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Jacking The ISO Through The Roof Is Not The Solution To All Low Light Situations

I started to use an example of a terribly grainy image that I saw posted on Facebook, but there are two core reasons that I did not do that: 1) I didn't have permission from the person posting the image. 2) I didn't want the individual to get hurt feelings by this post.

It's not my place or intention to judge other photographers. I have my own areas to work on. However, there are some things that photographers who know each other well should address in a professional manner to help each other out. It's up to each individual photographer to accept or reject the insight. So the more professional way for me to approach this post is by being generic.

Camera Limitations:

Knowing your camera and its limitations are important for any photographer. In my case, although I shoot with a full frame pro camera, I feel that 1600 ISO is about as far as I want to push my camera for acceptable noise (graininess) in a low light situation. Yes, I can go higher than 1600 ISO. No, I would never provide an image that is super grainy to the client unless I had no other choice for some odd reason. Jacking the ISO through the roof is not the answer.

Some quick solutions that will not work in every situation are: Use a flash, use a tripod, use a monopod and shoot with a lens with a lower f/stop. The lens with the lower f/stop should likely be step 1 of solving low light problems.

Here's a quick lesson on ISO and F/Stops:

f/2.8 at 1,600 ISO would be the same shutter speed setting as f/5.6 at 6,400 ISO. It's two stops of range. For example, f/2.8, f/4.0 and f/5.6 vs. 1,600 ISO, 3,200 ISO and 6,400 ISO. This is when having a lens with a lower f/stop is critical because as ISO goes up, so does the noise (graininess) of the image. Going from 1,600 to 6,400 will be a noticeable difference with most cameras on the market today.

If the photographer doesn't own a lens with a lower f/stop (typically f/2.8 is the most on a zoom lens), then the photographer should rent a lens that will get the job done. If the photographer cannot afford to rent the lens, the photographer should be charging more for his or her services because putting out work that has lots of noise in it is just not acceptable for a photographer that is charging money for his or her services.

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David Williams

Short Bio About The Author: I'm David Williams a professional commercial photographer focusing on corporate and business clients with some personal branding, lifestyle photography in the mix. My love for photography began in late 1981 while still in High School. I started making money with his camera in 1982. Brenda, my wife, and I started working together in photography in 1988 shortly after we met. Brenda and I married in 1989 and have two adult daughters. Please be sure to get a quote for services if needed. Call or Text: 919.723.8453. Please reach out to connect with me on LinkedIn.