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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Lillian's Bird Photography Tip, Higher ISO

(click on photo to enlarge)

I don't pretend to be the world's most expert photographer. Far from it. I'm still learning and grateful to all the people who have taught me things. Learning photography can be a lifelong process, that's part of the appeal for me. Along the way, I have discovered some useful things that I'm happy to pass along to you, such as using a higher ISO setting on your digital camera.

To continue with yesterday's discussion about using higher the ISO settings I was teaching Julie Zickefoose, here's an example of an image I shot recently at Ding Darling National Widlife Refuge at dusk. I wanted to stop the action of the Roseate Spoonbill's wings and water droplets and I also needed a good depth of field to get almost all the Showy Egrets in focus. This was tricky and I love a photographic challenge.

I set my camera's ISO setting at a higher ISO setting — 640. This increased the camera sensor's light sensitivity, allowing the camera to gather more light. I put my camera on the AV, aperature priority, setting (read your manual, "ugh", to learn how to do that) and used an aperature setting of f 18 to get a greater depth of field.

Decreasing the aperature actually reduces the amount of light coming into the camera. It was a very good thing I had set a higher ISO to compensate for that. The camera's shutter speed read 1/500th of a sec., which made me happy because faster shutter speeds allow you to freeze motion. Hence, I caught the flying water droplets. This feat was made possible by increasing the ISO of my camera. I was using my Canon Mark II camera with my 500 mm IS lens with a 1.4 teleconverter.

Here you can see the individual water droplets coming from the beating wings of this bathing Roseate Spoonbill

Here's an amazing photo I took of an Anhinga in flight at sunset at 3200 ISO, f 5.6, 1/800th of a sec. with my Canon Mark II at 300 mm. The highest ISO setting on the Mark II is a skyscraper 3200! I love the way it looks, so soft, more like a watercolor painting than a photo. There's so much more to do with these digital cameras than I ever thought. I like to push their limits and discover new things and encourage you to do the same. Photos like the Anhinga make me ponder where the line is between a photo and a painting. I often think that if John James Audubon were alive today, he would be using a Canon 1D Mark II and experimenting with every setting on the camera.

To change the ISO setting on this Canon 10 D camera, hold down the button that says ISO and turn the large wheel on the back of the camera and the ISO numbers will change. Find our how to change the ISO on your camera.

To summarize about higher ISO settings;

If you're photographing in lower light conditions, increase your camera's ISO setting. This will enable your camera to gather more light, have a faster shutter speed, stop action, and result in a sharper photo. Higher shutter speeds are in the 400, 640, 800, 100, 1600 range.
Using a higher ISO, will increase the "grain" sometimes called "noise" in the photo. That's not always a bad thing and can still have a pleasant and artistic effect.

In brighter lighting conditions, use a lower ISO speed, such as 100, or 200 because you want to decrease the light sensitivity of your camera's sensor and avoid overexposing or burning out the photo. People are usually told to use the lowest ISO speed they can because it will produce less noise or grain in their photos. However, under dim or low light conditions, a higher ISO can be a real plus.

Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2007


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tips, Lillian. My guilt at putting off the onerous task of reading my camera manual has now doubled.

Lillian Stokes said...

Hey Mike,

Wish they made those manuals easier to swallow. I'm guilty too and don't reread my manuals often enough. Don and I joke, "when all else fails, read the manual."


Unknown said...

Thanks for the tips! That explains a lot. I keep reading how you must use a tripod and keep the ISO low in order to take "sharp" pictures and I keep thinking how can I snap a pic of a bird in flight with a tripod.

I think a little noise is something I can learn to live with. I"m starting to play with the settings!

And, I think I might be ready to pull out the manual and read at least some of now! :)

Lillian Stokes said...

Good for you Liza! Not using a tripod makes flight photos easier. Many of today's lenses, such as the Canon 1-400 mm zoom and the 300 mm (which I have), are image stabilized, which are a huge plus with flight photography.

Anonymous said...

Do you find it necessary to manual focus with your teleconverter?
I use a Nikon 400mm with a 1.4 converter and am unhappy with image sharpness at 400mm, even with a tripod, image stabilization, and remote shutter button.
Your suggestion for bumping up the ISO and the exposure really helped. Thanks.-