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Manual Mode Made Simple

Lesson 5 of 7

ISO: Sensitivity to Light

Khara Plicanic

Manual Mode Made Simple

Khara Plicanic

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Lesson Info

5. ISO: Sensitivity to Light


  Class Trailer
Now Playing
1 Class Introduction Duration:01:10
2 Manual Mode Overview Duration:08:26
3 Shutter Speed: Time & Motion Duration:09:27
5 ISO: Sensitivity to Light Duration:11:17
6 Understand the Light Meter Duration:16:54

Lesson Info

ISO: Sensitivity to Light

The third piece of the puzzle is ISO. And it stands for something like International Standards Organization. People always ask, and I'm like, "It's really not that exciting." (audience laughter) But basically it's your film speed, even though we're not shooting film now, that's what it is. So back in the day when we did shoot film, and you would buy 200 speed film or 400 speed film. Now, thankfully, with digital we don't have to shoot a whole roll to finish 400 speed film before we change to 200 speed. We can change our ISO between every photo if we want. So that's really exciting. So what it does, is it controls the camera sensor's sensitivity to light. So, how sensitive is the camera gonna be to whatever light is in scene. And it has the side effect of adding digital noise, and we'll talk about that. But here is a continuum, I guess, of the options available. And again, there's more options in between here. But the lower numbers, like ISO 100, for example, are going to be less sensit...

ive. So it's basically like you're camera's just dialing down, almost like it has sunglasses on or something. It's not gonna be as reactive to light at these lower numbers as it would be if you were shooting at like ISO 3200 or something. So if you're in a really low light situation, and you don't want to add flash, one option would be to boost your ISO so your camera's more sensitive to the existing light that's already in the scene. All right? So, less sensitive, more sensitive. You get less noise at the lower numbers. Noise is like, if you've ever taken a photo in a scene that doesn't have much light, and it looks kind of gritty like it's on sandpaper or something. I do that on my phone all the time. I shot a picture of my son sleeping in our hotel room the other night, and it was super dark and it's super noisy because the ISO got boosted to make it work. So the lower the ISO is, the less noise you have. Because what happens when you crank up your ISO, you're actually boosting the signal on the electronics of the sensor, so it just creates noise, right? Like interference, which sometimes can be a good thing. And the cameras we have now are much better at this than the digital cameras we had earlier. For example, I shot a wedding one time, so many years ago, with my first digital camera. I shot it ISO 1600 when they were leaving the church, and then like, it was terrible. But at the time that was what we had. And then, years later, that same client contacted me and asked for a re-print. (laughter) And I opened up the file, and my jaw dropped, because it just was so noisy, and I thought, "Oh, my gosh." And now I shoot higher, I shoot at 3200 all the time at like receptions and stuff, and it's just crystal clear, I mean, gorgeous. So it's just crazy how far we've come with technology, but it is still kind of there. And sometimes, of course, our stuff is so clean now that if you really miss digital noise, you can add it back in in Photoshop. So it can be a creative tool, too. It's not all bad. But that's why you wouldn't probably just shoot at ISO 3200 when you're outside in the daylight, just because you can, right? You generally would want your ISO as low as you can get away with. Question. Sure, a quick question from Bent Knee Photography. It says, "Can you talk about the low setting such as L1 or L0.5 on some cameras? Oh gosh, yeah. And whether you recommend them that they use that or not. 'Cause you say the lower the better-- Right. But is that too low? Well, I think, and again, every camera's different so you really have to check your manual because I'm kind of making this up right now because they're all so different, but my experience has been if your camera has like a low setting, you're not really sure what the number is, you're just kind of, you're telling the camera to keep a low ISO, but you're not setting a number. You also have an option a lot times the camera will have an auto ISO, so you could actually shoot in manual mode with an auto ISO, which is kind of mind warpy to me. 'Cause if I'm in manual mode it's 'cause I'm bossy. I mean I'm the oldest child. I'm sure my siblings would tell you I'm bossy, and I like to know what's happening and be in control of it. So, I never have my camera on auto ISO. Maybe my point and shoot I do 'cause I'm just usually not as particular when I'm working with that camera, but yeah. So, you might have an auto setting. I would recommend if you're gonna work in manual mode, just jump in with both feet and pick an ISO. Usually the lowest setting is something like 100, and so below that, I don't know. You'd have to check your manual to be sure. But, when in doubt, check your manual. I know people chuck them, but they're actually really great. I mean if you're gonna spend money on a camera, you should probably figure out how all these features work. And the manual is, I know it's not an entertaining read. I think of it more like a road map. The manual's not going to teach you how to shoot in manual mode or what it means, but it's gonna teach you, oh, that's how I change my shutter speed, this dial right here, or this is the button I use for that function, right? So look it up and figure it out. The principles you're teaching are universal. Exactly. But the application, the exact way to dial them in is gonna change per camera. Yes, thank you, Russ. I'm here for ya. Yes, what he said! (laughter) Got one other question. Uh-huh. That says, well first of all I just wanna read this 'cause it came in. Benjamin says, "She is amazing. I want to cry because she is making this so easy, thank you." Oh, I wanna cry 'cause that was so nice! Thank you! Lots of comments coming in like that, so you are helping a lot of people right now. Good. One person says, "Thank you so much for this class. Why won't my f-stop go below 5.6? It stops there." Thank you, okay, good question, internet wherever you are. Okay, so remember I said that aperture is a function of your lens. Here's where you get more options the more money you spend on a lens, right? So, when you are buying lenses, they have information on them, all kinds of things. For example, this lens right here is a 50 millimeter lens. So on the lens it actually says 50mm, which is millimeters. And then somewhere, around the ring here, yeah, so somewhere over here it says it's got a one and then it has a colon and then it says 1.2. That means that this lens, the maximum widest aperture that it can go to f-1.2. So, on your lenses, they should have somewhere on them marked the maximum aperture. They don't mark the minimum because usually that's just not quite as important because sometimes when people buy lenses, they're often buying them specifically to be able to achieve a certain aperture wideness. So that's what they mark on here. Some lenses, for example, if you buy a camera that comes with what's called a kit lens, it's just kind of a nice starter lens that comes with it, you will see a range of numbers. You'll probably see it'll say 1:3.5 - 5.6. That means that that lens, the widest it can open is 3.5 or maybe up to 5.6. depending on where you are zoomed in the lens. What am I doing, let me put this back. So on those lenses, for example, if you're zoomed out all the way, you should be able to open up to 3.5. As you start to zoom closer, your maximum aperture gets restricted because it's just the way the lens is built. You gotta spend more money if you want fancy wide apertures. So as you start to zoom in, you will only be able to open to 5.6. So, those of you at home with those kit lenses, or any lens that has a range like that written on it, that's what that means. So the more money you spend, the wider you can go with that aperture. And that's what we would call a fast lens, or fast glass. It's fast because we can open the aperture so wide that you can, if you're in a low light environment, you can open that aperture so wide that you get enough light coming in that you can use a faster shutter speed and not need a tripod. (clicks tongue) Get it? Okay. That'll make sense maybe when we tile this together later. (laughs) But we call that fast glass, so hopefully that answers the question on that. Okay, so, back to ISO. Where you change it on your camera's gonna depend on your camera. On mine there's a little button at the top that says ISO. I press it and then I spin one of my dials. I'm suddenly blanking on it, which one is it? Yeah, oh. This one. I suddenly was like, which one? So you press the ISO and then dial your whatever button, and you'll change your ISO. On my point and shoots, it was buried within a function menu. So you know, it's really different. Some cameras make it really easy to get to, some you have to dig a little harder to get to your ISO. So again, check your manual, right? Okay, so again, if you're at home, take a minute, figure out where your ISO is and how you get to it, and then just explore what your options are. You might also have where it says low, as someone mentioned, you might also, on the other side of spectrum, you might have simply high ISO. Some point and shoot cameras, I used to have a really old one, that's all it had was low or high. And so, whatever that means, I don't know. If I was really curious about where they were drawing the line, I would expect that it would say something in the manual somewhere. So you'd wanna check that stuff. So that's how that works. Those are the three things that you worry about. That's about it, just those three things. You wanna keep in mind it's a balancing act, okay? So again, if you and I were out shooting, and we were standing side by side taking the same picture of something, we're both in manual mode, we may choose completely different settings. So it's not like there's only one answer. There's a bunch of different quote right answers that you can use. It's just a combination here, and it's all about balance.

Class Description

For consistency and control over your images, nothing beats shooting in manual mode. Join Khara Plicanic for Manual Mode Made Simple and take control of your images.

Learn how to expertly dial in aperture, shutter speed, and ISO; and learn the tricks of the pros for making this part of your workflow, so that you barely even have to think about it. Learning this is a key step towards opening up your camera's potential and taking better photos.  

In this easy-to-follow class, Khara will walk you through the basics of using your camera in manual mode. You’ll learn about the mistakes most beginners make and get a head-start on shifting your dials and controlling your settings. By the end of this class, you’ll feel more confident holding your camera and be inspired to go out and shoot – in manual mode!   


Julie Lillard

I have been using my DSLR for 2 years and feel like I take pretty good pictures. I have read my manual and understood the basics of ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture. What I was having trouble with was understanding how they all worked together. I though Khara did a wonderful job of helping me understand how one works with the other. I also loved that she emphasized that there is no one correct setting, it is based on what you like! Great class and I would definitely recommend it.


Awesome class! I'm a complete beginner and Khara does an amazing job of explaining key concepts in simple terms. She also does a great job in explaining step by step how to go about setting up your shot when using manual mode. I'm feeling a lot more confident today after viewing this course. Khara is a great teacher. Highly recommended!

Karen Tesch

This was really a great class! She has a way of making things so easy to understand. She is charming, and engaging. I would highly recommend this class to anyone. I hope she does other classes because it is really worth your time. I wish I had seen this earlier in my efforts at photography. Thank you so much! You're a great teacher!