Is ISO 100 Always Right for Landscape Photography?

As landscape photographers, we hear it all the time: "Always use ISO 100 for your photos. That is the only way to get the crispest and cleanest image." Is this true, though? Should we be afraid of using a higher ISO? Or are there times you should use a higher ISO? We find out in this video.

The often-repeated advice is always to use ISO 100 for your landscape photography. While ISO 100 contributes to a crisp and clean image, as camera systems advance technologically, their capabilities also increase. Is this advice getting dated? Is ISO that big of a deal? Are there times you might want to use a higher ISO?

In this video, Mark Denney examines ISO and when to use a higher ISO. He begins by comparing two images with the same composition photographed at two different ISOs, one at ISO 100 and the other much, much higher. While there is a difference between the images, the significance diminishes at typical viewing distances.

After comparing those two images, Denney shares images where he used a higher ISO setting to capture various images and explains why he chose a higher ISO to get the desired look. From movement in the scene to a creative effect to handholding a camera, there are often reasons to photograph with a higher ISO.

I found this video succinct and helpful. Many landscape photographers are afraid to raise their ISO when there are often technical reasons to do so. How about you? Does raising your ISO cause anxiety?

Jeffrey Tadlock's picture

Jeffrey Tadlock is an Ohio-based landscape photographer with frequent travels regionally and within the US to explore various landscapes. Jeffrey enjoys the process and experience of capturing images as much as the final image itself.

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Considering the term, "Exposure Triangle". Seems a bit difficult to talk about ISO in ISOlation ??

I've seen many a photographer not want to budge their ISO setting, even when the conditions or situation call for it - I think some focused talk on ISO is good, even if it doesn't stand alone.

First there are different levels of ISO called duo ISO that are steps of new clarity and there is also ISO Invariance that work together. I use Sony that claims there is no Duo ISO BUT there appears to be. you will have a base say most is 100 even though you can go lower to say 80 or the film great of 50. But first level of 100 is a start but at 640 is a step where things have less noise but for us night capture people going to 3200 and 6400 things will be a little nosier then comes another step comes and it is 12800 where things appear to be less noisier again. the 12800 is a great place to go for those dark dark places.
I have tested this over the years after hearing about. It is true the set at 640 to get cleaner images than 100 and even I use for landscape and set my low point at 640 but clean is clean! There is something new these days and called ISO invariance meaning if you capture a dark image say to get rid of blown out highlights for detail of say feathers in post all you have to do is increase exposure even by +5 to bring out shadows/dark places, I will now go that low with my A7RV because now I can but before say for bright shine of leaves go to -3 to get detail of clouds above instead of cropping out due to lack detail. Now all that can be not done anymore because of noise problems because most Post Programs have a great noise reduction but as Mark Denney says if a print is viewed without a magnifying glass you may never see any noise or loss of sharpness.
Mark also shows where capturing with IBIS with also maybe a OSS/IS lens lower SS can also have less ISO and better Sharpness letting a slower SS show movement or sharpness your choice unbelievable in today's photography times.
I learned a great deal one day while at Antelope Canyon in 2017 when I forgot the plate for my A7RM2 so I could do capture on my tripod long exposure like everyone else. I turned on Stabilizing and took a shot and all looked good and I was used to doing a few years earlier when HDR was a thing and I did a test with Bracketing 3 at +/- 2EV (common with all cameras) but every image was perfect again so while all others were on tripods doing long exposures I got 4 to their one image laying on the ground pointing up or over the others shoulders and using a new 12-24mm with no OSS/IS zooming in and out got great images.
Later up in a Pa. state park I was able to slow the SS to get milky water in streams and handheld, just lucky not knowing what I was doing.
Mark Denny is so great at showing these things that now I know how I was able to do all things while at play, A great education!!!!! ALWAYS!

ISO Invariance and Dual ISO are great topics as well, he didn't really dive into those nuances, but very valid!

The biggest one is to learn about how your camera handles ISO in regard to shadows and highlights. At low ISO, the camera tends to capture more detail in the shadows, typically at the cost of detail in the highlights. If you find yourself in a position where you need to recover detail in the highlights, you may find that a higher ISO provides better results.

I highly recommend this video as it explains it way better than I can:

I added the video to my watch list - thanks for sharing the link!

Ouch watched it once sounds neat, but it made my head hurt ;(. Don't some newer camera models have a gain control in their menu systems or I am I thinking about post-processing software?

I'm not certain - I do know, just from videos like the one linked in the comment above, discussions I've seen in online communities that there are a lot of nuances to ISO that are well beyond just saying increase your ISO to allow faster shutter speeds and such. It can make my head hurt too!

I've been using Auto-ISO for years,

I do tend to use Auto-ISO if I am photographing wildlife where things move quickly, definitely a handy option!

Some called is ASA before that DIN. FYI Each doubling of ISO equates to approximately 1 f/stop or a full stop of shutter speed. or half stops of both of the same increase or decrease of shutter & aperture.
As to the video segment of first comparison image I choose right within second on a 14" screen.

Had to look DIN up! And I agree, the right one did look better!

Yes I had to also and prior to that exposures were calculated with foot candles I think Ansel Adams touch on it in 2 of his 3 books, The Camera, The Negative, and The Print probably one of the first two if not both. I never used it but I think the info is there. Just an interesting fact early slideshows National Park Service provided use candle lit slide projectors.