What is ISO?

Usually when we speak of ISO in photography, we are speaking of an ISO number. This has to do with the sensitivity of the digital sensor or film. The higher the ISO number the more sensitive the sensor. ISO numbers of 1600 and higher allow pictures to be taken in situations where the light is dim, such as inside a room lit with table lamps or outside after the sun has gone down. There is, however, a tradeoff. The higher the ISO number the more noise will appear in the image. Noise looks a lot like the grain we used to see in high speed films. The noise will cut down on details especially in highlight and shadow areas of the image. This effect is very noticeable in bright sunlight. When you are outside on a sunny day try to keep the ISO around 100 or 200. If the wind is strong or if you are photographing a sporting event, you can bump the ISO up to 400 or even 800, this will help you use the higher shutter speeds of 1/250 or 1/500 of a second to freeze some of the action. The general rule in setting the ISO is to use the lowest ISO number you can without blurring your image due to subject or camera movement.

Where do I set the ISO on my camera? If you do not see a button on the camera body labeled ISO, you can go into your menu and adjust the ISO there. Many of the newer cameras have an auto ISO setting, and some of the smaller point and shoot cameras only offer auto ISO. If you turn the dial on top of your camera to the green setting, you will be shooting in the fully automatic mode. This allows you to concentrate on composition and subject expressions, while the camera does the rest. The camera will pick the aperture, shutter speed and ISO for the lighting conditions, and most of the time it does quite well.

Product Photography Tips

When photographing products where the image is going to be small either on the printed page or on the web, keep the background simple. Simple or plain backgrounds allow for more compression of the image which makes it open quicker online. In print, simple images take less ink and they will show up brighter on the page. It is fine to come up with a new way of photographing a subject by thinking outside the box. But when it is time to compose your products, think inside the box! Everything in the box of the image is important. If it doesn't need to be in the picture, get rid of it. Simplify for greater impact.

If your camera is set for auto white balance, make sure you have something in the image that is a clean white. Auto White Balance looks for the whitest area in the image and adjusts the colors accordingly. If there is no white in the image the camera will pick something close to white, if you are photographing in a beige room without any whites in the scene you could get some strange colors.

Basic Photography Lighting Tips

I have many times been asked by recreational photographers for tips on how to better light their indoor AND outdoor photos. In the old days of photography each box of film came with an exposure guide, and the suggestion then was to put the light source behind the camera. This will light up the entire subject, but the problem is, it will also flatten out the subject. If you can place the camera so that the light is coming from a 45º angle, this will give some shadows to the subject and a sense of depth to the image. If you are outside, you position yourself so the light is coming over one of your shoulders. If you are inside, you can place your subject 45º from a large window.

Another option would be to place the light at a 90º angle or maybe a little less, you will notice how the light shows the texture of the subject and it adds drama to your image. However, I do not recommend showing the texture on the face of more mature women. This is one case where having the light coming from the same direction as the camera will flatten out the wrinkles on the face while taking head and shoulder portraits. Learning how light will impact your image takes some practice. This is another way to develop your eye for photography. Look at portraits that you enjoy and see if you can tell where the light is coming from. You cannot master the light without becoming a student of it.

Simple Photography Tips

When taking portraits with your zoom lens. Set your lens on it's longest setting (ie. 18-55mm zoom would be set at 55mm), and then physically move your body to get the best composition. This will compress the image a bit and make for a more pleasing portrait, especially with head and shoulder shots. Using the wider part of your zoom lens (ie. 18-55mm set at 18mm) tends to stretch out the image. Things closer to the camera become bigger while things further away tend to shrink. This is not flattering to the face as noses get bigger while ears get smaller creating a more funny looking caricature style portrait.

Also when you use a longer zoom lens with the longer end of the zoom, you can isolate the subject more by opening the lens aperture to its wider setting or smallest numbers like f3.5 or f5.6. So if you set your 18-135mm zoom at 135mm at f5.6 or your 55-210mm zoom to 210mm at f5.6 for a head and shoulder portrait outside, this should give you an out of focus background especially if the background is further away. Remember to place your subject 50 feet or more away from the background to really take advantage of this effect.

Advanced Photography Tips

So what do you do when you are inside and the only light available is coming from the ceiling lights or table lamps, and the only flash you have is the one built into the camera? Look at what the light is doing on the faces that you are wanting to photograph. Ceiling lights directly over the subject will light up the top of the head, the bridge of the nose and the shoulders while casting a shadow from the eyebrows and the nose onto the eye sockets and upper lip (this effect is known as raccoon eyes, you will really notice it outside when the light is directly overhead). Move your subject out from under the overhead lights (perhaps in a corner of the room) and place them so the light is coming on their face at an angle instead of straight on. If your shadows are really dark, you can use your flash on the camera to fill the shadows in a bit. Set the flash at -1 or -1.5 stops in the menu so that it does not over power the available light. Caution here as the white balance may give you some strange colors. If so, try to take the picture without adding the flash.

Now if you are on a dark dance floor or in a dimly lit restaurant. You will have no choice but to use the flash on your camera. Try placing the subject so there is some light behind them, either a table lamp or a well light hallway or entrance, or maybe some of the stage lights used by the band or DJ. This will separate your subject from the background. If you don't do this, dark haired people's heads will blend into the background and your pictures will only show faces surrounded by a sea of darkness.

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What is ISO?
Product Photography Tips
Lighting Tips
Simple Photography Tips
Advanced Photography Tips