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Getting Pro Results from a Compact Camera

Understanding ISO


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Getting Pro Results from a Compact Camera

with Derrick Story

Video: Understanding ISO

ISO controls how sensitive your camera is to light. So when you're outdoors and there are lots of light that ISO setting can be low. It can be around 100, no problem at all. Once you move into lower light, such as moving indoors or the ambient light is less, then you are going to want to raise that ISO up a little bit more to make your camera more sensitive to that lower light. Now when you're indoors, there are a couple different ways that you can deal with that low light. You could raise the ISO up, as we are talking, or you could turn on the flash and take flash shots, and that's what most people normally do.

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Getting Pro Results from a Compact Camera
1h 1m Intermediate Jan 27, 2010

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

Compact, point-and-shoot cameras are convenient, travel-ready, and inexpensive. They're also more capable—and complex—than ever. In Getting Pro Results from a Compact Camera, photographer Derrick Story shows how to use a compact camera to take photos that rival those of far more expensive cameras. Derrick shows how to get the most out the camera's lens as you shoot wide-angle, telephoto, and even macro shots. Derrick also discusses the camera's exposure system and clarifies the differences among ISO settings and scene modes. He also shows how to get the best pictures in a variety of lighting conditions, including making judicious use of the flash to supplement existing light.

Topics include:
  • Understanding ISO
  • Stitching a panorama
  • Using exposure lock
  • Using the flash indoors and out
  • Adapting professional techniques to small cameras
Subjects:
Photography Cameras + Gear
Author:
Derrick Story

Understanding ISO

ISO controls how sensitive your camera is to light. So when you're outdoors and there are lots of light that ISO setting can be low. It can be around 100, no problem at all. Once you move into lower light, such as moving indoors or the ambient light is less, then you are going to want to raise that ISO up a little bit more to make your camera more sensitive to that lower light. Now when you're indoors, there are a couple different ways that you can deal with that low light. You could raise the ISO up, as we are talking, or you could turn on the flash and take flash shots, and that's what most people normally do.

The problem with flash all of the time is that light is harsh. You know what that shot looks like. Very bright on the subject, very dark on the background. The other problem is that it can reflect in mirrors and glass and that's unwanted aspect of the shot. So sometimes it would be nice to turn off that flash and just go with the existing light and that's where ISO becomes really important. Now newer cameras shoot better at higher ISO than older cameras.

So how do you know what is the best way for you to go? For instance, if you have an older camera and you're not quite sure how high you can go with the ISO, what I recommend you do is test it. Set it up in a shot like this, make sure you turn off the flash, set it at 100, take a shot, and go all the way through your ISO settings, maybe all the way up to 3200 even if you have it. Then look at those shots on the computer afterwards. Now what you're balancing there is sensitivity to low light with image quality.

So when you get that ISO up way high, up around 1600, you are going to have something that we call image noise or grain. The higher you go on ISO, the more you're going to compromise that image quality, yet you have the ability to shoot in low light. So you can see this trade-off. So what you have to do when you're looking at those shots is find what is the sweet spot for you, where are you happy between the balance of image quality and sensitivity to ambient light. Once you know that, remember it.

Now that we have talked about how set up your camera, let's actually take some pictures. So the flash is off and the next thing I am going to do is set it to ISO 400, and we are picking 400 because it's a nice high ISO that most cameras can do. There we go. We are set on 400 right there. Now the thing is when you're working at a higher ISO and low light, you are still going to have a fairly slow shutter speed. So the thing that you want to keep in mind is that you want the hold the camera very steady during the shot.

Brace yourself if you can, squeeze that shutter, and then take the picture. By doing so, you are going to help eliminate something that we call camera shake, which is actually moving the camera during the exposure, and that will give you blurry shots. And of course, then you have defeated the whole purpose of doing this technique in the first place. Now another way to get around camera shake is to actually put the camera on some sort of stable surface. It can be a tripod if you happen to have one with you or it can be just a tabletop or anything like that.

What we are going to do for this trick is that we are actually going to turn on the self timer. Now the reason why I am going to turn on the self timer is because we want to eliminate camera shake. You notice here, if I just move the camera a little bit, see how we get that motion. That's going to cause camera blur. If I turn on the self timer and step back, it will give the camera a chance to settle down when it makes the exposure. Now usually the Self Timer button is right here on the back. I am just going to turn it on right here, and I am going to hit OK.

Now we know we are in Self Timer Mode because we can see the icon here, and what's going to happen now is that when I press the shutter there is actually going to be a delay, in our case five seconds, before the picture is taken. That gives the camera a chance to settle down here. So we are going to go head and do that right now. So you notice how things were much more stable when the shot was taken. Now this isn't always practical. There are going to be times when you just can't find a surface to set the camera on or you don't have a tripod with you, but you do want to remember this technique.

The nice thing about it is that if you can't steady the camera and use self timer, you can even lower that ISO back down to 100 or so, because the camera is so stable. So generally speaking the ISO goes up more when your handholding right and you're trying to steady the camera and you want the camera as sensitive as possible. And when you have a stable surface such as a tripod you can lower the ISO back down as long as the camera stays stable, and then remember to use the self timer.

There are still a couple of things I want to cover. One of them is Auto ISO. I get this question a lot. Can I use Auto ISO instead of playing with all these settings? Well that depends on the range of Auto ISO that your camera uses. For example, if its going from 100 to 3200 and you've done your tests, and you are only comfortable up to 400, then I would say no, Auto ISO is not for you. However if your camera does Auto ISO up to an area, up to that setting that you're okay with through your testing, then it's not a bad way to go because you don't have to play with the ISO settings all the time.

Now the other thing I want to mention is that when you're done with all of this and you've done all this fancy shooting that we've been talking about, set everything back to its default mode. So set ISO back to whatever it is that you normally keep it at, ISO 100 for example. Turn the flash back to auto, because that's where your default setting is. And finally make sure that the self timer is off. That can be the most embarrassing one, because if you are shooting -- if you forget the self timer is on, you go to take a shot, nothing will happen.

You'd be figuring around with your camera. By the time you turn it around to look and see what's going on, it will take a picture of you and that's very embarrassing. So make sure that the self timer is off. Now I am going to take a take a few more shots here, and then what we are going to do is we are going to go to the computer and we're going to take a look at what we've done and review them, and then you'll see what I've been talking about with these different settings, and I think they will come to life even more. So let's go take a look.

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