Saturday Insight: Three different ISO challenges explained

Last week I discussed what ISO is and some basic guidelines on how to manipulate it to your advantage. Now, I want to show you three situations where ISO was key in making my shots work.

First, I do work some performance horse shows every year. These are almost always conducted in dank, dreary, dark lighting. And the horses are often moving fast. This can be a challenge for any camera. In these situations, I use a bank of strobe lights. This is a must, but it limits my shutter speed to 1/200 because of sync requirements. I compensate for this as much as possible by using a good depth of field (that means an aperture of f9 or f11 which restricts light but keeps the background more in focus). I prefer f11 for most of these shots. This requires I use an ISO setting of 1250 on my 5D Mark II. You can see from this image that this setting works nicely, I have a nice sharp image considering the situation and I have very little noise even in my blacks and shadows.

Next, I want to talk about a situation where I like to use low or medium ISO settings. In this situation I’m shooting a portrait image in the shade with a black horse. This is a situation where everything I’m doing is in shadow BUT I have a somewhat stationary subject. This image was shot at 640 ISO, f4 at 1/400th shutter speed. I have almost no noise in the shadows thanks to the ISO setting.

Finally, I want to share my biggest ISO challenge to date: A candlelight wedding at sunset with no flash. At the beginning of the ceremony, I still had some natural light coming through the windows but as the ceremony progressed, that additional light disappeared and I had nothing but the candlelight. Considering even at the start of the ceremony, I was using a 3200 ISO setting, how far could I go from there? By the end of the vows I was at 6400 and, honestly, very pleased with the results. With that said, I did have a pretty lengthy discussion with the bride about how the photos were going to look toward the end of the ceremony and she agreed to allow me to shoot all the family images at the alter before the ceremony using strobes. That way we had all the keepsake family photos in the bag and what I could get at the ceremony was gravy. In her wedding book, though, the ceremony photos (after a twee bit post processing) look beautiful. (And just so you know, I don’t shoot with a tripod or monopod — they get in my way, so all these images at 1/30th are handheld.) Roll over the image with your mouse to see the camera settings.

This weeks challenge: Find a situation where it’s dark and dreary and see how far you can push the ISO setting on your camera. Don’t make it easy either — make it truly difficult and the see what is the highest ISO setting you can be a peace with on your particular camera. Happy shooting!

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