noise level difference is too little to notice even at 100% zoom.
ISO 400 This is my usual ISO for commercial works, be it interior photography (natural lights) or product shoot (flash setup).
ISO 800 – 1600 With newer or better camera bodies, ISO 800 or even 1600 should do just fine. I use this ISO range for event photography, like the ones you see here at goldfries
ISO 3200 – 12800 Depending on your camera model, this range could actually be very usable. I used it on my Nikon D750 for wedding photography where the lighting condition is challenging.

But what about you?

Yes, what about you? Here’s a simple guide.

Do you need to freeze motion and have can’t go any wider on aperture? – If yes, use whatever ISO it takes to get the shot, even if it’s a noisy one. Remember, a moment frozen in time is still better than a clean-looking blur image that looked like something that fell on the floor.

You see, many guides made it so complex when it’s actually quite easy. Shutter speed decides how well you freeze motion and aperture decides the depth of field – they are of higher priority than ISO. What I do is I set my aperture first because depth of field is most important when it comes to getting the subject in focus. After that I settle my shutter speed, that’s when I get to know whether I need to raise my ISO.

But people say HIGH ISO is …….

Forget about what those people say. There’s a reason why ISO settings are there and it’s for you to nail the shot. This photo was taken at ISO 1600 using my Canon Powershot G1 X.

You should also consider the purpose and value of the photo – will the noise affect the acceptance of the image? Or is it just something you wish to upload to Facebook?

Here’s a photo I took with an ASUS Padfone S smartphone.

Travel Photography with ASUS Padfone S

It was taken using ISO 800 – full gallery at the Travel Photography with ASUS Padfone S article.

I use ISO 1600 for the cameras on my HTC One M7 / M8 , take for example the photos here. (And so was the first image in this article!)

Here’s a figurine photo taken using a Canon EOS 60D with setting at ISO 1600.

If you have a better camera, even ISO 12800 looks great! Check this out!


Still afraid of using high ISO?

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