When it comes to low light photography, I’ve been extremely timid regarding ISO. For a quick recap, the ISO setting on a digital camera denotes how sensitive the sensor will be to light. The higher the ISO the more sensitive, which means you can get your image with a faster shutter speed or smaller aperture than you might normally be able to.
So let’s say you are shooting at f2.4 and 1/50 of a second and can’t afford to budge on those numbers. If the image that results from those settings is too dark, but that’s what you need to use, the next option (aside from adding more light, which would be best) can be to increase the ISO, which will make whatever light is coming in more potent.
So why not just use high ISO all the time to make the most of your light? Well, the tradeoff of increased sensitivity is that you also get a lot more noise in the image.
The higher the ISO, the more severe the noise will get. And for a guy like me that looks at my pictures up close at a level that pretty much nobody else will bother with, it makes me always do everything I can to keep ISO to a minimum, and make that the last measure for increased exposure values. My camera natively reaches up to ISO 6400, and I cringe if I’m in a situation where it needs to go above 1000.
I had my camera with me at my friend Drew’s birthday party, and figured I might as well overcome this silly issue, as taking a shot that doesn’t turn out at high ISO isn’t exactly any worse than not taking a shot because I couldn’t get a good enough exposure.
This was the result of shooting at night with my 50mm lens at 1/80 and f1.8 with an ISO of 4000. There was pretty much only a red flood light and a street lamp in the background, which is not a very good amount of light. It won’t hold up under scrutiny, but it’s still a picture of Drew that I like, and I wouldn’t have had anything if I stuck to my usual low ISO habits, so I’m glad I’m finally switching gears here.