We’ve already covered Aperture and Shutter Speed in previous blogs and looked at how they can dramatically affect the look of your images. The final component that makes up “the exposure triangle” is ISO. Like the other two settings, ISO controls the brightness of your photos, and it is crucial to utilise it properly if you want to take the best possible photographs.

 So what is ISO??

ISO stands for  International Standards Organization, which is the main governing body that standardises sensitivity ratings for camera sensors. The camera’s ISO setting controls how sensitive its sensor is to the light that reaches it. Digital cameras typically have ISO settings that range between 100 (low sensitivity) to 12,800 or greater (high sensitivity). As you increase your ISO number, your photos will grow progressively brighter. A high ISO allows you to shoot at faster shutter speeds, smaller apertures, or in darker conditions. However, you have to be aware that a photo taken at extremely high ISO will typically produce more grain or noise in your images and therefore the quality may be reduced.

How do we use ISO to great effect in food photography?

Our preference is to use natural light as much as possible. Strong, indoor lighting can often tint the colour of the food and produce unnatural looking tones. If we were shooting in a bright light situation we would probably be using an ISO between 100 – 300. This would result in a crisp picture with natural looking colours. See below a picture taken with a low ISO.

If we were shooting in a low light situation, handheld, then we may go beyond ISO 800. However depending on the job requirements and manoeuvrability we’d suggest shooting with a tripod and shutter release. Below is the same picture taken with a greater ISO. It may be a subtle difference but you can clearly see an increase in both exposure and noise, particularly in the shadows.

As well as an increase in noise, another side effect of increasing the ISO is that the shutter speed becomes faster. The result is that you can freeze movement if the shutter speed is fast enough for the speed of the subject. Another benefit with fast shutter speeds is being able to shoot handheld without a tripod in low light conditions.

As you can see, capturing the perfect image is not down to luck; it’s about knowing the camera inside out and having a thorough technical understanding of how it works. That combined with a keen eye for detail leaves you in good stead for producing distinctive imagery that will capture the viewer’s attention.