Why Shooting at ISO 100 May Not Be the Best

I see a lot of people asking what were the camera settings for this shot? While it differs in each situation, one common setting that seems to matter to many is shooting at ISO 100. Is that really the best setting to be shooting at?

In this video from boudoir photographer Michael Sasser, he shares his reasoning for not shooting at ISO 100 with natural light. In several of his previous videos, he shares he camera settings with the photos he has taken which you can see the ISO setting typically bouncing around in the range of 250-400. 

I find myself agreeing with Sasser's logic for shooting at a higher ISO setting, which I am usually doing the same thing in most naturally lit events I attend. Sometimes the subjects are in shadow while others may be right in the light. For me, it's much easier to adjust shutter speed versus messing with ISO and other settings or risk shooting at a shutter speed that's lower than what I am comfortable shooting at without getting blurry photos. For high-end commercial jobs, if more light is needed, a strobe or light would more than likely come into play. For other shoots, bumping the ISO up will work just fine. If you do happen to get more noise than you are comfortable with, Sasser shares how he fixes that in post with a few simple tweaks. 

What are your thoughts? Do you embrace higher ISO settings or stick to shooting at 100 no matter what? Let us know in the comments.

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97 Comments

Previous comments
michaeljinphoto's picture

You're missing the point. If you need to bump the ISO such as in an event photography situation, you do what you need to. If you're bumping your ISO in a studio situation, WTH are you doing? I'm arguing against UNNECESSARILY introducing flaws. Look at the image for the video:

ISO 1000
1/1260
f/1.4

Do those settings make sense to you? Even if you wanted to absolutely freeze the hair motion, wouldn't it make more sense to use strobes? If you have the capability to deliver good photos in a studio using high ISO, you're equally capable of delivering better photos with low ISO so why the hell would you choose the former?

michaeljinphoto's picture

"There are times when you have no choice but to push up your ISO."

Reading comprehension is hard, I know. If you actually read what I was saying, it was that when you can equally deliver two products, then you should deliver the better one. Obviously if you're in a dimly lit church that doesn't allow flash, that's a situation where the high ISO product is the best that you can deliver in the situation. The same applies to the football game. None of that applies to the argument given in the video.

He's not saying that he has no choice. He's saying that he doesn't care and he'd rather bump the ISO higher so that he can only adjust one setting at a time rather than two. There's a difference between being forced into a sub-optimal solution by external circumstances and purposely choosing the sub-optimal solution because the the better solution requires you to adjust two dials instead of one.

Literally nobody here is arguing that you should scrap a job because you can't push up the ISO so I have no idea where you're coming up with that nonsense. The argument is that you should provide the best product you can and let circumstances rather than your own laziness dictate whether you resort to lowering the overall quality in order to get the job done.

When you're in that dimly lit church, do you bump the ISO just enough so that you get the shots you need or do you crank it up to 128,000 so that you don't have to even worry about potentially having to change that setting? I'm guessing the former.

What a troll, telling everyone else how to shoot. There are in fact reasons to bump ISO rather than adding more light. If you are shooting a high-key, high contrast, or backlit shot and want to control light spill. There are definitely reasons to shoot above base ISO in a studio, especially if you are working on creative images rather than cookie cutter portraits. Sometimes a photographer wants to have a model change their positioning and likes the light they are in the way it is and make adjustments to ISO accordingly.

Anyone who claims to know everything or goes on scolding people for not shooting the way that they do probably has not worked in the real world.

michaeljinphoto's picture

Well I guess I'm happy that I don't claim to know everything then. As for backlit images, you mean like the type you can get by positioning a strobe behind the model? Yeah, I REALLY need to bump my ISO for that... 🙄

As for "telling everyone else how to shoot", I'm doing no such thing. I'm telling everyone else how to treat their customers because if I was on the other side as a customer purchasing a service that I'm not an expert in, I would not like my service provider to cut corners for their convenience just because they know that I won't notice. I apologize if you can't understand the difference. Did you even watch the video and listen to his explanation of why he's bumping his ISO?

This guy literally signed up his account to troll and then deleted it lol

Daniel Medley's picture

I tend to agree with this. Especially since the remedy is so easy; just learn how to use artificial lighting. I'm not saying use it all the time. But if you're pushing 800-1600 ISO just because the client doesn't know any better, then something is not right.

Keep in mind I'm not talking event style of photography. But if you're in a small room in a controlled environment and someone is paying you, you really ought to be able and willing to deliver the very best product. The very best product in this circumstance IS base ISO.

I know plenty of people who wouldn't notice corners being cut in, say, a car restoration because they just don't know any better. But so what? It's not their job to know any better. They're paying the money. You take their money. Deliver the best product you can for the money. Don't cut corners unless you have to.

Shooting boudoir in an easily controlled room at 800 or 1600 ISO is not delivering the best product for the money.

you know who will notice 3200 grain? .. retoucher .. be nice to your retoucher and dont be lazy (not you, genreally speaking)

michaeljinphoto's picture

How far from your subject are you positioning your strobe and what kind of strobe are you using that it's not enough?

michaeljinphoto's picture

Having a strobe positioned on the moon is also a hypothetical scenario. Doesn't mean that it's of any worth to think about. The reason I ask for specifics is because most real world problems have multiple potential solutions.

michaeljinphoto's picture

So is your subject the elephant? Where is your subject in relation to all of these things? The solution might be to cast a cantrip. :O

michaeljinphoto's picture

Is it possible to type in braille?

michaeljinphoto's picture

This is literally the best thing to come from this entire comment section.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Lol, damn you! My spit up coffee barely missed my keyboard.

Pierre Dasnoy's picture

Did I really throw 3 minutes of my time reading that you'd better shoot portraits at 400 iso than at 1/15s ?

Ryan Cooper's picture

Worth checking out this video as it also offers a (more) compelling reason to shoot over native ISO in bright conditions.

https://fstoppers.com/education/what-dual-iso-and-why-lowest-iso-not-alw...

Not sure if it's an issue with newer cameras however I remember when I used to have to shoot with a, I think Canon 10D, that ISO 200 looked noticeably worse than ISO 400-800. ISO 100 looked best of course.

So, if you're going to experiment might be worth checking your various ISO settings in a controlled setting.

Clay Wegrzynowicz's picture

For me, if it's a portrait with strobes, iso100, otherwise I leave it on auto 100-6400. I shoot for college magazines and iso6400 has never once stopped me from getting a usable image, even a cover shot.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Yeah, I have no issues using higher ISO when needed, but, prefer the lowest I can get away with. You know, whatever my cameras' Auto-ISO says. Darn thing is at least 3x faster than I am. :)

Some of his settings almost look accidental, though, IMHO. Like this one at f1.6, 1/2500th, ISO 800. A bright day in SoCal, no amount of rolling clouds is going to warrant an ISO + SS that high of a setting as a buffer for just in case.

Daniel Medley's picture

SS: 1/2500 and ISO 800 is just silly in my opinion.

David Love's picture

No that's him wanting to shoot 1.6 all the time and the room being too bright so he boosted the shutter but then it was too dark so he boosted the ISO, which makes no sense at all. Especially when the contrasty results get edited to hell and gone in post.

Bottom line is that shooting at the native ISO of your sensor will ALWAYS give you the best digital 'negative' to work with- least noise/highest dynamic range. You can always add in grain/compress the tonality/create analog film looks later - you can never go in the other direction...

I always shoot at ISO 400 minimum, even in studio. It cuts the recycle times down on strobes, and the amount of noise compared to 100 is negligible.

Allen Ng's picture

I didn't click on a single thing...all i see are ISO and half naked click bait....love everyones ISO enthusiasm

Deleted Account's picture

Going to come back and read this all later when my morning eyes are open properly.

All I can see at the moment are a boat load of comments on a bizarre article title that I've never once seen, even on an amateur photography forum.

Deleted Account's picture

Nope, gave up. It’s. Non issue. Went and got on with work instead. At the ISO that I needed to do it.

Jozef Povazan's picture

Hm, looks like Michael has his own way to see things :) but running shutters 1/2500 with f1.4 apertures is just weird at least haha... Not a boudoir photographer myself but this theory has nothing to do with his genre at all. Set it to what ever you want as long as it allows you to create what you wanted, and for me if the image has sold to my client and it was ISO 100 or ISO 10000 is not relevant at that moment since different times require different settings. And yes I do sell ISO 10000 images to my clients when needed to use that ISO in very low light without flashes, but setting camera to 1/2500 and using higher ISO for no reason...NO THANK YOU :) Happy shooting everyone...

If changing ISO is too inconvenient for you than you should think about ergonomy/controls of your camera or get more familiar with it ...

Martin Van Londen's picture

If I am shooting video I always try to shoot native ISO. But each flavor of still camera has its own "acceptable" ISO. I would say that I always shoot at ISO 100 while I am using strobes in studio... BUT I can actually think of a few scenarios where I would shoot above 100 ISO.

marc gabor's picture

I seriously can't believe how dogmatic and worked up people are about shooting at anything but base ISO.In what way does shooting at ISO 400 mean you are being lazy and disingenuous to your clients? To be honest that's total BS. The idea that an image shot at ISO 400 instead of 100 is somehow of lower quality even though you can't see the difference is insane!

1) As long as you are able to create an image that communicates your vision and / or is visually appealing then who cares what settings you used?

2) On a good full frame sensor, for all practical purposes,ISO 64-640 looks the same. And in some situations up to 1250 looks almost identical to base ISO. Moody black and white at 3200 - all day.

3) A lot of commercial sets I've worked on tend to want to use as much available light as possible so ISO 640 is really common and ISO 1250 is not uncommon. 1250 seems to be where most digi techs seem to be comfortable going up to depending on camera. Usually Nikon is good for one more stop over Canon - I haven't shot enough with Canon to confirm but this is coming from multiple top level techs just talking shop.

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