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Don't be afraid to increases Iso...

Quite a lot of my photos are taken in low light. Look through my galleries and you will see shots of interiors, U-Bahn stations and musicians performing in small music venues. All of these have two related things in common: they are taken hand held and in low light. In most cases it in not feasible or desirable to use a tripod or a slow shutter speed. With interiors required depth of field puts a restriction on going wide on the aperture setting and with live music a fast shutter speed is essential. So the only option is to increase Iso.


"But what about noise?" I hear many say. Well as one photographer put it, "Only photographers worry about noise." Perhaps that is a little simplistic but in general images will only be viewed at a 1:1 display by the photographer and apparent noise in the final image will be much less of a problem than people fear. Better to have a sharp image with some noise than an unsharp image. How many times have you had a great shot spoiled by motion blur? I know I have. But not so often now.



Iso 12,800, f2.8, 1/60 sec

The shot above of the sound engineer at a small venue concert was taken as you can see at 12.800 Iso. The only light on the subject was from the mixing desk, the small reading light and reflected light from the stage. The shutter speed was as low as I dare go risking movement blur but at my maximum aperture it was still underexposed by at least a stop and a half. Processed in DxO PhotoLab 2 with prime noise reduction I was able to brighten the shadows and retain detail with well controlled noise.



Iso 12,800 f4, 1/250

Another Iso 12,800 shot in extreme low light. At the time my 70-200mm lens had a maximum aperture of f4. and this light was really challenging. Still an atmospheric shot. Is the noise an issue? I don't think so. Yet when I speak to many photographers they tell me they are reticent to push their cameras above Iso 400. Well there are limitations with different cameras. Full frame sensors perform better in low light than cameras with smaller sensors but that gap is closing. Manufacturers like Sony have cameras specifically designed for better low light capability with limited megapixel counts and therefore bigger photo-sites. Even so it is amazing what can be produced from a small camera.


Sony RX100Mk3 1" sensor Iso 5000 f2.8 1/200sec

This shot of the legendary bluesman Buddy Guy was taken in his Chicago blues club at Iso 5000 with a small Sony compact camera with a 1" sensor. Noise? What noise?


So what is the take home message. Better some noise than motion blur. Get to know how far you can push your own camera and don't be afraid to push the Iso up. Most of all have fun.

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© Paul Hanley LRPS.