A short guide to what ISO you should use and why

Since starting this blog a lot of readers have shown interest in starting to shoot film and asked how they can improve their photography skills. Starting to shoot manual on your digital camera is a great way to improve and prepare for shooting film or just jump straight in. There are 3 main components when shooting manually; aperture (how much light is let in), shutter speed (how quick the shutter opens and closes) and ISO.

If you’ve never shot manual before then don’t worry you can get the hang of it, if you have then you can use the guide as a little refreshers course. I will be using 35mm film examples but the same applies to other film cameras and dslr’s.

ISO Guide

Simply the ISO, also refereed to as ASA, relates to how sensitive the film is to light. The lower the number the less sensitive the film (or camera) is to the light.

If you want to shoot a variety of subjects inside and out ISO 400 is a solid choice.

If you’re going to be shooting outside in bright sunshine or traveling in a hot country then ISO 200 will fit the bill. Low ISO films can also produce some great results at night using flash.

The lowest film I use is Portra ISO 160. The film works well for portraits and bringing out skin tones.  I would only use a low ISO if you know you’ll have sufficient light for the whole roll to avoid disappointment. If not go for a 200 or 400.

On the other end of the scale for low light conditions you can get ISO 1600, 3200 and 6400. But the higher the ISO number the more likely your image will have noise (visual distortion) but you can use this to your advantage. I recently shot a roll of Black & White Ilford 3200 film in Iceland. Its one of my favourite rolls I’ve shot this year.

The more you learn and experiment the more you can get out of your camera and/or film.But at the end of the day if your enjoying taking photos then you don’t have to change a thing.


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