What’s With The ISO?
Every week, without fail, I get an email from an inquisitive mind about the EXIF data in Within The Frame, specifically the question goes like this, and I quote from yesterday morning’s email on the matter:
I noticed that in quite a lot of your photos you use high ISO even though there seems no reason to do so, for instance using ISO 800 and 1/5000 sec exposure. Wouldn’t ISO 200 and exposure 1/1250 sec give better results ? That is, less noise and higher dynamic range. Isn’t 1/1250 fast enough ? Of course the case may be that you had no special reason for this setting at a specific photo but it seems to be quite a consistent feature.
It’s a good question. Every photographer has different priorities, different ways of shooting, etc. If I were in a consistent lighting situation I’d put my camera on ISO 400 or lower, probably starting the day at ISO 200. But the thing is, I do so much shooting in mosques, temples, and dark little workshops that it’s not long before my ISO gets cranked up to 11. And by 11, of course, I mean ISO 800. And then – here’s the dirty little secret you’ve all been waiting for – I get distracted shooting, walk outside and spend an hour at ISO 800, and the resulting high shutter speeds, before I notice. Why? Because my top priorities are the settings that affect the aesthetics of the image in the way that I am most concerned about – in my case usually the aperture and resulting depth of field.
I know, I know, the ISO affects the aesthetic, but it just doesn’t affect it ways I notice or care about most of the time. My 5D and 5D/2 bodies create great looking files if you expose the image for the most amount of data and don’t try to pull much detail out of underexposed shadows, which is why I expose the way I do (HERE‘s an article on that). I don’t use Noise Ninja, never have. I’d probably benefit from it once in a blue moon, but i generally don’t have issues with noise. Nail the exposure and even at 800 the files look great to me. But like I said, we all focus on different things and some people get fixated on noise.
So the short answer – I get distracted, see something I’m excited about and chase it. Sometimes the ISO takes a while to catch up. You have to know what’s important to you. I’d rather follow my eye and my heart and get the shot than fiddle with ISO, but usually it’s not even conscious. I wish I could give you a better answer, something about string theory and reciprocity failure and the muted tones of a lower dynamic range…but mostly I just get distracted easily.