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Dad’s Photography Corner: Say No To Auto-ISO?

My recent trip to the Pittsburgh Zoo was a success overall, but I felt that I could have done better.  Out of the four hundred pictures I took, only seventy-five of them didn’t have that grainy look about them.  This was partly my fault, as I was trying something new this time around…Auto-ISO and Manual mode.

Having taken many a photograph in Shutter and Aperture Priority modes, I figured I would need to step it up to Manual sooner or later.  I figured with the Auto-ISO turned on, it might help my transition a bit.  My first mistake was not setting the limits of the feature as the camera defaulted the max ISO to 3200.  For those of you new to photography, high ISOs will result in grainy pictures.  With the Auto-ISO enabled, the camera will check your shutter and aperture settings and attempt to meter (adjust the lighting) for your photos by automatically setting the ISO.  ISO, to recap, is a value that determines how sensitive your camera sensor is to light.

Taking what I know about shutter speeds and aperture settings, I kept my shutter speed at about 1/400 and 1/500 and my aperture at about f/4.5-5.6.  The faster shutter speeds, I reasoned, would help to capture animals in motion should they make any quick movements.  The aperture setting I chose would help to ensure that my depth of field wasn’t too focused on any one part of the photo…had I used f/1.8, for example, there’s a good chance that part of the animal would have been blurred out.  The weather was about eighty degrees and the sun was out in full force, so I hoped that the faster shutter speeds would accommodate the brightness of the sun.

Sounds great, so what went wrong?  When I got home to look at the photos, most of my pictures were grainy, especially the indoor ones.  I expected the latter, as the lack of light at fast shutter speeds almost forces the camera to max out the ISO, unless you have a great lens that can stoop down to f/1.8 on your aperture.  That’s actually what I did for the indoor photos…switched out my 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens for my nifty fifty (50 mm f/1.8) and lowered the aperture to about f/2.8.  Still, my ISOs were higher than I would have liked, hitting 1000 in some places outside…in the sun…where it was extremely bright.  Most of my indoor photos hit above 1000 ISO and some were simply too grainy to use.

Until I can figure out why my camera acted the way it did, Auto-ISO is staying off.  Either that, or I’m limiting it to 800 ISO and no higher.  I shoot in RAW, so I might have been better off with darker pictures (via lower ISOs) and fixing them in post.  This experience was a real eye-opener and I learned a lot from it, especially now that I have my feet wet with manual mode.  I suppose I could have played it safe with Priority or Auto, but that’s not why I became a photographer.  Once I get this metering down, I think I’ll be in a better place overall.  I find myself struggling with this particular goal, but I suppose this simply takes practice, practice, and more practice.  The next time I go to the zoo, I’m going to try an ISO of 100-200 (Auto-ISO is staying off) with a shutter speed of about 1/250 and bump that up to 1/500-1/1000 if my pictures come out too bright.

What are your experiences with Auto-ISO?  Feel free to leave a comment if you feel inclined.

You can check out the photos from that trip here:


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