DSLR 101 – ISO

Time for lesson number two in our DSLR 101 series! Our topic today? You may have heard of it, it’s a little thing called ISO.

ISO is traditionally a measure of film speed; basically how sensitive a roll of film is to light. Obviously if you’re using a DSLR you’re not using film but your camera still has ISO settings. Instead of film it’s a reference to how sensitive the camera’s image sensor is to light. ISO settings can vary greatly but most cameras have at least 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1600. The lower the number the less sensitive the sensor is to light.

Although lower ISOs are usually desirable (leave your camera on Auto settings and it’ll choose 100 or 200 most of the time) to give you clear, sharp photos there are times when a higher ISO can be useful.

Choosing a higher ISO allows you to use a higher shutter speed or smaller aperture. This is especially useful for shooting in low light, particularly shooting action in low light (for example indoor sports events or concerts).

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The Big Three Basics

Recently we’ve explained some basic equipment terms so today I thought I’d continue with the beginner’s guides and introduce a few basic technical terms, starting with the Big Three:

Shutter Speed. Put in 4-year-old language this is the amount of time the shutter on your camera stays open. It is therefore the length of time the image sensor (in a digital camera) or film (in an old skool camera) is exposed to light.

Photographs are, generally, captured very quickly and so shutter speeds are measured in fractions of a second. The larger the number underneath the 1 (the denominator) the faster the shutter speed.

Moving from one shutter speed to the next halves or doubles the amount of light getting in. Slow shutter speeds can be used to introduce some blurring into a photo (e.g. a blurred background) or used with a tripod to get good night time photos.

Aperture. Again, in 4-year-old language, this is the size of the opening in the lens when you take a photograph. The larger the opening the more light that gets through the lens and “hits”

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Understanding exposure: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO

When your camera is set on automatic, making a photograph is as simple as pressing the shutter release button. Somehow, the camera magically records just the right amount of light to render an image of the scene before it. But what is really going on? How does the camera know how to do that?

Read on to find out how a little knowledge about what goes into making an exposure can open up new worlds of creative possibilities.

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