ISO, Shutter Speed, Aperture: Part 1

Standard

Photojournalism was the class in jschool that I kept meaning to take, but that somehow always got shafted due to time conflicts with requirements and other more pressing electives. I did manage to get in a couple of weekend workshops and a 4-week news photography “module,” and I really enjoyed working on the assignments for them.

Even though my Canon G12 point-and-shoot isn’t that much better technically than my iPhone camera, I like that I can take pictures in the manual mode with the G12. Shooting in manual allows you to play around with the three main elements that affect how a picture turns out: 1) ISO; 2) shutter speed; and 3) aperture.

I thought it’d be fun to go out and take some pictures and put together a very basic explanation of how those three elements work because I think it’s really interesting how they are all interconnected. Here’s ISO; shutter speed and aperture will follow!

ISO, which stands for International Organization of Standardization, affects the sensitivity of the camera’s image sensor and how much light is absorbed. It’s sort of like telling a sponge to be more or less absorbant:

  • A higher ISO means the image sensor is more sensitive to light, and the picture will be brighter.
  • A lower ISO means the image sensor is less light is sensitive to light, and the picture will be darker.

There is a tradeoff in picture quality, however, and higher ISOs create grainier images. So the more natural light there is, the lower you can make the ISO, and the better the picture quality will likely be.

Here are photos of the holiday light show in Grand Central with three different ISOs. The other two elements (shutter speed and aperture) were kept constant:

ISO 250

ISO: 250
Shutter Speed: 1/10
Aperture: f/4.0

ISO: 800 Shutter Speed: 1/10 Aperture: f/4.0

ISO: 800
Shutter Speed: 1/10
Aperture: f/4.0

ISO: 2500 Shutter Speed: 1/10 Aperture: f/4.0

ISO: 2500
Shutter Speed: 1/10
Aperture: f/4.0

The G12’s ISO range is from 80 to 3200; high-end DSLRs have ISOs that go up to 25,600. You can play around with different camera settings to see how they’ll affect an image with this online photo simulator.

Stay tuned for shutter speed!

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