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

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Adriano Brigante's picture

My main gripe with this isn't the fact that the guy shoots at 800 ISO, it's the fact that he shoots at 800 ISO *and* 1/2500th. I'm just a hobbyist but even I know that makes no sense.

It depends. If you are moving the model around the space and want to stay exposed properly, you might set your aperture and shutter speed then ISO to auto. In a bright corner near the window you might be shooting at 100, on the bed in mixed lighting it might jump up to 800.

Without knowing his setup and the type of shoot it was, it's kind of hard to make a judgement

Adriano Brigante's picture

You're describing a scenario where there's 4 stops between the two parts of the room. Great. Then shoot at 100 ISO and 1/400s (instead of his wacky 800 ISO and 1/2500s). In the brighter corner, shoot at 1/800s. In the darker corner, shoot at 1/100s. There you go, 3 stops and no change in the ISO. And you can go to 1/50s and 1/1600s if you need 5 stops. And still no change in the ISO. And you're still just touching one dial. So, what's his point again? How does he justify changing the ISO now?

michaeljinphoto's picture

To me, this is an extension of the "do the bare minimum to get paid" attitude that permeates the mindset of workers across this country so I dislike that it's being preached as a virtue. That many very successful people have this attitude doesn't make it any less wrong to me. If someone is paying you, do the best within your ability while you're being paid, even if the client will never notice or appreciate the minor details. If the best that you can do is compromised due to external circumstances (time constraints, equipment constraints, environmental constraints, etc) then do the best you can do within those circumstances. Every time you deliver an image, you should be able to honestly say to yourself "With my current skill and given the circumstances, I could not have done better than this."

This is not being dogmatic about base ISO. There are situations where it doesn't make sense to use base ISO. If you're shooting indoor sports, then you're going to have to raise your ISO to preserve your shutter speed to freeze the action. You'd be hard pressed to give me a sensible reason why you would have to raise your ISO to 1000 in a studio setting, though... Even carrying something as small as a Godox AD200 can allow you to avoid doing that.

Why are you focused on insulting people? I googled Michael Jin photography and I have to say that based on your portfolio, I wouldn't be going to you for advice on photography.

Considering how many shots you have posted that are out of focus, have excessive motion blur, or have basically no composition, I couldn't even take you on as a second shooter.

It's always some amateur with a hair up their ass that tells everyone else what they should be doing. Maybe you should focus on developing your own skill set, rather than critiquing everyone else.

michaeljinphoto's picture

My critique is one of mentality and work ethic. My personal skill (or lack thereof) has nothing to do with either of those. No, I am not a particularly skilled photographer nor do I ever represent myself to be. I do, however, take all my clients equally and do everything that is within my ability and know how to give them the best product that I can. That's something that ought to translate to every skill level whether you're a beginner or expert.

As for developing my skill while criticizing the ethics of others, I can walk and chew gum at the same time.

This is really another pixel-peeper vs. non pixel-peeper argument.

If you obsess about or fixate on quality at 1:1 - something few people see your images at anyway - moving away from base ISO seems like blasphemy. If you don't, you are free to use what ISO is intended for.

Stas Aleksandersson's picture

Why? Cause ISO 50 is better.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

This guy clearly knows how to click bait. I'm mostly surprised he has to rely on this to advertise.

Eric Crudup's picture

Set minimum shutter speed if you're working some important shoot or doing something fast paced where you need to freeze action. Should take about 10 seconds to set this before the shoot and remove it after.

Then shoot at the lowest iso you can.

Leigh Miller's picture

A good topic for discussion but strange way to go about it.

The going train of thought is to use whatever sensitivity is necessary. There is always some kind of tradeoff.

Every sensor has its setting where peak dynamic range is available...doesn't mean that shooting at anything else will degrade quality to the point of distraction.

Also the viewing preferences have changed in the last 10 years...big prints are not the usual anymore. It's smartphones and tablets.

At WEB sizes anything (can) looks good....

michaeljinphoto's picture

If it's a high end client (that will likely know), then shoot at base ISO, bring out the studio lights, etc..
If it's a regular client like a family that won't notice, then it's fine to be lazy as long as they don't notice.

That's pretty much the message here—taking advantage of your consumer's ignorance to make your job easier. Here's a novel idea: Treat your clients the same regardless of their income level or their knowledge of photography.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

His studio is the real issue. Too much light, too many clouds passing by etc... He should build a set just like the industry does for quality furniture room scenes that would allow him to shoot all day and night, any day. May be he is too cheap for that?

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

There's nothing wrong with his studio. Obviously, he chooses to shoot natural light. Your suggestion would negate that.

I could have sworn on one of his videos, I saw some kind of softbox in the background and still doesn't use it during the day. That's just the way he chooses to shoot.

Lol, man, you just have it for this guy, don't 'ya.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

The point of his video is pretty clear, he can't control the light without a random iso set up on his camera. That's what he says, not me. Q tips may be? I'm fine with it, he does what he want for sure. Takes him 90 seconds before getting in the real topic. If you say I have it for this guy, I'll accept your decision after you send me a check.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

The first 90 seconds was relevant why he made the video.

Why the hell would I send you a check? When, clearly:

https://fstoppers.com/comment/525561
https://fstoppers.com/comment/525549
https://fstoppers.com/comment/525546
https://fstoppers.com/comment/525542
https://fstoppers.com/comment/525510

Some of these comments you sound like a broken record. So, yeah, accept my decision. No check necessary.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Ha, I get it, you make it very clear, you just have it for me. Ping pong

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Yep, clearly. Your constant whining is annoying.

...skip....skip...

Somehow that annoying slogan "Work smarter, not harder" comes into play here...

If he was smarter, he would use ISO 640 as his base ISO, since the Sony a9 has dual ISO gain stages. He's just working sloppier, not smarter.

Timothy Turner's picture

I hope you clean that table after she has had her bare butt all over it

And on that note they should lock this thread...

Dave Terry's picture

What a bunch of conformists. =)

Different techniques can render different looks in the same setting... and sometimes even radically different techniques can render nearly imperceptible differences in look in different settings... some looks can only be achieved through specific techniques.

Mastery is not about conformity to techniques for their own sake. Mastery is about learning as many techniques as you can and bending them to your will as desired. If you have never spent a large amount of time shooting at high ISOs, you probably don't know as much about those techniques and what they can achieve as you think. You also probably don't understand your camera and how it interacts with light as well you think you do.

Your reply to this article probably starts with the words, "I can't understand why some one would..." You're also probably a bit of a control freak. You might shoot impeccable images - OF A CERTAIN STYLE - but that doesn't mean you've mastered anything but that style. Open your mind and break out of conformist mediocrity.

Unless that's what you're getting paid for, in that case, carry on. But that is basically the description of a hack, not a master. You do you!

Oli Aponte's picture

ya'll salty over ISO..

Stuart Carver's picture

Has that Michael dude been banned? I was enjoying his ‘dog with a bone’ attitude regarding base ISO.

Mike Dochterman's picture

100 always.. as I also shoot film and that is always 100 ISO (ASA) so thus.. I take one meter reading for all my cameras - much easier

Roger Knopf's picture

I am flexible on ISO so I can get the shutter speed and f stop I need to get the shot in natural light. In the studio it's always lowest ISO. Yesterday made a rookie move, took my subject outside after a studio session. I switched from manual to aperture priority and set my f-stop but didn't change ISO from 100. Some lower-light shots had motion rendering them unusable. At 250 or 320 everything would have come out.

Leif Egil Hegdal's picture

Shooting landscape I most often use ISO 50 - for Wildlife I choose ISO to have as fast as possible shutter.

Anthony Cayetano's picture

Here’s a question: Many cameras now have sensors with ISO invariance. Why, for example, go ISO 1000 when you can do ISO 100 and get the same lighting effect in post with less noise and better DR?

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