Technically speaking… it is mumbo jumbo.

Albeit… important mumbo jumbo. I am referring to some basic math that you have to understand in order to create a dramatic photograph. Now…. for all of you who groaned and ran for the darkest place in your house when you read the word… math.

Come on back… this won’t hurt at all. What I am about to say is very important to someone who is making their way through the owner’s manual of their brand spanking new digital camera…. with that nice interchangeable zoom lens attached. You must have an understanding of and be able to control these five math-based pillars of modern photography…. ISO….. Shutter Speed…. Aperture…. The Color of Light and finally…. Lens Choice.

• ISO is your digital sensor’s sensitivity to light.
• The correct Shutter Speed can stop a drop of water in mid-air or allow your subject to “smear”.
• The correct Aperture determines your photo to be “crystal clear” from here to there… or have everything soft except an eyelash.
• An understanding that light… even though it looks “white”… probably isn’t.
And last but not least…. understanding the difference in “look” that various lens’s will give your photographs.

Let’s get a grip on that ISO thing first. Somewhere in your manual there will be a discussion of ISO. But let’s make this as short and sweet … or harmless as possible. It is just math… but it can hurt your photos. Most cameras today will “allow you to shoot in the dark”. Kinda.

Like many things in life… to get somethin’… ya gotta give up somethin’. And that is so true in photography. ISO numbers ( yep … numbers) go from about 50… all the way up to the many thousands. If you want a “smooth” photo…. one that is well… smooth looking… set your ISO between 50 and let’s say 200. If you set it higher in order to “shoot in low light situations”… crank it up way past 400. You will get the shot… but when you enlarge the photo… it will look rough… be “grainy”… and sometimes a bit “splotchy”. You got the shot… but you paid for it by sacrificing a smooth look. Now… if you don’t mind that look… great! But… if you want that smooth…. non-grainy look… keep it low.

What do I do? I keep it at ISO 100. But try different settings under various lighting conditions… it won’t hurt… it is only math.


Take a peek at the shot above. If I were to enlarge this photograph to about 20″ across… it would still be “smooth” as can be… because… the ISO was 100. But sometimes… you just have to crank up that ISO to get that low level light shot… but remember… with it will come a certain amount of graininess. Forewarned is forearmed.


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