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Photo Tips by Mike Rosen



Hi <<First Name>>,

As in most fields, there are lots of abbreviations that you come to use over time. Photography is no exception. Some common examples are DSLR (a digital single lens reflex type of camera), LCD (liquid crystal display, your camera's monitoring screen) and JPEG (the most common format for capturing, storing and transmitting photographic images on the web, developed by the Joint Photographic Experts Group in 1992).

A more critical one for optimizing the quality of your pictures is ISO, an abbreviation referring to an industry standard designed by the International Standards Organization. ISO measures the sensitivity of your digital camera's sensor to light. It's comparable to the old ASA speeds in film camera days and is one of the three determinants of exposure, along with aperture and shutter speed.

The higher the ISO the less light that is needed to correctly expose your image, allowing you to shoot at faster shutter speeds and/or smaller apertures (higher f/stop numbers). Thus, with a higher ISO, you can make better pictures in low light situations or when you need fast shutter speeds to freeze the action, like kids at play or sports events.

The tradeoff is that higher ISO settings are usually accompanied by more noise (an unpleasant grainy-like texture) in your photos. Noise might not show up much on ordinary 4 x 6 prints, but you probably won't like the look on larger prints or if you want to crop the image and then print just a small portion. 

So I suggest you NOT use the "auto ISO" setting on your camera but manually set the ISO speed to the LOWEST POSSIBLE LEVEL, usually 100.
If 100 doesn't give you a correct aperture/shutter speed combination to achieve your vision for the image, you can then adjust the ISO up until the exposure is right.

As a generality If the light hitting your sensor is dim--like in shady areas, on overcast days, or for night or interior shots--you'll likely need to bump up your ISO to get properly exposed images. In brighter light, a lower ISO will work. (This assumes you're not using flash.)

Do you want to freeze action? Then you'll need a higher shutter speed and probably a higher ISO. Do you want to blur the background, such as in a portrait? Then you'll use a large aperture (low f/stop number) and a corresponding low ISO. Conversely, does your vision call for wide depth of field so both foreground and background are sharp? Then you'll need a smaller aperture (higher f/stop) and a higher ISO. Remember: other things being equal, the lower you set your ISO, the better, to keep noise to a minimum.

On high-end DSLR or compact cameras you can often get low-noise results with ISOs as high as 800, 1600 or more, but I'd recommend you try to stay at 400 or lower for the best prints. Experiment with your camera to see how higher ISOs impact the results in dim-light situations.

TIP: If you don't know how to manually set the ISO on your camera, get out your instruction book and learn. ISO is just as important as aperture and shutter speed in determining the best exposure for your photos.

This image of Cameron Lake in Waterton Lakes (the Canadian section of Glacier National Park) was made under a bright mid-day sun. I used an ISO of 100, which permitted a small enough aperture (f/11) to give me the depth of field I needed to keep the whole picture in sharp focus. I like the diagonal lines of the dock leading to the people at the end, who provide a nice color contrast and a sense of scale to the photo.

These kids were lighting candles for a pre-Christmas posada celebration in Oaxaca, Mexico. There wasn't much light that evening except from the candles, and I wanted to avoid the harsh light from my built-in flash. So I bumped the ISO up to 1600 and, helped by the vibration reduction feature of the lens, managed to hold my camera steady for 1/8 of a second at f/4.5. The picture would not have been successful at the normal 100 ISO setting. Noise might be an issue if I were to print this in large size.

Here's an example of a late day, low light situation where I needed to increase the ISO to obtain correct exposure with good depth of field. I used an 800 ISO and a shutter of 1/100 of a second at f/16. It was windy out, so I didn't want to risk a slower shutter speed (more likely to blur). These  stairs lead to a home in the small town of Marvao, Portugal.

I know it may seem that learning and remembering how to adjust apertures, shutter speeds and ISO is so complex....why not simply set everything to automatic and just point and shoot? My answer would be that by giving up control of your camera, you're also giving up the opportunity to uncover your latent artistic creativity and settling for ordinary, often humdrum snapshots. My goal is to entice you to get beyond that level and have more fun, while making memorable images in the process.

Happy Holidays and I wish you a healthy and satisfying 2012.




Other Stuff


You can view and purchase any of my photographs at my website (click HERE). Better yet, just email me (click HERE), or feel free to phone me at 612-374-2766.


One of the best ways to improve your own photos is to read about how the world's best photographers do it and study their pictures. Here are a few books (all available on Amazon) that I've read and keep coming back to for knowledge and inspiration:

"BetterPhoto Basics--The Absolute Beginner's Guide to Taking Photos Like the Pros" by Jim Miotke. The title belies the content, which is sophisticated, practical and complete.

"Within the Frame--The Journey of Photographic Vision" by David duChemin. This is excellent for helping you determine a vision and how to "see" the world photographically.

"Creative Nature and Outdoor Photography" by Brenda Tharp. I participated in a workshop led by Brenda in San Francisco a few years ago and loved it. Her book is a terrific guide for honing your skills in composition, light, color and artistic expression.

"The Photoshop Elements 10 Book for Digital Photographers" by Scott Kelby and Matt Kloskowski. I've learned a lot from Scott Kelby's Photoshop books and am confident this guide to the latest version of the popular Photoshop Elements editing software will be just as helpful. The book will be available from Amazon on Jan. 2, 2012.

NEW CAMERA RECOMMENDATIONS (repeat from last month)

Just in time for the holiday season, Consumer Reports has an analysis in its December issue of the latest digital cameras, ranging from basic point and shoot compacts to high end SLR's. These are well-researched and unbiased reviews. You can buy the magazine on the news stand or subscribe to the on-line (including mobile) service. Click HERE if you're interested. It's a modest price and well worth it.


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