What is ISO speed? The basics for photography beginners

Here’s what you need to know about ISO and how its different speeds can impact your photos.

Your camera’s automatic mode is great for beginners as it’s a sure way to get clear photos every time. But once you master the basics, it’s worth diving deeper. Take the time to familiarise yourself with the different settings in your camera and learn how they affect your photos. This really levels up your photography skills and lets you get creative with how you shoot.

Let’s start with one of the most important settings: ISO.

What is ISO?

ISO refers to the sensitivity of your camera to light in both film and digital photography. It impacts how bright or how dark a photo is. ISO is one of the three main pillars of photography, along with aperture and shutter speed.

ISO settings are written as numbers, better known as values or speeds. These start at 100 and go up to 6400 for most cameras.

What are the different ISO speeds, and what do they mean?

ISO speeds start from low and go high. The lowest number in your camera is commonly called your “base ISO”.

Here is a common set of ISO speeds, from low to high, found in the average DSLR camera.

The ISO numbers double with each increase, and this has a tangible effect on your photo. If you shoot at ISO 1600, it will be twice as bright as a photo shot at ISO 800.

What effect does ISO have on photos?

Here’s the rule of thumb: a lower ISO means less light is let into your camera, which leads to higher quality photos. A higher ISO speed means more light, but when your ISO is too high, your photos can get grainy. This grain is also called “noise”.

ISO works together with aperture and shutter speed to deliver high quality, well-lit photos. Check out more photo tips and techniques to help you get started and gain confidence with your camera’s manual settings.

Mastering your camera is one way to better photos, but editing is key too. Learn all the ways you can edit your photos with Adobe Lightroom.