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Raising the ISO: The Simple Solution

Let’s begin with the obvious way to keep shooting when the lights get low: raising the ISO (Figure 8.1). By now you know how to change the ISO: just press the ISO button on the top of the camera and turn the Main dial to adjust. In typical shooting situations, you should keep the ISO in the 100–800 range. This will keep your pictures nice and clean by keeping the digital noise to a minimum. But as the available light gets low, you might find yourself working in the higher ranges of the ISO scale, which could lead to more noise in your image.

Figure 8.1

Figure 8.1 The light inside this orchid house was fairly dim and forced me to raise the ISO to get the shot without having to use flash.

ISO 5000 • 1/80 sec. • f/8 • 80mm lens

You could use the flash, but that has a limited range (15–20 feet) that might not work for you. Also, you could be in a situation where flash is prohibited, or at least frowned upon, like at a wedding or in a museum.

And what about a tripod in combination with a long shutter speed? That is also an option, and we’ll cover it a little further into the chapter. The problem with using a tripod and a slow shutter speed in low-light photography, though, is that it performs best when subjects aren’t moving. Besides, try to set up a tripod in a subway station and see how quickly you grab the attention of the security guards.

So if the only choice to get the shot is to raise the ISO to 800 or higher, make sure that you turn on the High ISO Speed Noise Reduction feature. This menu function is set to Standard by default, but as you start using higher ISO values you should consider changing it to the Strong setting. (See Chapter 7, “Landscape Photography,” for setting the noise reduction features.)

To see the effect of High ISO Speed Noise Reduction, you need to zoom in and take a closer look (Figure 8.2 and Figure 8.3).

Figure 8.2

Figure 8.2 Here is an enlargement of a flower shot without any ISO noise reduction.

ISO 6400 • 1/200 sec. • f/5.6 • 55mm lens

Figure 8.3

Figure 8.3 Here is the same flower with noise reduction set to Strong.

ISO 6400 • 1/200 sec. • f/5.6 • 55mm lens

Raising the noise reduction to the Strong setting slightly increases the processing time for your images, so if you are shooting in the Continuous drive mode you might see a little reduction in the speed of your frames per second.

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